Conditions At Eruption Site Can Change Quickly, Authorities Warn Skip to content
Tourist watching lava flow from the crater in Geldingadalur on the Reykjanes Peninsula
Photo: Golli. The eruption in March, 2021.

Conditions At Eruption Site Can Change Quickly, Authorities Warn

While the eruption site in Geldingadalur is closed today due to adverse weather conditions and high levels of toxic gases, authorities are aware of people’s interest in seeing the eruption and are working on securing the area and providing safe access. When visiting an active volcanic eruption, there are several things that must be taken into consideration, including the unpredictability of the lava flow, the possibility of new fissures opening in the vicinity of the eruption, and the silent threat of invisible toxic gases, which can prove lethal.

Before the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Response decided to shut down access to the eruption site, The Reykjanes Peninsula Police Commissioner had already closed a small area next to the eruption fissure in Geldingadalur. The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Response Scientific Advisory Board are concerned that the large craters at the centre of the eruption could burst, which would cause the lava flow to change direction quickly, possibly endangering spectators who get too close. There is also a risk of another eruption fissure opening up near the crater, as happened during the eruption at Fimmvörðuháls in 2010.

The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Response. There is currently no access to the eruption site due to high levels of toxic gasses and adverse weather conditions but before the closure, authorities had already closed a particularly dangerous part of the eruption site, marked in red.

Furthermore, other dangers may arise around the eruption site, such as:

  • New cracks can open in the immediate vicinity of the volcano without notice.
  • Searing lava can drop from the edges of the lava field, and sudden, rapid outburst can occur, where tongue-like protrusions of hot lava will burst from the edge at great speeds which can be difficult to outrun.
  • The craters are several meters high and may be unstable. Their sides can break off and cause a large amount of lava to flow suddenly in a new direction.
  • Explosions can occur as the lava flows over waterlogged soil and causes molten lava to fly in any direction.
  • Life-threatening gases can accumulate when the lava flows into depression and valleys and are known to be fatal. This risk increases when the wind dies down.

Several hikers were unprepared for the difficult conditions on the way to the eruption yesterday and many ran into trouble on the way back during the night. While weather conditions for hiking are forecasted to improve over the next few days, Natural Hazard Expert with the Icelandic Meteorological Office Bryndís Ýr Gísladóttir states that better weather might actually make visiting the eruption site more dangerous. “When the wind dies down, the toxic gases don’t disperse as easily, making the area more dangerous,” Bryndís told Iceland Review. Several different types of gases are released during an eruption but the most dangerous to humans are carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide. The levels of toxic gases in the atmosphere depend on several factors, only one of which is wind direction and wind speed. It also depends on how much of the gasses the lava contains, which can’t be easily measured, so experts rely on gas levels in the atmosphere to estimate the danger.

The Icelandic Met Office continue to monitor gas levels around the eruption and publish a gas dispersion forecast on their website. Experts from the Met Office are working closely with the Department of Civil Protection and local authorities to ensure information flow as well as the safety of travellers to the area. The wind is currently carrying gasses northeast from the eruption site towards the capital area but experts do not believe there is a danger of gas pollution for capital area residents.

Icelandic Coast Guard. Director General of the Icelandic Coast Guard (left) and President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson (right).

One of the people who visited the eruption site yesterday was President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson. He was brought there on the Icelandic Coast Guard’s helicopter and briefed about the safety and necessary precautions before departure. Guðni told RÚV that the eruption was an unforgettable sight and even though geologists call this a small eruption, it still displays the sublime power of nature. Guðni added that people needed to take great care when visiting the eruption, “Watching the display from a safe distance should be enough to satisfy most people,” Guðni stated.

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