What do we know about the 2023 Reykjanes eruption at Litli-Hrútur?

reykjanes eruption 2023

Update: The Litli-Hrútur eruption ended on August 5, 2023. For information on the ongoing 2023 eruption near Grindavík, see this article.

An eruption began on the Reykjanes peninsula at 4:40 PM on July 10, 2023. It is the third eruption in three years at the site, and experts say the region has entered a period of increased volcanic activity that could last decades or even centuries. No inhabited areas or infrastructure are currently threatened by lava flow from the eruption, but gas pollution is a significant risk, both at the site and across Southwest Iceland and the Reykjavík capital area. A seprate article provides information on hiking to the eruption.

Uplift, earthquakes, eruption

In June, Iceland Review reported that steady uplift (land rise) had been measured on the Reykjanes peninsula since early April of this year. While the uplift of over 2 centimetres (around one inch) indicated that magma was collecting below the surface of the peninsula, there were still no indications if or when it would breach the surface. In early July, an earthquake swarm began on the peninsula, culminating in an M5.2 earthquake on the evening of July 9. The eruption began the following day, July 10, at 4:40 PM. This pattern – uplift followed by a period of strong earthquakes and then finally an eruption – mirrored the 2021 and 2022 eruptions at the same site.

Rannsóknarstofa í eldfjallafræði og náttúruvá, Háskóli Íslands.

Typical fissure eruption

The eruption is a fissure eruption that opened exactly where experts had predicted it would: between Litli-Hrútur and Mt. Keilir, just north of the 2021 and 2022 eruption sites. As is typical for fissure eruptions, its activity was most intense when it began and has decreased since. The eruption is relatively small but could last a long time. While the 2022 Reykjanes eruption lasted just short of three weeks, the 2021 eruption lasted around six months.

2023 Reykjanes eruption july 17
The Volcanology and Natural Hazard Institute of the University of Iceland. Landsat image from July 17 showing the lava fields created by the 2021, 2022 and 2023 eruptions, as well as burning moss on a 2 km long stretch east of the lava flow.

Figures from the first week

Between July 11-23, the eruption’s lava flow averaged 14.5 cubic metres per second, lowering to 13 cubic metres per second between July 13-17. Due to the margin of error in measurements, researchers say the difference is not significant. By July 17, the surface area of the lava frield created by the eruption was 0.83 square kilometres [0.32 sq mi], and its volume was 8.4 million cubic metres. The edge of the lava advanced 300-400 metres [980-1,300 ft] daily within the first week, with the distance being highly variable from day to day. The lava is around 10 metres thick on average but over 20 metres at its thickest.

All of these figures are quite similar to last year’s eruption in Meradalir but 2-3 times higher than the figures of the Geldingadalir eruption in 2021. So far, the current eruption is not threatening inhabited areas or infrastructure, though pollution from its gases as well as from wildfires set off by the lava are a significant risk for people at the site as well as further off.

Where to find more information

Iceland Review’s most up-to-date coverage of the eruption can all be found in one place.

Those who would like to know more can read about the geology of the Reykjanes peninsula or follow the University of Iceland Volcanology and Natural Hazard Group on Facebook for scientific updates in Icelandic and English.

Several live feeds of the eruption are available online, including here and here.

Information on hiking to the eruption.

This article will be updated regularly.

Eruption Site Closed After 6:00 PM

reykjanes eruption litli hrútur

Local authorities have announced that hiking trails to the Litli-Hrútur eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula will close at 6:00 PM today.

The area will be accessible from Suðurstrandarvegur (South Coast Road), but all routes from the North, including Keilir, are closed.

Yesterday’s closure is reported to have gone smoothly. According to the police chief’s assessment, it was not justifiable to keep the walking paths open all day long due to safety reasons. The walking paths from Suðurstrandarvegur will be closed daily at 6:00 PM. This decision will be in effect as long as the eruption continues at the mountain Litli-Hrútur.

iceland eruption 2023
Reykjanes Police – Map of the hazard zone around Litli-Hrútur eruption.

The estimated number of people on Meradalaleið hiking trail yesterday was 1,952. An additional 1,358 visitor were recorded on other trails to the site.

Police officers, Civil Protection officers, and medical personnel are present in the area today. There have also been reports that ICE-SAR, an all-volunteer rescue squad, has had difficulty in fully manning shifts.

