What do we know about the December 2023 eruption near Grindavík, Iceland?

Reykjanes eruption Iceland eruption

An eruption began on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula on December 18, 2023 at 10:17 PM. As of the morning of December 21, there was no visible activity at the eruption site, and the eruption has now been declared officially over. The eruption site is near Sýlingafell mountain, some 3km [1.9mi] away from the town of Grindavík. It did not impact air traffic or threaten infrastructure.

The Department of Civil Protection declared an emergency phase due to the eruption. Roads to Grindavík are closed to the public and authorities asked civilians to stay away from the eruption for their own safety and the safety of others.

 

More powerful than recent eruptions in Iceland

The December eruption was the fourth in three years on the Reykjanes peninsula. It began much more powerfully than the previous three eruptions in the same area, however. The eruption produced more lava in its first seven hours than all of the lava produced by the Litli-Hrútur eruption earlier this year.

The Sýlingafell eruption is a fissure eruption, with the southern end of the fissure some 3km [1.9mi] northeast of Grindavík, whose 3,600 residents have been evacuated since November 10. The eruptive fissure is nearly 4km [2.5mi] long, with the northeast end just east of Stóra-Skógfell mountain. Lava did not flow in the direction of Grindavík, and the flow weakened rapidly once the eruption had begun and did not impact any infrastructure. The map below shows the location of the eruption fissure in relation to Grindavík, the Blue Lagoon, and Svartsengi Power Plant.

Reykjanes eruption Iceland eruption
Icelandic Met Office. The approximate location of the eruption fissure in relation to Grindavík, the Blue Lagoon, and Svartsengi Power Station

 

Iceland eruption preceded by earthquake swarm

The eruption was preceded by an earthquake swarm that began around 9:00 PM, just over an hour before lava broke the surface. For more on the seismic events that preceded the eruption, read this article.

 

Resources

In addition to following our news coverage on the earthquakes and eruptions on Reykjanes, readers may find the following resources useful:

The Icelandic Met Office

SafeTravel, for travel warnings and tips for staying safe.

The Icelandic Road Administration and its live map of road closures throughout Iceland.

The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management.

Iceland Review magazine published a photo series on the evacuation of Grindavík.

This article will be updated regularly.

What’s the situation on the Reykjanes peninsula? Is there going to be another eruption?

Reykjanes Svartsengi power plant

Update: An eruption began on the Reykjanes peninsula on December 18, 2023 at 10:17 PM and ended around December 21. The eruption site is near Sýlingafell, some 3km [1.9mi] away from Grindavík. More information on the December 2023 eruption. The article below describes the lead-up to that eruption.

 

It has been a time of upheaval for the Southwest Iceland town of Grindavík (pop. 3,600), which was evacuated on November 10 amid powerful seismic activity. Earthquakes and the formation of a magma dike under the town have opened crevasses and damaged roads, homes, and infrastructure in and around Grindavík.

As of early December, it appears that magma has stopped flowing into the dike and experts say an eruption is considered less likely. However, they warn that the seismic events could repeat over the coming months, with magma flowing into the dike once more and threatening Grindavík. While the town’s evacuation order remains in effect, Grindavík residents are permitted to enter the town to retrieve belongings and maintain their homes and properties. Some businesses in the town have also restarted operations.

As always, volcanic activity is difficult to predict. As the last eruptions on the Reykjanes peninsula have shown, Iceland has some of the best-monitored volcanoes in the world, but despite this, when, where, and if an eruption will occur can be difficult to say with precision, even for experts. With that warning out of the way, here’s what we know so far about the latest phase of seismic activity on the Reykjanes peninsula.

Earthquakes and uplift on Reykjanes

An earthquake swarm began on the Reykjanes peninsula on the night of October 24, 2023 just north of the town of Grindavík. On October 27, the land in the area began to rise, indicating a magma intrusion in the earth below. The intrusion was later confirmed by experts, some 4-5 kilometres [2.5-3.1 miles] below the surface of the peninsula, not far from where three eruptions have occurred over the last three years.

