Civil Protection Downgrades Reykjanes Eruption

reykjanes eruption march 2024

Yesterday, April 3, the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police, in consultation with the Chief of Police of the Reykjanes peninsula, made the decision to downgrade the emergency preparedness level. The volcanic eruption between Hagafell and Stóra Skógfell is now considered to be an “alert phase,” where it was previously an “emergency phase.”

Emergency phase

The emergency phase was activated when the eruption commenced on March 16th. Despite the ongoing eruption, the situation has remained stable for some time. Civil Protection and the Icelandic Met Office state that no significant ground movements have been detected in the region recently.

While challenges like wildfires near the lava flow and gas pollution persist, the pollution hasn’t reached settlements in the Reykjanes Peninsula.

Misleading headlines

It should be noted that the Civil Protection emergency preparedness levels indicate overall levels of caution taken by authorities and first responders to the localised eruption, and not nation-wide conditions. Some reporting in the foreign media have implied that the “state of emergency” applied to the entire nation.

According to Civil Protection, an alert phase (hættustig) is in place if “a hazard assessment indicates increased threat, immediate measures must be taken to ensure the safety and security of those who are exposed/ in the area. This is done by increasing preparedness of the emergency- and security services in the area and by taking preventive measures, such as restrictions, closures, evacuations and relocation of inhabitants. This level is also characterized by public information, advise and warning messages.”

More information can be found, in English, here.

Further monitoring

Despite the downgraded preparedness level, Civil Protection state that continuous monitoring of wildfires during the eruption will be conducted, and necessary actions will be implemented.

More information can be found at the Icelandic Met Office. Air quality can be monitored live here: www.loftgaedi.is.

 

Uncertainty Phase Declared as Earthquakes Rock Reykjanes Peninsula

An Uncertainty Phase was declared on Reykjanes after earthquakes started rocking the peninsula around noon on Saturday, RÚV reports. As of 3:00 PM, the earthquakes were still underway. The most significant seismic activity is concentrated to the northeast of Mt. Fagradalsfjall.

At time of writing, small quakes were happening on a more or less constant basis; nearly 700 had been measured as of 5:30 PM. However, a much larger quake, measuring 4.0, occurred earlier in the day, around 2:00 PM, and that one was felt not only around Reykjanes, but also throughout the capital area as well as the villages of Akranes (roughly 95 km [59 mi] to the northwest) and Hvolsvöllur (about 120 km [75 mi] to the southeast). An even bigger earthquake occurred  3 km northeast of Fagradalsfjall at 4:00 PM, this time at a magnitude of 4.4.

Einar Hjörleifsson, an expert in natural hazards at the Met, said that the first large earthquake occurred at a depth of 5-7 km [3-4 mi]. He said the increasing magnitude of the eruptions may indicate that some significant seismic event is afoot; the activity may be a precursor to another volcanic eruption. Einar noted that the seismic activity currently underway on Reykjanes is reminiscent of that which occurred in the area around the end of last year. But in that instance, there was no eruption, as the lava did not rise to the surface.

Later in the day, Sigríður Kristjánsdóttir, who is also a natural hazards expert, said the Met believed there was lateral magma movement occurring at a depth of 5-7 km. The Met was paying close attention to any change in depth of the seismic activity, particularly if it were to get any more shallow, “as that would be an indication that the magma is pushing its way a bit higher.”

See Also: 50% Chance of Another Reykjanes Eruption this Year, Expert Says

An Uncertainty Phase means that there will be additional monitoring of the Reykjanes peninsula and any developments in seismic activity there. An Uncertainty Phase is not indicative of a current state of emergency, but signifies that if conditions continue to progress, there could be danger to the safety of people, inhabited areas, or the environment. During an Uncertainty Phase, first responders and emergency services such as the Department of Civil Defense and Emergency Management review their preparedness plans and get ready to put them into action if needed.

The Met has also issued a yellow aviation weather alert and noted that falling rocks and landslides could easily begin on steep terrain. Travellers are advised to be careful on mountain roadways and in areas surrounded by sheer hills.

Peninsula residents were directed to take precautions with furniture and household items that can fall during an earthquake and take special care to ensure that no loose objects can fall on people who are sleeping.

This article was updated to reflect ongoing developments.

Seyðisfjörður May Have to Evacuate Again

Residents of Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland may have to evacuate their homes once again for risk of landslides, RÚV reports. Civil Defense has declared an Uncertainty Phase in the village and residents are urged to closely monitor the forecast and safety advisories throughout the weekend.

Forecasts predict as much as 120 mm [5 in] of rain in the area this weekend, starting late Sunday night/early Monday morning and continuing through Wednesday. Depending on conditions, homes at the base of Botnabrún mountain may need to be evacuated. The same area suffered a series of landslides in December 2020, later determined to be the “largest landslide to have damaged an urban area in Iceland.” In a village of 659 people, fourteen homes were destroyed or collapsed.