 

Eruption Site Open and Wildfires Quelled

litli hrútur 2023

The eruption site on Reykjanes is open to visitors today and firefighters have managed to subdue the wildfires that have been raging at the site. Hiking routes to the eruption were closed yesterday evening due to poor visibility. The eruption began on July 10, the third volcanic eruption in the same area of Reykjanes in three years.

No serious incidents were reported from the eruption site last night, though some exhausted hikers needed help returning from the site. The hike is around 20 km round trip across uneven terrain and requires appropriate preparation and gear.

Wildfires no longer a threat

The eruption had set off wildfires in the moss surrounding the site, but firefighting efforts have proven successful in subduing them, Einar Sveinn Jónsson, Chief of the Grindavík Fire Department, told RÚV. “If there is any more fire, then it’s a very small amount that we can absolutely handle,” he stated. The wildfires on the Reykjanes peninsula have been the largest-ever since records began, according to a recent report by the Icelandic Institute of Natural History.

Rangers needed

The Environment Agency has received 29 applications from would-be rangers interesting in supervising the eruption site. The application deadline is tomorrow, Friday, and the Environment Agency encourages those with ranger certification to apply. Staffing the required positions may prove challenging as summer is the high season for tourism, and most certified rangers have already been stationed elsewhere in the country.

Read more about how to access the 2023 Reykjanes eruption.

2-3 Times More Powerful than 2021 Eruption

iceland volcano 2023

The ongoing eruption on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula is about 2-3 times more powerful than the 2021 eruption at the same site, according to the latest data from the University of Iceland’s Institute of Earth Sciences. In its first week, the eruption has covered an area of nearly one square kilometre with fresh lava and it shows no signs of stopping. This is the third eruption at the same site in three years, following some 800 years with no eruptions in the area.

Fresh lava over 20 metres thick

The eruption’s lava flow between July 13-17 averaged 13 cubic metres per second, slightly lower than the lava flow of 14.5 cubic metres per second between July 11-13, but due to the margin of error in measurements, researchers say the difference is not significant. The surface area of the new lava was 0.83 square kilometres [0.32 sq mi] as of yesterday, and its volume was 8.4 million cubic metres. The edge of the lava advances 300-400 metres [980-1,300 ft] daily with the distance being highly variable from day to day. The lava is around 10 metres thick on average but over 20 metres at its thickest.

All of these figures are quite similar to last year’s eruption in Meradalir but 2-3 times higher than the figures of the Geldingadalir eruption in 2021. The 2021 Geldingadalir Eruption was significantly smaller, but lasted around six months, while the 2022 Meradalir eruption lasted less than three weeks. So far, the current eruption is not threatening inhabited areas or infrastructure, though pollution from its gases as well as from wildfires set off by the lava are a significant risk for people at the site as well as further off.

Iceland Review has a handy guide on accessing the eruption site.

How do I access the 2023 Reykjanes eruption?

reykjanes eruption 2023

An eruption began on the Reykjanes peninsula at 4:40 PM on July 10, 2023. It is the third eruption in three years at the site. The eruption area has been opened to visitors and below is all the necessary information on how to access it, including directions, route information, and safety considerations.

Checking conditions

To receive the most up-to-date information about access to the eruption site, it is best to check safetravel.is. The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management website and Facebook page also provide information about safety at the site. Information on air quality in Iceland is available at loftgaedi.is. The site may be closed with short notice due to weather conditions or gas pollution, so make sure you check first before heading out.

Driving and parking

All off-road driving is illegal in Iceland. The hiking route to the eruption is accessed from Suðurstrandarvegur (Route 427). Cars must be parked at marked parking lots and parking on the side of the road is forbidden. Parking has a cost of ISK 1,000 [$7.60, €6.80] and can be paid online, more information is provided on-site.

Hiking route

The hike to the eruption is around 10km one way across uneven terrain. Hikers experienced with Icelandic conditions may be able to complete the hike in two hours one way (four hours round trip). Those with less experience should expect a hike of 3-4 hours one way, 6-8 hours round trip, which does not include time spent at the eruption itself. Hikers need proper footwear, warm clothing, and a wind- and rain-proof outer layer, and must bring food, water, and a fully charged cell phone. The hiking route is clearly marked from the available parking lots. More detailed information on hiking routes is available on visitreykjanes.is.