The magma intrusion has since grown and lengthened to stretch below the town of Grindavík and out to sea. In late November, some experts suggested that most of the magma in the intrusion had solidified, though fresh magma was still believed to be streaming in. So far, no volcanic unrest has been detected. This is the fifth time that deformation has been measured at this location since 2020. None of the previous instances resulted in an eruption.

Threat posed to Svartsengi power plant

Current data and measurements indicate that another eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula is still a possibility. Given the possible location of an eruption, there is a real danger posed to operations at Svartsengi, which is the main supplier of electricity and water to the Reykjanes peninsula. Iceland’s Parliament passed a bill on November 13 to enable the building of lava barriers around the power plant and the Blue Lagoon and construction has begun and is ahead of schedule.

Town of Grindavík

In the path of an eruption for the fourth time now, Grindavík was evacuated on the evening of November 10 according to existing evacuation plans. Residents have since been permitted to enter the town temporarily to retrieve belongings, valuables, and pets that may have been left behind. The town has experienced significant damage due to the ongoing seismic activity, including cracks in roads and buildings, damage to water and electrical infrastructure, and crevasses that have opened up throughout the town. Experts have stated that an eruption would be preceded by shallow earthquakes and volcanic unrest, which would give at least 30 minutes warning before magma broke through above ground.

Tourism affected

The Blue Lagoon was closed on November 9, initially only until November 16. The company came under some criticism for not closing operations earlier, especially after tour operator and transit company Reykjavík Excursions ceased trips to the lagoon on November 7, citing concerns for staff and customer safety. The closure was extended several times before the lagoon officially reopened on December 17, 2023. While the lagoon itself as well as its on-site restaurant are open to visitors, the hotel remains closed for the time being in line with the continued overnight evacuation of Grinavík.

Resources

In addition to following our news coverage, readers may find the following resources useful:

The Icelandic Met Office

SafeTravel, for travel warnings and tips for staying safe.

The Icelandic Road Administration and its live map of road closures throughout Iceland.

The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management.

Iceland Review magazine published a photo series on the evacuation of Grindavík.

This article will be updated regularly.

 

Can I bring my family to Iceland on a student visa?

Háskóli Íslands University of Iceland

In short, yes. If you have a residence permit as a student you can bring your family to Iceland with you. There, however, some rules which you can find below.

Obtaining a student visa yourself

People who are not from the European Economic Area (EEA) or EFTA (Iceland, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Norway) and want to study in Iceland for more than three months are obliged to file for a student residence permit. Usually, the student residence permit is valid depending on their enrolment and ability to financially support themselves. So if you can prove higher means of financial support, your permit will also be issued for longer.

To be eligible for a student permit, you must be 18 years and older (exchange students may be younger), and be admitted into studies that are recognised by the Directorate of Immigration. Those can be full-time studies at an Icelandic university, postgraduate studies at a university outside of Iceland that collaborates with an Icelandic university, exchange programmes, internships where working in Iceland is part of your studies, and technical studies at higher education institutions.

Útlendingastofnun directorate of immigration iceland
The Directorate of Immigration

You should apply for a residence permit for your studies before June 1 for the autumn semester and before November 1 for the spring semester each year. That way there is enough time for the permit to be processed before the semester commences. The application form can be accessed via Island.is and needs to be submitted in paper form to the Directorate of Immigration. Before handing in the application, you also need to pay a processing fee of ISK 16,000 for your application to go through.

In your application for a student residence permit, you need to show that you have enough financial resources for your entire stay. So if you stay for one year, you also need to prove that you can support yourself for that time. In your application, you need to attach a transcript from your bank account with the specific amount. The Directorate of Immigration has specific requirements for how much money is needed for an individual to live in Iceland. For an individual, the minimum amount required is ISK 217,799 per month [EUR 1,441 / USD 1,604].

Bringing the whole family to Iceland

According to the Directorate of Immigration, you have the right to bring your marital spouse or your cohabiting spouse (defined as a cohabiting partner of at least one year). If you have children under 18 and have custody of them, you are also allowed to bring them to Iceland. Likewise, if your parents are over the age of 67, you also have the right to family reunification with them.

