Visitors to the ongoing eruption on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula are urged not to walk on the new lava at the site or throw rocks onto it in a notice from the Environment Agency of Iceland. New lava is a unique geological formation that is protected under the Nature Conservation Act and throwing rocks on it or vandalising it in any other way is considered a violation. The lava’s black surface may appear solid but the top layer can be quite thin and hiding flowing, molten lava underneath.
Hot lava up to 1200°C
Visitors to the eruption may have noticed the heat that emanates from the site, even from the edge of lava fields that appear solid. “The lava is extremely hot and can take a long time to cool, especially as the eruption can continue even though we don’t see movement in the crater itself,” the Environment Agency notice states. “The lava then flows under the black shell in lava caves or domes. The lava shell can easily break and underneath it there can be lava up to 1200°C [2192°F].” Not only is walking on the lava dangerous, it can damage the formations, which are protected.
Environment Agency rangers are manning the start of the hiking trail to inform and educate guests on how to enjoy the eruption in a safe and respectful way. “The lava from the volcanoes in Geldingdalir is a unique geological monument that we need to respect and protect,” the notice states. “There we are probably witnessing the first shield volcano eruption in Iceland since the country was settled.”
Ploughed illegal path through lava
Rocks and pedestrians are not the only damage that the active lava field has faces since the eruption began last March 19. Last week, police stopped a man that was ploughing a path through the lava without a permit. The man is believed to have been sent by landowners but Fréttablaðið reported there was no licence for the operation and authorities were not informed.
The ploughman had dug a path through the lava field along so-called Hiking Path “A,” which was cut off by lava in June, closing off a popular look-out slope near the eruption’s active crater. Authorities have put up a sign to inform visitors that the path is closed, but expressed concern that some visitors might take it anyway. “It’s very dangerous to let people into a closed area like this,” stated René Biasone of the Environment agency. “If people walk in there they’re entering an area that is surrounded by lava. If the lava starts flowing again where it was ploughed they will be closed in.”
New crevasses on former look-out spot
The former look-out slope is also unsafe for another reason: the Icelandic Met Office reported yesterday that new crevasses have formed on the slope, which appear to have formed in the past two weeks. The crevasses were are probably caused by tensile stress and may have been caused by small earthquakes or land movement due to changing pressure of magma below the surface.