Safety risks

Visiting an active eruption poses several risks. One of the main risks is gas pollution, especially when conditions are still. Toxic gases from eruptions are heavier than the atmosphere meaning they gather close to the ground and in low-lying areas. This means that eruption sites pose a particular risk for children and pets, who are also more sensitive to toxic gases. Hikers are strongly discouraged from bringing young children or dogs to the eruption site. Surgical masks do not protect against toxic gases at eruptions.

Hikers are also encouraged to stay at a significant distance from the fresh lava, as new rivulets can break through suddenly and be difficult to escape from in due time. Visitors to the eruption should not under any circumstances walk on fresh lava: while the surface may look solid and cool, lava can remain molten underneath for years and even decades.

More about the eruption

For curious readers, Iceland Review has compiled an article with more information about the eruption itself. Several live feeds of the eruption are available online, including here and here.

This article will be updated regularly.

Eruption Site Closed Due to Gas and Wildfire Pollution

Almannavarnadeild ríkislögreglustjóra. The eruption on Reykjanes, July 10, 2023

The Suðurnes Chief of Police has decided to close the active eruption site on Reykjanes due to dangerous pollution levels from wildfires as well as the eruption itself. The site will be closed until Saturday, when authorities will review whether conditions have changed. The eruption is significantly stronger than the 2021 and 2022 eruptions at the same site and has been producing significant gas pollution and set off wildfires in the surrounding vegetation.

Some enter site despite warnings

In a written statement, the chief of police said the safety of people entering the site could not be ensured in the current conditions. The prevailing winds are now blowing the gas pollution from the eruption along the hiking route, and smoke pollution from wildfires is adding to the danger. Nevertheless, some travellers have ignored the warnings of first responders and have entered the site.

The eruption began on Monday, July 10 and so far only minor injuries have been reported from the site, such as twisted ankles and exhaustion. However, Hjördís Guðmundsdóttir, Communications Director for the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management stated that visitors’ behaviour was not exemplary yesterday. “It’s just a matter of time before something serious happens,” she told RÚV.

Worse pollution than 2021 and 2022 eruptions

The air quality at the current eruption site is much worse than at the 2021 and 2022 eruptions, according to Vísir. This is in part due to the wildfire smoke. “We see that the smoke from wildfires is spreading over a large area,” Gunnar Guðmundsson, lung specialist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Iceland, told mbl.is. “When vegetations burns, small soot particles form in the smoke, so the smoke can be very irritating to the eyes and respiratory system.”

The smoke is mostly a risk for hikers at the site and residents of the Suðurnes peninsula need not be concerned, Gunnar stated. He did encourage those with sensitivities, such as asthma, to show caution and use medication when necessary.

A Small Eruption That May Last Long

Almannavarnadeild ríkislögreglustjóra. The eruption on Reykjanes, July 10, 2023

The eruption that began on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula yesterday has already decreased in intensity. This is the third eruption on Reykjanes in three years following a break of some 800 years, and experts say the region has entered a period of increased volcanic activity. Residents of the Reykjanes peninsula and the Reykjavík capital area are encouraged to keep their windows closed today due to gas pollution.

Eruption exactly where expected

An eruption began on the Reykjanes peninsula at 4:40 PM yesterday afternoon following around a week of increased earthquake activity, including an M5.2 earthquake on Sunday night that was felt across the country. The eruption is located between Litli-Hrútur and Mt. Keilir, right where experts had predicted it would break out and just north of the 2021 and 2022 eruption sites.

Civilians asked to stay away

At the moment, the eruption does not threaten roads, infrastructure, or inhabited areas. The risk of gas pollution both at the site and elsewhere in the region is, however, significant. Civilians have been asked to stay away from the eruption site for the time being due to life-threatening conditions. Authorities have also told residents across Southwest Iceland, including the capital area and even as far as the Snæfellsnes peninsula to keep their windows closed due to the pollution.

Activity decreased since yesterday

The eruption is behaving typically for a fissure eruption, according to the Volcano and Natural Hazard Group of South Iceland. Such eruptions tend to be most powerful when they start, due to gas that accumulates high up in the magma intrusion that makes its way to the surface. When the eruption begins, the pressure in the magma tunnel begins to drop and with it the intensity of the eruption. “Now it’s just a question of how long the eruption channel stays open before the eruption ends,” the group wrote.

The eruption can be seen on a live feed below.