Blue Lagoon Closed Due to Earthquakes and Eruption Threat

Blue Lagoon Earthquakes REykjanes Svartsengi

The Blue Lagoon, a popular bathing spot on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula, has been closed to visitors from today until November 16. Strong earthquakes rattled the area around midnight last night, the continuation of an earthquake swarm that began in late October. A magma intrusion is forming underground just west of the lagoon, but there are still no signs an eruption is imminent.

Reykjanes earthquakes intensify

Over 10 earthquakes over M3 were detected near the lagoon starting around midnight last night, with the strongest measuring M5, the most powerful quake since an earthquake swarm began in the area around October 24. That quake was felt as far as Selfoss, South Iceland, and Dalabyggð, West Iceland. A magma intrusion is forming 4-5 km [2.5-3.1 mi] below the surface of the peninsula, just west of the Blue Lagoon and Þorbjörn mountain. There have, however, been no signs of volcanic unrest.

Blue Lagoon criticised for staying open

A notice from the Blue Lagoon cited the disruptions to their guests’ experience last night and the prolonged strain on their employees as the main reasons for the closure. Two days ago, Reykjavík Excursions decided to suspend all transport to the lagoon citing staff and customer safety. The Blue Lagoon remained open at the time, despite criticism from the public and the Suðurnes police force.

Read more about what’s happening on the Reykjanes peninsula.

Reykjanes Earthquakes Continue as Concern for Area Grows

Grindavík - Þorbjörn

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.

M4.2 Earthquake Near 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.”

The Blue Lagoon currently informs visitors on its website of the increased seismic activity.

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.

The evacuation plans are available in Icelandic, English, and Polish

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.

 

M4.2 Earthquake Near Blue Lagoon

A 4.2 magnitude earthquake shook Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula last night, originating just west of the Blue Lagoon. Magma is collecting some 4-5 kilometres [2.5-3.1 miles] below the surface of the peninsula, not far from where three eruptions have occurred over the last three years. While those eruptions did not damage infrastructure or inhabited areas, this latest magma intrusion is close to Svartsengi Geothermal Power Plant, the town of Grindavík, and the aforementioned Blue Lagoon.

Earthquakes and deformation

An earthquake swarm began on the Reykjanes peninsula on the night of October 24 just north of the town of Grindavík. On October 27, the land in the area began to rise, indicating a magma intrusion in the earth below. No volcanic unrest has been detected and there are no signs an eruption is imminent. However, the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management has declared an uncertainty phase in the area due to the earthquake activity.

This is the fifth time that deformation has been measured at this location since 2020. None of the previous instances resulted in an eruption. In a notice, the Icelandic Met Office stated that earthquakes are expected to continue. The notice also warned travellers of the risk of rockfall from steep slopes.

Water and electricity supply could be impacted

Reykjanes residents receive their hot water, cold water, and electricity from the Svartsengi Geothermal Power Plant, located near the magma intrusion that has formed on Reykjanes. According to the CEO of HS Orka, which owns the power plant, an eruption at the site could make it difficult to supply residents with hot water. Representatives of HS Orka answered residents’ questions at a town hall meeting in Grindavík yesterday, along with Icelandic authorities and experts.

Kristinn Harðarson, HS Orka’s production manager, stated that the company is prepared to respond if an eruption does occur near Svartsengi. “We are well prepared as far as that goes, what can be done,” Kristinn stated at the meeting. “We are very well connected with working groups within the Department of Civil Protection who will work with us to protect the power plant in the event of lava flow. And every effort will be made to protect the power plant, if such an event were to happen.”

Land Rising Faster on Reykjanes than Before Past Eruptions

Grindavík - Þorbjörn

The land on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula has risen some 3 cm [1.2 in] since October 27, indicating an eruption might be on the way. Uplift (the scientific term for this geological activity) has occurred before all three eruptions on Reykjanes in the past three years. While there are no indications that an eruption is imminent, the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management has declared an uncertainty phase on the Reykjanes peninsula.

Earthquakes and faster uplift

A powerful earthquake swarm began on the Reykjanes peninsula on the night of October 24 just north of the town of Grindavík. The most powerful earthquakes at the start of the swarm measured M3.9 and M4.5. More than 7,000 earthquakes have been detected in the area since, including an M5.0 earthquake on October 27.

On October 27, the land in the area began to rise, indicating a magma intrusion in the earth below. This is the fifth time that uplift is measured at the location since 2020. The rate of uplift is faster than uplift that occurred in 2020 and 2022 in a similar area. All three eruptions that have occurred on the Reykjanes peninsula in the past three years were preceded by earthquakes and uplift.

