Svartsengi Geothermal Power Station Evacuated Due to Air Pollution

grindavík evacuation svartsengi power plant

The Svartsengi geothermal power station was evacuated this morning due to sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution from the ongoing Reykjanes eruption. Five employees were reported to be in the area when the decision to evacuate was made. RÚV reported first.

Svartsengi can operate remotely

The Svartsengi geothermal power station is a major provider of electricity and hot and cold water for the Reykjanes peninsula. After the first Reykjanes eruption in 2021, steps were taken to ensure the continued operation of the station, even during an eruption. It is capable of operating nearly autonomously for shorter periods of time, and during such eruptions, it operates with a skeleton crew. It has been operated almost entirely remotely for the past month.

reykjanes eruption march 19
Meteorological Office of Iceland

Not advisable to remain in area

Birna Lárusdóttir, a spokesperson for HS Orka, the operator of Svartsengi, stated to Morgunblaðið that “SO2 levels had reached a point where it was no longer advisable to be in the area.” She noted that they had prepared for this eventuality and that as wind patterns change later in the day, it may be possible for employees to return today. She emphasised that such decision are made in cooperation with Civil Protection and the Met Office.

Power production not at risk

Birna continued: “However, this is certainly not a completely unmanned power plant. We need to attend to various tools and equipment that are part of the daily operations of the power station. We need to take care of buildings, equipment, and machinery when we deem it necessary, as we did this morning.”

According to Birna, power production at Svartsengi is not currently at risk.

Low Air Quality Attributed to Sand

air quality iceland

Air quality in the capital region has been poor due to the concentration of sand particulates from South Iceland, announced the City of Reykjavík yesterday.

According to the Meteorological Office of Iceland, the source of the sand particulates is a sandstorm on the South Coast, from high winds in the last days.

Those with respiratory sensitivities and small children are asked to avoid unnecessary outdoor activities if they feel any difficulty breathing or other discomfort.

At 12.00 yesterday, August 29, the particulate concentration at Grensásvegur was measured at 121 micrograms per cubic meter, and 272 micrograms at Háaleitisbraut. Guidelines for 24-hour health protection limits recommend PM10 (denoting particulates with diameters of 10 micrometers) concentrations no higher than 50 micrograms per cubic meter.

Those wanting to monitor the air quality in real-time can do so through the Environmental Agency of Iceland.

Wind Carries European Birch Pollen to Iceland

Pollen from birch trees in Europe and as far away as Russia reached Iceland last week. RÚV reports that the pollen was carried along with dust from the Sahara Desert on strong winds that originated in Eastern Europe. Much of the dust and pollen settled over the Mediterranean Sea, but a measurable quantity made the journey all the way to Iceland.

On April 25, the First Day of Summer in Iceland, a fair amount of the Saharan dust and a great deal of European pollen was caught in traps placed by the Icelandic Institute of Natural History in the municipality of Garðabær in the capital area and in Akureyri in North Iceland. According to an announcement on its website, the institute has only measured a higher pollen count twice since it began taking such measurements, that is in May 2006 and April 2014.

There was a veritable explosion of vegetation blooming over the last week in both North and South Iceland, although particularly around Akureyri. It’s expected then that there will be high levels of birch pollen circulating in the coming weeks, which may cause difficulties for people with pollen allergies.