In order to have all the paperwork sorted, your family members need to apply for a residence permit to the Directorate of Immigration. This can only be done in paper form to the address of the Immigration office. Additionally, they also need to pay a processing fee of ISK 16,000. To bring your entire family to Iceland, you need to prove that you can financially support them for their entire stay. 

For a couple, this means a minimum monthly amount of ISK 348,476 [EUR 2,306 / USD 2,566] and another ISK 108,898 [EUR 720 / USD 802] for every additional family member above the age of 18. For children under 18, there are no requirements for providing independent financial support. It is important to note that payments in the form of social assistance, alimony payments, support by a third party, assets other than bank account balances (e.g. real estate) and cash are not considered secure means of support.

What costs can you expect?

So if you’re thinking of bringing your spouse, your parent and your two kids to Iceland with you while you’re studying you should expect to be able to prove a minimum monthly budget of ISK 457,374 [EUR 3,027 / USD 3,368]. if you intend to stay for one year and also receive a student permit for that timeframe, you need to multiply that amount by twelve. So in total, you need to be able to showcase a whopping 5,5 Mio. ISK [EUR 36,312 / USD 40,416] on your bank account. 

Please keep in mind that this is merely the minimum amount required by the Directorate of Immigration for your application to be processed. Housing and living in Iceland are rather expensive. So don’t expect too comfortable of a lifestyle with those funds! You better start saving early.

You can find out more on the website of the Directorate of Immigration here. Read more about how to move to Iceland here.

Does Iceland have many foreign residents? What are the wages and working conditions like for foreign workers?

reykjavík iceland esja

Yes, Iceland has a significant number of foreign residents. The latest figures from Statistics Iceland show that immigrants comprise around 18% of the total population of Iceland.

The Icelandic economy has grown quickly in the years following the 2008 banking collapse, largely driven by the tourism industry. However, given Iceland’s small population pool, the recent economic expansion is largely dependent on foreign labour.

Of Icelanders with a foreign background, Poles make up by far the largest group. As of 2022, some 20,896 were living in Iceland, or 34.2% of the total immigrant population. The second- and third-largest groups are comprised of people from Lithuania and Romania respectively.

Employment opportunities mean that Iceland's immigrant population is largely clustered around the capital region, though residents with a foreign background also make up a notable part of the Westfjords. One of the least-populated regions of Iceland, tour-related services have become a large part of this region's economy.


Though Iceland is an attractive destination for many, there are also realities to immigration.

For example, a 2018 study by the University of Akureyri found while the average monthly salary in that year for full-time workers was 721,000 ISK [$5,168; €4,727], 60% of immigrants made only 400,000 ISK [$2,866; €2,623] or less per month.

Besides statistics, there is of course also a subjective element to the immigrant experience. Iceland is a small community with a unique language. For some, this is a major attraction to life in Iceland, but for others, it can be alienating. Some may also find themselves working largely English-based jobs in the tourism and service sector, and never truly integrating to Icelandic society.

Unfortunately, there have also been increasing incidents of wage theft, in which employers withhold earnings from workers who may not be in a position to press their rights. Read about the rights of workers here, in English.

This is of course a large issue with many facets. Read our coverage of social issues, and check out our coverage of Iceland's largest immigrant population below.

Prospective immigrants to Iceland may also find this Ask Iceland Review helpful: How can I move to Iceland?

 

What’s happening with animals in Grindavík?

reykjanes grindavík animal

When the residents of Grindavík were evacuated on the night of November 10, they were instructed to only bring the bare essentials and to leave as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, many animals were left behind, including domestic pets such as cats and dogs and livestock such as horses and sheep.

Given the potential risk, the decision was taken to expedite the evacuation, and the Suðurnes Chief of Police stated at the time that it would not be possible to save livestock and farm animals from the defined danger, but arrangements would be made at a later time.

Over the following days, Grindavík residents were allowed back into the town to gather belongings and rescue any animals left behind. Households were instructed to only go if necessary, and only one person per household was allowed back into town for a limited time. Many Grindavík residents used the opportunity to rescue their household pets, in addition to any horses and sheep they own. 