See Also: Seyðisfjörður Mudslides: 14 Houses Destroyed

The residents in Seyðisfjörður have been on landslide-watch for weeks. Twenty residents were evacuated and an Alert Phase declared by Civil Defense at the start of the month. This was downgraded to an Uncertainty Phase just days ago and residents allowed to return home.

Civil Defense and the Met will monitor conditions over the weekend. The expect to make a decision on Sunday afternoon as to whether there will need to be another evacuation and if so, how extensive that evacuation would need to be.

“Uncertainty Phase” Declared Due to Risk of Forest Fires in South and West Iceland

heiðmörk fire 4 may 2021

The National Police Commissioner has declared an “uncertainty phase” due to risk of forest fires in South Iceland, West Iceland, and the Reykjavík capital area. The area stretches between Eyjafjöll to the south side of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. A forest fire burned two square kilometres in Heiðmörk forest on May 4.

A notice from the Civil Protection Department stated that the three regions have been unseasonably dry in recent weeks and there is little precipitation in the forecast for the coming days, increasing the risk of brush or forest fires. At this stage, the department and stakeholders will begin the collaboration and coordination to increase monitoring, assessment, and research related to the risk.

The public is asked to be careful with open fires in the regions and other places where vegetation is dry. “It doesn’t take a lot of sparks to lead to a big blaze,” the notice states. Anyone who spots a brush or forest fire should call emergency line 112.

Larger Earthquakes May Be in Store for Reykjanes

Krísuvík - Seltún - hverasvæði - Reykjanes

A M5.7 earthquake occurred on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula at 10.05am this morning, and dozens of earthquakes have followed since. The quakes have been felt across much of the country, including the Westman Islands in South Iceland and Stykkishólmur in West Iceland. The activity stretches over a relatively large area of the peninsula and Kristín Jónsdóttir, Earthquake Hazards Co-ordinator at the Icelandic Met Office, says residents should be prepared for the possibility of still larger earthquakes. There is no sign of volcanic activity in the area.

At least 45 of the quakes in the swarm measured over M3, and at least 9 of those over M4, according to preliminary reports issued around 12.30pm. The earthquakes have more than one point of origin stretching between Kleifarvatn lake and the town of Grindavík in Southwest Iceland. “There is a lot of activity in this area, we know that very well, but I have never experienced such a powerful swarm or felt so many earthquakes in such a short time here in the [Icelandic Met Office] building, so this is unusual,” Kristín stated.

According to Kristín, there are no indications that the quakes are connected to volcanic activity on the peninsula, but experts have been sent to take gas measurements in the area. Such measurements would give indications of whether any volcanic activity is occurring below the surface.

The Civil Protection Department has declared an alert phase on the Reykjanes peninsula and Reykjavík to co-ordinate emergency response, but has stated the declaration does not affect the public directly. The Civil Protection Department provides English-language guidelines on earthquake safety measures.

133 Avalanches in Iceland in Ten Days

avalanche

An unusually high number of avalanches has fallen across East Iceland, North Iceland, and the Westfjords in recent days, according to the Icelandic Met Office. The Office has received 133 reports of avalanches in the past 10 days, though the true number is likely higher. The Civil Protection Department has declared an uncertainty phase in the North Westfjords as well as North and East Iceland due to ongoing risk.

Most of the 133 reports are from the Westfjords (52) and Northeast Iceland (41) with the third-highest number being reported in the Eastfjords (24). “It is clear that many more avalanches have occurred without being recorded. Many floods fall off the beaten track, others hit without being seen, and not all avalanches are reported to the Met Office,” a blog post from the Met Office reads. Heavy snowfall across the aforementioned regions is, of course, the cause, and the snow blanketing the slopes is considered unstable. The Office reports that some avalanches have fallen in still weather.

Read More: Avalanche Barriers in Iceland

Avalanches have fallen on several roads across the country, leading to closures while snow is cleared. The Road and Coastal Administration notifies travellers of road closures across the country while the Met Office reports on avalanche risk.

No people have been injured as a result of the events, though one recent avalanche in Skagafjörður killed at least three horses and destroyed a shed. One avalanche on the Skarðsdalur skiing grounds in North Iceland caused significant damage to the facilities. A third near Eskifjörður, East Iceland, damaged a shooting range and appears to have damaged facilities in the area as well.

Seyðisfjörður Mudslides: Research Underway to Prevent Further Disasters

Seyðisfjörður landslide almannavarnir

Experts are researching how to prevent further mudslides in Seyðisfjörður, East Iceland through better monitoring systems and defence barriers, RÚV reports. Results from a preliminary investigation into mudslide barriers above the town could be available within a few weeks. A series of mudslides following record rainfall destroyed 14 buildings in the town in December, though thankfully no lives were lost.

