What do we know about the December 2023 eruption near Grindavík, Iceland?

Reykjanes eruption Iceland eruption

An eruption began on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula on December 18, 2023 at 10:17 PM. As of the morning of December 21, there was no visible activity at the eruption site, and the eruption has now been declared officially over. The eruption site is near Sýlingafell mountain, some 3km [1.9mi] away from the town of Grindavík. It did not impact air traffic or threaten infrastructure.

The Department of Civil Protection declared an emergency phase due to the eruption. Roads to Grindavík are closed to the public and authorities asked civilians to stay away from the eruption for their own safety and the safety of others.

 

More powerful than recent eruptions in Iceland

The December eruption was the fourth in three years on the Reykjanes peninsula. It began much more powerfully than the previous three eruptions in the same area, however. The eruption produced more lava in its first seven hours than all of the lava produced by the Litli-Hrútur eruption earlier this year.

The Sýlingafell eruption is a fissure eruption, with the southern end of the fissure some 3km [1.9mi] northeast of Grindavík, whose 3,600 residents have been evacuated since November 10. The eruptive fissure is nearly 4km [2.5mi] long, with the northeast end just east of Stóra-Skógfell mountain. Lava did not flow in the direction of Grindavík, and the flow weakened rapidly once the eruption had begun and did not impact any infrastructure. The map below shows the location of the eruption fissure in relation to Grindavík, the Blue Lagoon, and Svartsengi Power Plant.

Reykjanes eruption Iceland eruption
Icelandic Met Office. The approximate location of the eruption fissure in relation to Grindavík, the Blue Lagoon, and Svartsengi Power Station

 

Iceland eruption preceded by earthquake swarm

The eruption was preceded by an earthquake swarm that began around 9:00 PM, just over an hour before lava broke the surface. For more on the seismic events that preceded the eruption, read this article.

 

Resources

In addition to following our news coverage on the earthquakes and eruptions on Reykjanes, readers may find the following resources useful:

The Icelandic Met Office

SafeTravel, for travel warnings and tips for staying safe.

The Icelandic Road Administration and its live map of road closures throughout Iceland.

The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management.

Iceland Review magazine published a photo series on the evacuation of Grindavík.

This article will be updated regularly.

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.