Conditions have remained unchanged on the Reykjanes peninsula, where recent seismic activity has raised concerns over a new eruption and its potential impact on infrastructure in the area, including the popular tourist destination the Blue Lagoon.
An M3.6 earthquake was recorded near Þorbjörn this morning, a mountain near the town of Grindavík and the epicentre of the recent seismic activity. Several other smaller quakes were recorded during the night, the strongest of which occurred around midnight.
According to the latest monitoring data from the Icelandic Met Office, the land near Þorbjörn continues to rise at the same rate, and there are no clear signs that the magma is approaching the surface. New models have been used to estimate the location of the magma injection point, and these models do not indicate any significant changes in the magma’s position, which is located at a depth of about 4-5 km northwest of Þorbjörn. As magma accumulation continues, increased seismic activity on the Reykjanes peninsula can be expected.
All Possibilities to Be Considered
The recent seismic activity around Þorbjörn, which overlooks the Blue Lagoon, has raised some concern about the popular geothermal spa in the event of an eruption.
Þorvaldur Þórðarson, a professor in geology and volcanology at the University of Iceland, stated in a recent interview that though he didn’t want to make any concrete predictions regarding public safety at this moment, all possibilities should be taken into account.
“We can get lava flows that can travel at several kilometres per hour, even up to 20 kilometres per hour,” he stated to Morgunblaðið.
Given such possible speeds, the response time to an eruption could be very short, Þorvaldur continued. If a fissure opens in the Illahraun lava fields, a lava field just over a kilometre from the Blue Lagoon, the response time could only be minutes.
“If we prepare ourselves for when the magma begins to rise, then, of course, we will have more time,” Þorvaldur stated.
Calls to Close Blue Lagoon
Given the uncertain situation, some have called openly for the Blue Lagoon to close its doors.
In an editorial for Vísir, environmental engineer Sveinn Gauti Einarsson recounted the tragic 2019 Whakaari eruption in New Zealand, in which some 22 people lost their lives. The island is a popular tourist destination known for its volcanic activity and an investigation after the eruption found that owners of the island resort and tour operators may not have fully conformed with health and safety regulations in taking visitors to the area.
In his editorial, Sveinn stated: “Near the centre of the current activity lies the Blue Lagoon, a popular bathing spot. The authorities of the Blue Lagoon have been asked in recent days whether it is safe to bathe in the lagoon. There are no clear answers to that question, but they say that sufficient precautions will be taken to evacuate the lagoon in case of an eruption. Now, I’m not a volcanologist, but I’ve been wondering about this statement. There have been eruptions three times in Reykjanes in recent years, and it was never possible to predict the onset of the eruption, and there were no warnings that the eruption was about to start. How is the situation different now? Why do people trust that they can give several hours of warning even though we were’nt able to at Fimmvörðuháls, the Fagradalsfjall eruption, or in New Zealand? Can it be said with full certainty that an eruption cannot occur there without warning? If a powerful eruption occurs under the Blue Lagoon, it would take only a few seconds to 2-3 minutes for the magma to boil all the water in the lagoon. If people are in the lagoon, there is no time for escape. It would be the greatest tragedy in Iceland in recent times and even worse than in New Zealand.”
Three Routes from Grindavík
An evacuation plan by the Civil Protection for the town of Grindavík, the community nearest the likely eruption site, is now in place. Plans include includes three designated evacuation routes out of the town, evacuation routes within the town, and the locations of major facilities and gathering points.
According to authorities, residents are encouraged to prepare for the possible evacuation of the town due to earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. Among other things, residents of the area are encouraged to keep the following in mind:
- All family members should be informed of the plan.
- Before leaving one’s house, windows should be closed and electronics unplugged. Basic supplies, such as clothing and medicine, should be prepared in an emergency kit.
- When leaving one’s house, place a visible note or poster on a window or door notifying neighbours and family.
- Assist others where possible and drive carefully.
- Those with extra room in their vehicle should consider helping those on foot.
- The official meeting point for the community will be the Grindavík sports centre.
In the event of an eruption, more information can be had at the Red Cross helpline: 1717.