Ten search-and-rescue volunteers from Grindavík’s Þorbjörn have marked a shorter and safer hiking path up to the eruption site in Geldingadalir on the Reykjanes Peninsula. The new hike takes about an hour and a half for well-prepared hikers, the route is 3.5km each way, 7 km in total. While weather conditions have improved since the weekend, less wind means more danger from toxic gases from the eruption and hikers are encouraged to have left the eruption site before five pm this afternoon.
Before the eruption began, there were no marked hiking paths or tracks through the area. Since Friday evening when the eruption started, search-and-rescue volunteers from the local squad Þorbjörn have been on call, helping scientists with their research and helping the Reykjanes Peninsula police force to keep the public safe. Heavy traffic from eager eruption tourists and bad weather has made their work challenging. While access to the eruption site was closed yesterday, authorities have reopened the area and are working on ensuring the safety of hikers wanting to see the eruption.
Yesterday afternoon, ten volunteers braved the weather to mark a path from the south coast road up to the eruption site. Search-and-rescue team Þorbjörn still preaches caution when approaching the eruption, and advise hopeful eruption spectators to watch the weather forecast closely and be well-prepared for the hike.
As soon as the wind dies down and weather conditions for a hike improve, that creates another danger, when toxic gases produced by the eruption gather in depressions and valleys. The gases are invisible and odourless so they’re hard to detect until you start feeling their effect. According to a Met Office expert, if the heavy gasses have gathered on the ground around you, even stooping down to tie your shoelace could be enough to fall unconscious. A statement from the Icelandic Meteorological office reads: “Decreasing SW-ly wind today, unhealthy air quality expected near the eruption site after 19:00 today. SO2 concentration close to the volcano can go over 9000 µg/m3, and gather in valleys and depressions in the landscape. It is advised to leave the area before 17:00 and keep away from valleys and depressions.” It should be noted that the amount SO2 in the atmosphere can start to threaten health if it goes over 350 µg/m3.
The crater itself is in a depression and when the wind isn’t constantly blowing the gases away from the eruption, it gathers there, creating a life-threatening situation. Search-and-rescue volunteers also request that travellers don’t walk on the new lava, as that can be very dangerous.
While the gases offer a subtle threat that can neither be seen nor heard, there’s also the more obvious threat of the liquid lava flowing to the surface. The lava flow isn’t particularly fast but it can be unpredictable and its direction can change suddenly. The buildup of cooled lava around the crater is high but it’s unstable as geology students from the University of Iceland witnessed on Sunday. Eiríkur Örn Pétursson caught the moment when the crater burst and the crowd’s reaction on video, some of whom had to be quick on their feet.