Land rise close to Blue Lagoon

The midpoint of the uplift is some 1.5km to the northwest of Þorbjörn mountain, near the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon’s Director of Sales, Operations, and Services told RÚV that the company is meeting with authorities daily to monitor the situation and has updated their contingency plans. The temperature of the water in the lagoon is monitored regularly and no changes have been detected.

More eruptions can be expected on Reykjanes

In March 2021, an eruption began on the Reykjanes peninsula following a period of nearly 800 years with no eruptions in the area. That eruption lasted around six months and was followed by two shorter eruptions in 2022 and 2023. Geologic activity on the Reykjanes peninsula is characterised by seismic periods lasting 600-800 years, alternating with volcanic periods lasting 400-500 years and experts have stated that more eruptions can be expected on the peninsula in the coming decades. None of the three recent eruptions have impacted inhabited areas or infrastructure.

Fagradalsfjall Update: Quakes Continue, Eruption Likely

Meradalir eruption, August 2022

Note that this is a developing situation. Visitors and residents alike are advised to avoid the active area.

Since significant seismic activity on Reykjanes resumed on July 4, some 4,700 quakes have been recorded. The largest quake so far recorded, M4.8, occurred yesterday morning, July 5. Additionally, 13 earthquakes above M4 have been recorded, with a slight decrease in seismic activity since last night.

Read More: Over 1,200 Earthquakes in Reykjanes

Geologists have indicated that the current earthquake swarm on the Reykjanes peninsula suggests a more aggressive magma intrusion than in 2021 and 2022. Land uplift on the Reykjanes peninsula is currently measured at 3cm. While the total uplift is similar to previous eruptions, it has been measured across a larger area on the peninsula. The previous 2021 and 2022 Fagradalsfjall eruptions saw more localised land uplift.

reykjanes earthquake
Seismic activity on the Reykjanes Peninsula as of July 6 11:10. Green stars indicated M3 and greater. Met Office of Iceland.

Currently, the eruption is expected to take place in the area between the mountains Keilir and Fagradalsfjall.

Experts have also speculated that Reykjanesbraut, the main road connecting Reykjavík and Keflavík International Airport, could be threatened given the right circumstances. In a statement to Vísir, volcanologist Þorvaldur Þórðarson said: “The current seismic activity is located north of the 2022 volcanic fissure, and if the fissure opens to the north, then this will be towards the shield volcano known as Þráinsskjöldur. It is possible that the lava would then run down to the coast, across Reykjanesbraut. If the fissure opens to the north, it has a direct path to the road and down to the coast. However, in order for that to happen, it needs to reach a certain size or a certain output so that it can flow fast enough.”

Notably, even in a worst-case scenario, serviceable roads still connect the capital area to Keflavík International Airport.

Read More: Magma Likely Collecting Under Reykjanes Again

Geologists have also expressed concern for tourists already flocking to the expected eruption site.

Geologist Jóhann Helgason stated to RÚV that it was highly dangerous for tourists to explore the area unrestricted: “Tourists are flocking to the area, and I find it highly dangerous because one doesn’t know where people are, nor do they know where an eruption might occur if it were to happen. Handling such circumstances can be very difficult [… ] The lava flow could easily cut off areas.”

In addition to the obvious dangers posed by volcanic fissures and toxic gases, the area in question is also less accessible than previous eruption sites. So far, no plans have been announced to close the area to foot traffic.

Tourists and residents alike will receive SMS notifications from the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management upon arrival in the area, warning them of falling rocks and the possibility of an imminent volcanic eruption.

Live webcams of the area can be accessed here.

 

 

Gas Pollution and Water Level Rise Near Mýrdalsjökull Glacier

Katla volcano

Hot water is flowing out from the geothermal system underneath Mýrdalsjökull glacier in South Iceland and conductivity remains high. Activity has, however decreased as compared to several days ago and there are no signs of volcanic unrest, RÚV reports.

An earthquake swarm was detected beneath the glacier last week, with the largest quake measuring M 4.4 and occurring on June 30 at 2:45 AM. Earthquake activity in the area has calmed since but continues nevertheless, with M 3.1 and M 2.2 earthquakes detected around 11:00 PM last night.

Gas pollution has also been detected near the site, and the Icelandic Met Office is warning travellers against being in the Katla volcano area due to the associated gas pollution risks. The Met Office also warns of a possible rise in water levels in Múlakvísl river due to the geothermal activity beneath Mýrdalsjökull.

Three Earthquakes Over M4 at Katla Volcano

Katla volcano

The aviation colour code above Katla volcano in South Iceland has been raised to yellow following an earthquake swarm at the site this morning. Preliminary figures measured the strongest earthquake at M4.5. No volcanic unrest was detected and there are no indications a glacial flood has begun from beneath Mýrdalsjökull glacier.