Animal welfare organisations in Iceland assisted with searching for lost pets in the area, and as of November 15, most pets and animals that were left behind during the initial evacuation have been retrieved. One cat- and dog hotel offered to put up Grindavík pets free of charge.

Dýrfinna, a search and rescue group for animals, stated on November 13 that there were only 12 animals still unaccounted for.

Will the situation on the Reykjanes peninsula affect the capital area?

Reykjavík

Many travellers to Iceland have asked about the potential impact that a volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula might have on Reykjavík. While the usual caveats apply here (when and where the eruption will occur is difficult to tell with precision), the current consensus is that the capital region will remain largely unaffected.

That being said, Reykjavík residents and visitors alike could feel some side effects of the next major eruption in Iceland.

Reykjavík services and utilities

In a worst-case scenario, an eruption could disrupt operations at Svartsengi, a geothermal power plant and the main supplier of water and power to the Reykjanes peninsula. While the Reykjavík area sources its power from other plants, if operations at Svartsengi are disrupted, power from other plants may have to be diverted to keep the lights on in the region. Last winter also saw hot water shortages throughout Iceland, and a disruption to Svartsengi could exacerbate heating prices during the winter. For travellers, this might mean that public pools and geothermal spas could face closures or shortened opening hours.

Draft legislation has also been proposed that would raise property taxes in order to help fund the construction of protective barriers around Svarstengi. A similar increase to sales tax was also introduced to aid in reconstruction after the 1973 Heimaey eruption in the Westman islands. Though these taxes would not be directly passed on to travellers, it is possible that prices could indirectly rise in the wake of a tax hike.

Impact on travel

There has been concern during past eruptions on the Reykjanes peninsula that lava flows could disrupt Reykjanesbraut, the main transport artery between Reykjavík and Keflavík International Airport. This is not currently a concern, as it will likely surface somewhere near the town of Grindavík, located on the south coast of the Reykjanes peninsula.

The latest information from the Icelandic Met Office provides a map of the projected lava flow:

grindavík fissure
Icelandic Met Office Nov 11

Several roads have also been damaged due to seismic activity in the area. Grindavíkurvegur, the main road connecting Grindavík to Reykjanesbraut, was closed on November 10 due to damage. However, road closures are not expected in the capital area.

reykjanes road closures
Umferðin.is – November 13

Though the next eruption is expected to be significantly larger than the previous Reykjanes eruptions, its probable location means that air traffic will likely be unaffected. Located on the south coast of Reykjanes, prevailing wind patterns ought to blow any volcanic fumes south and east, away from the airport.

Health concerns

Previous eruptions have, however, caused some air pollution in the capital area. During the 2022 Meradalir eruption, those with preexisting conditions such as asthma, in addition to children and elderly people, were encouraged to avoid outdoor activity on some days when wind patterns brought the pollution to Reykjavík. As of right now, it is too early to say how an eruption near Grindavík will affect air quality in Reykjavík.

The situation on the Reykjanes peninsula is still unfolding, and it goes without saying that travellers should exercise common sense, stay informed, and listen to the authorities. However, the situation poses no immediate threat to Reykjavík and the greater capital area, and disruptions to the rest of the nation are likely to be minimal.

Resources

In addition to following our news coverage, travellers and residents alike may find the following resources useful:

The Icelandic Met Office

SafeTravel, for travel warnings and tips for staying safe.

The Icelandic Road Administration and its live map of road closures throughout Iceland.

The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management.

A live webcam stream from Þorbjörn mountain.

 

 

I’m looking for an old football programme from Iceland. Where can I look?

timarit.is morgunblaðið

We admit we’re a little out of our depth with this one as the original question specifically referred to a 1967 match between Aberdeen and KR.

Although we have already outlined some tips for antique hunters looking for Icelandic used books, vintage coins, stamps, and so on, we thought this was also a good opportunity to point amateur researchers and historians to some useful resources.

Tímarit (timarit.is) is an excellent place to begin if you’re looking for anything historical in Iceland. It’s a digitised database of nearly every newspaper that’s been in print in Iceland for the last century, meaning that every day’s headlines reaching back to the turn of the century are available for browsing, free, anywhere in the world. Other periodicals are also available on Tímarit as well.