Located in a narrow fjord in East Iceland, Seyðisfjörður is often lauded as one of Iceland’s most picturesque towns. It is also the first stop for many of Iceland’s visitors as it is where the Norræna ferry, arriving from mainland Europe, docks.

Ongoing Risk of Mudslides

Around 40 Seyðisfjörður residents spent Christmas in an emergency response centre after they were evacuated from their homes the week before the holiday. Fourteen buildings in the town (pop. 659) were destroyed by the mudslides, many of them historic. A notice from Icelandic Police stated the risk of mudslides is ongoing: a state of danger remains in effect, and part of the town remains evacuated. Warmer weather delayed clean-up operations in the town last weekend as it increases this risk, but the weather has since cooled, allowing crews to recommence their efforts at full capacity.

Local and Foreign Experts Collaborate in Research

Authorities have been aware that Seyðisfjörður faces some risk of mudslides for several years. Last summer, engineering company Efla began to evaluate the best possible options for a defence structure on the mountain slope above the southern part of the town. Water pressure gauges were installed in boreholes as well as fixed measuring points in order to monitor the earth’s movement in the slope. The Icelandic Met Office has since added additional equipment to monitor the area.

A Swiss consulting company has been supporting Efla in its research, and the company has also been in contact with Norwegian experts on landslide monitoring. Preliminary results of this research could be available within a few weeks. It is too early to say when construction of defences will begin, but efforts are being made to speed up the investigative process.

Gathering Ban Exemption Requested for Annual Sheep Roundup

The committee overseeing the sheep roundup in the West Iceland municipality of Borgarbyggð has applied for an exemption to the gathering ban rule for this year’s réttir, RÚV reports. The committee is requesting that 150 be allowed to participate in each farm’s roundup. Under current gathering restrictions, no more than 100 people would be permitted to take part.

In their letter requesting the exemption, the roundup committee argued that increasing the number of people taking part in the réttir would speed up the process significantly, which would make a big difference in terms of the animals’ welfare.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting safety measures have had no less an effect on the sheep roundup this year than it has on all other annual traditions and festivities. The National Association of Sheep Farmers has encouraged roundup participants to observe a “two-sheep rule” when gathering in the animals, a tongue-in-cheek reminder about the importance of maintaining two-metres of distance from one another.

Iceland’s Civil Defense Department has moreover issued specific COVID guidelines for this year’s roundup, such as recommending that everyone who takes part download the contact tracing app and that no alcohol be consumed. Any farms that cannot guarantee that social distancing or gathering regulations will be observed during their roundup must apply for an official exemption.

“It’s important to put your ego as a politician aside”

The United States’ TIME magazine interviewed Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir as part of its TIME100 Talks series, which brings together “global leaders and experts from different fields to spotlight solutions to urgent global problems.” The PM’s 20-minute conversation with interviewer Katie Couric focused on Iceland’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Noting the significant backlash that social distancing mandates have faced in many states in the US, Katie asked if Iceland had experienced a similar response at any point during its lockdown. Quite to the contrary, Katrín responded, the reaction had overwhelmingly been one of support and solidarity, an attitude that she linked to the country’s lack of armed forces.

“We don’t have a military in Iceland,” noted Katrín. “We are very focused on [being] a very liberal society, so actually, you could say that the responsibility was placed on the shoulders of each and every single one of us. And the slogan was that we are all really part of this public security, we all need to be a part of it if it’s supposed to work. And I think that has actually worked.”

When asked why she thought social distancing, quarantining, and other strategies intended to stem the spread of COVID-19 have been so difficult to implement in countries like the US and the UK, Katrín acknowledged that Iceland’s small size has, of course, played a helpful role in allowing authorities to really get across the importance of following rules and regulations during this time. Not only is it easier to manage something like contract tracing, she said, but “being in a small country, I think, you really do get this feeling that we are in this together, that we are fighting the epidemic together.”

“I also think that the strength of Iceland in this progress has been the public health system and that it’s accessible to everyone,” she continued, although she was quick to note that Iceland, like all countries, has made mistakes in combating the virus and “will have a lot to learn” when looking back on the pandemic.

“…[I]t sounds like you gave scientists the lead on this,” noted Couric later in the interview. “In terms of communicating with the public, you put them front and centre is that right?”

“Yes, we did that,” confirmed Katrín. “And they also approached this very humbly and said, ‘We really don’t know everything and we are not going to be able to answer all your questions, but we will try our best.’ And I think that’s something that the Icelandic public really appreciated…”

“I think what we can learn from this,” said Katrín later, remarking on the observation that many of the world leaders credited with the strongest management of the COVID-19 crisis are women, “is that it’s important to put your ego as a politician aside and really learn from those humble scientists…Be ready to admit that we are all really learning by doing and probably we will make mistakes. And I think that has been the biggest issue of leadership and maybe that comes easier to women than men.”