The earthquake swarm began at 9:41 AM this morning under Mýrdalsjökull. The origin of the earthquakes is the northeast section of the Katla caldera and the earthquakes were felt in Þórsmörk. Although there are no indications that an eruption or glacial flood is imminent, it is not advisable to be at the base of the Katla glacier due to possible gas emissions and floodwater from Múlakvísl river.

Read More: A Volcano in the Backyard

A similar earthquake swarm occurred in Katla caldera in August 2016. No flood occurred in connection with that swarm. The last big glacial flood in Múlakvísl occurred in July 2011. Katla’s last eruption (that broke through the ice that covers it) was over 100 years ago, in 1918. Its eruption frequency during the last 1,100 years is, however, one eruption per 50 years.

Earthquake Swarm on Reykjanes Ridge

Reykjanes

Around 70 earthquakes were measured along the Reykjanes Ridge between 6:45 pm and 11:30 pm on Friday night. RÚV reports that eight of the quakes were over 3.0 in magnitude.

The largest of the quakes measured 3.8 and occurred at 7:45 pm. Most of the earthquakes are centered 4-5 km [2.5-3.1 mi] of the southernmost tip of the peninsula and are occurring at depths of 4-7 km [2.5-4.3 mi].

According to Böðvar Sveinsson, a natural disaster expert with the Icelandic Met Office, the intensity and frequency of the earthquakes significantly decreased as the evening progressed. He confirmed that earthquakes are very common along the Reykjanes Ridge and that there were no indications of volcanic unrest in the area, although the situation will continue to be monitored closely.

Earthquakes Shake Grímsey, Herðubreið Overnight

herðubreið mountain iceland

Early this morning, a magnitude 4.0 earthquake was detected 30 km east-southeast of Grímsey, an island off the north coast of Iceland. The quake and its aftershocks were detected in Akureyri.

Additionally, an earthquake swarm was detected at Herðubreið, in the Vatnajökull highland, the largest quakes measuring up to magnitude 3.0.

Since October 22, some 3,600 earthquakes have been registered near Herðubreið. The most powerful so far has been a magnitude 4.1, the most significant activity since measuring began near Herðubreið in 1991.

Though some several hundred kilometers apart, the Grímsey quakes, a part of the Tjörnes fracture zone, and the latest earthquake swarm near Herðubreið are a part of the same system, resting along the plate boundary in North Iceland. Herðubreið is also significant for its proximity to Askja, a major volcano system in Iceland whose 1875 eruption caused significant damage to agriculture.

Herðubreið mountain is situated within the Ódáðahraun lava field, Iceland’s largest contiguous lava field totaling 4,400 km² (1,699 mi²). Notably, Herðubreið, meaning “Broad Shoulders,” was chosen as the national mountain of Iceland in 2002. Formed by volcanic activity under a glacier, it is considered to be Iceland’s most beautiful mountain.

Reykjanes Earthquakes: Uncertainty Phase Declared

The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management has declared a phase of uncertainty due to the ongoing earthquake swarm on the Reykjanes peninsula in Southwest Iceland. Six earthquakes over M3 were detected on the peninsula yesterday, with the strongest measuring M4.7. Specialists say earthquakes and uplift in the area are likely signs of magma collecting below the surface. There are no signs an eruption is imminent.

Likely magma is gathering below surface

“We have seen, since before the weekend, indications that expansion and uplift are occurring by Svartsengi similar to what happened in 2020,” Met Office Earthquake Hazards Coordinator Kristín Jónsdóttir told RÚV. “That is we think it is quite likely that we are seeing the beginning of magma collecting below the surface at Svartsengi and it’s of course not unthinkable that could end in an eruption, but it is still much too early to say.”

The 2020 activity Kristín is referring to was a period of uplift (land rise) by Þorbjörn mountain on the Reykjanes peninsula. The uplift ended without an eruption ever occurring. An eruption did occur on the peninsula last year, however, as many readers know, and it was preceded by weeks of powerful earthquakes felt across Southwest Iceland. Volcanologist Þorvaldur Þórðarson has stated there is a 50% chance of another eruption on Reykjanes this year.

Falling objects and landslides

Travellers and hikers on the Reykjanes peninsula are warned to stay away from steep inclines, where earthquakes can cause landslides or rockfall. The Civil Protection Department encourages residents in or near the active are to secure loose objects in their homes that could fall in the event of an earthquake, particularly those that could fall on individuals while they are sleeping. The Civil Protection Department website features earthquake preparedness information in English.

Read more about the geology of the Reykjanes peninsula.