A quick search turned up the daily news coverage of the match in question, for example.

Another useful resource that’s more specialised, but still worth pointing out, is handrit.is.

At Handrit, you can access digitised versions of manuscripts found in several major manuscript collections, such as the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, and collections at the National Library of Iceland.

While generally a tool for scholarly research, it’s free to use for all. Amateur historians can, for example, peruse the recently rediscovered manuscripts found in the archives at Handrit, and also access the original sources for much of mediaeval Icelandic literature.

Are there communities for expats in Iceland?

hallgrímskirkja reykjavík

First, a word of advice: for those considering moving to Iceland, or for those who already live here, there’s much to be said for learning the language and integrating into the community. We recommend seeking out opportunities to speak Icelandic where possible, as living as part of the community will likely make your stay in Iceland much more rewarding.

That being said, we recognize that there’s a time and place for wanting to socialize with people from home, or else just a more international milieu.

Many of the major social media sites will have what you’re looking for.

On Facebook, there are two large communities for expats in Iceland: Away from Home – Living in Iceland, a private group, and The Expats’ Lounge Iceland, a public group. Both communities are relatively large and active, and are a good place to look for events such as pub trivia nights and meet-and-greets, as well as more practical information concerning visas, education, childcare, and more.

While neither of these communities are explicitly oriented towards expats in Iceland, Reddit also hosts two large communities centred around Iceland. The community r/Iceland focuses on Icelandic residents and is therefore mostly in Iceland, but many foreign residents also post and discuss current events, ask questions, and so on. The community r/VisitingIceland is geared towards tourism, but many lifelong visitors and foreign residents also use the community.

All Things Iceland is the website and podcast of a notable expat living in Iceland. Many foreign residents have found her content useful, so this may be a good place to begin looking for expat communities in Iceland as well.

There are also several YouTubers who talked about their experiences living in Iceland as an expat.

There’s no one way to become a member of an expat community in Iceland, but some of these resources may serve as a beginning point for your research. In addition to these resources, it bears mentioning that those who work for more international employers may find community through their job, and parents may also find communities through connections to other families through their preschools, for example.

Future (or current) expats may find our guide to house- and job-hunting in Iceland useful.

Why are there no trees in Iceland?

hekla forest project

The short answer: sheep. According to the earliest records of the settlement of Iceland, the island was forested everywhere between the highlands and the coast when the Norse first arrived. Often, these semi-historical accounts in the mediaeval sources have to be taken with a grain of salt, but this assessment has been backed up by modern science, which estimates that approximately 40% of the island was covered by birch forests prior to settlement.

Over time, the settlers cut down trees for charcoal, tools, houses, and ships. Because Iceland’s environment is relatively harsh, once trees were felled in large numbers, it was difficult for them to grow back.

Perhaps the largest impediment to reforestation, however, was sheep grazing. It has long been traditional in Iceland for farmers to let their sheep roam in highland pastures during the summer, and then to collect them in the fall. This sheep grazing caused immense damage to Icelandic forests, from which they are still recovering. To this day, most tree plantations in Iceland need to be fenced in, to prevent sheep from destroying young saplings.

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Is Iceland Spar your national crystal? Is it a popular product in Icelandic gift shops?

iceland spar geology crystal

Iceland has no official “national crystal,” but if such a title were ever bestowed, Iceland spar would likely be a contender. Known alternatively as Icelandic spar or optical calcite, this crystal gained its name from its initial European introduction via the Helgustaðir mine in East Iceland during the 17th century (although the crystal is found in other parts of the world).

Iceland spar is celebrated for its unique optical properties, most notably its capacity for double refraction. This characteristic has made it a subject of extensive scientific inquiry. Historically, Iceland spar may have served navigational purposes. It’s speculated that Vikings used a “sólarsteinn” or sunstone, to determine the sun’s direction under cloudy skies or twilight conditions, and the likely candidate for this sunstone is Iceland spar.

We reached out to two gift shops in Reykjavík to inquire about the availability of Iceland spar. Only one shop sold the crystal – and it was imported rather than locally sourced.