Grindavík and Blue Lagoon Evacuated, Next Eruption Uncertain

Grindavík - Þorbjörn

Following increased seismic activity on the Reykjanes peninsula, Grindavík and the Blue Lagoon have been evacuated. Though an eruption was previously considered imminent, it is now considered less likely for the immediate future.

Earthquake swarm

An earthquake swarm began around 15:55 today, according to the Met Office. The seismic activity moved southeast following the magma intrusion from December 2023, stopping near Hagafell mountain.

The Met Office notes that the current deformation measured is smaller than previously measured in the lead-up to volcanic eruptions. This could potentially indicate a smaller eruption, but it is also possible for a magma dyke to form without forming an eruptive fissure.

Currently, the depth of the seismic activity does not indicate that the magma will break through to the surface. The Met Office considers an eruption in the immediate future to be unlikely, but it cannot be entirely ruled out.

Grindavík and Blue Lagoon Evacuated

Both the town of Grindavík and the neighbouring Blue Lagoon were evacuated out of precaution.

RÚV reports that the evacuations were completed around 5:00 pm.

Víðir Reynisson from Civil Protection stated to RÚV that the evacuation went smoothly and that responders are still in the area to ensure that all residents have left. Responders are reported to be on standby in case of an eruption.

Helga Árnadóttir, director of the Blue Lagoon, also stated to RÚV that the evacuation went well, with all staff and guests having left the area.

The Icelandic Meteorological Office has updated their risk assessment, which is valid for the next 24 hours.

Next Eruption Could Set Off With As Little As Half Hour’s Notice

Reykjanes peninsula eruptions

When the next eruption begins in the Reykjanes peninsula, there may be precious little time to react, according to the latest report from the Icelandic Met Office on the matter.

Magma filling fast

The Met Office notes that, as in previous eruptions, magma is gathering in great volume beneath Svartsengi. As of February 22nd, it is estimated that there are some 5 million cubic metres of magma recharged into the reservoir beneath Svartsengi.

“Considering the trend observed prior to previous volcanic eruptions in the Sundhnúkur crater row, the likelihood of an eruption is very high once the volume reaches between 8-13 million cubic meters (derived from joint InSAR-GNSS models),” the report states. “Based on the results of the model calculations, this could occur early next week if magma accumulation continues at the current rate.”

They emphasise, however, that “there is a degree of uncertainty in this interpretation, and it cannot be assumed that the behaviour will be identical to the past eruptions here.” At the same time, the magma system itself may evolve in such a way that it may take even less magma than before for an eruption to occur.

Three likely scenarios

The Met Office outlines three possible scenarios:

An incident similar to the eruptions of February 8th and last December 18th, wherein sudden and intense earthquakes followed by an eruption between the mountains of Sýlingarfell and Stóra-Skógfell. This would give a warning time of thirty minutes or even less.

The second scenario would be similar to the January 14th incident, wherein there is an eruption by Hagafell with lava flow reaching the barriers around Grindavík within an hour. This would give a warning time of approximately one to three hours.

The third scenario would be the worst case scenario for Grindavík–an eruption within the town itself. There would be a warning time of one to five hours from the first earthquakes to the start of the eruption.

Ever-changing data

As always, every aspect of an eruption is notoriously difficult to predict with perfect accuracy. This is especially the case as what is happening beneath the surface of Reykjanes is fluid, quite literally, and although predictions can be made, they are subject to change.

“Please note that these scenarios are based on interpretations of the latest data and the observed development of the previous events at the Sundhnúkur crater row area,” the Met Office concludes. “Uncertainty must be accounted for in this interpretation, as it is only based on few events.”

Earthquake Of 3.1 Magnitude Recorded Near Skiing Area

bláfjöll ski area iceland

A tremor, measured to have a magnitude 3.1, was recorded just north-northwest of Bláfjöll, a popular skiing area, in southwest Iceland yesterday, at around 5:30 PM.

The tremor came from a depth of about 4.5 kilometres, and was felt in the capital area. This was followed by some minor aftershocks, none of them measuring above 3 in magnitude. Bláfjöll is about 30 kilometres southeast of Reykjavík.

Bjarki Kaldalóns Friis, a natural hazard expert at the Icelandic Met Office, told RÚV that earthquakes in this area are unusual. Normally, tremors are more likely to be recorded both northeast or southeast of the area. Most importantly, he added, there are no signs of volcanic activity in the making at this location.

Seismic activity has been decreasing in the Grindavík area over the past few days but, as the Icelandic Met Office reports, magma accumulation under Svartsengi is continuing, at about 8mm every 24 hours. As such, while the Met Office has reduced Grindavík’s hazard level to orange, meaning “significant”, they caution that it is still a very dangerous place to visit.

“The current hazard is now referred to as ‘subsidence into a fissure,’ describing the danger that may be present where fissures are hidden beneath unstable surfaces that could collapse and develop sinkholes,” their most recent assessment reads in part.

Grindavík residents are expected to soon learn how, if at all, they may visit their homes to retrieve more belongings.

Grindavík Residents Can Expect Government Decision In Next Few Days

Grindavík

Government ministers met yesterday to discuss how the residents of Grindavík can be best served in the wake of an eruption that did significant infrastructural damage to the town last week.

As reported, two lava fissures opened up near Grindavík, on the south coast of the Reykjanes peninsula, last Sunday. Lava flow from these combined fissures caused interruptions in electricity and both cold and hot water, damaged the shortest route to the capital area, and set three houses on fire. Ground swelling and related seismic activity has also done widespread damage in the form of crevasses.

While Grindavík had been evacuated of its residents the day before, they now face an uncertain future regarding what steps the government should now take. Most residents of a recent community meeting want to be bought out, and for others, they would like to see the government take steps to ensure that their housing loans do not spiral out of control with the cost of maintaining property in the town.

Government to take action soon

Speaking to RÚV, Minister of Finance Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir expressed optimism in the wake of a government meeting held yesterday.

“This was an incredibly productive meeting,” she said, adding that she believes it important that Grindavík residents decide their own fate.

“We discussed issues related to Grindavík within an economic context and other details,” she said. “There’s a lot to cover and we’re doing that in the right order, which is why we are using each day to work on it.” Grindavík residents can expect an answer from the government within the next few days, she added.

A situation like no other

Grindavík residents have in fact been in a state of uncertainty since last November, when evacuations first began. While they had been allowed to return in the interim, the long-term future of the town remained uncertain. As such, some residents have opted to live elsewhere in Iceland until a clear answer from the government was forthcoming.

Þórdís said that she sympathised with their situation, but added that the context was important to have in mind.

“The situation in Grindavík is one we haven’t seen before,” she told reporters. “We have dealt with large projects and we are familiar with all kinds of natural disasters that have occurred around the country. But this situation we haven’t seen.”

The 1973 eruption of Eldfell

In terms of volcanic threats to human habitations, the last such disaster was arguably the January 1973 eruption of Eldfell, on the island of Heimaey in the Westmann Islands. At that time, lava and ash destroyed some 400 homes, displacing 5,300 people. For context, Grindavík is home to some 3,600 people.

Cooling operations to keep the lava from reaching the island’s harbour lasted for months, and digging operations for long after that. Cooling operations ended by July 1973, and by the end of 1975, the population of Heimaey was 85% of what it was before Eldfell erupted. Today, it is home to 4,500 people.

What’s going on with the January 2024 eruption in Reykjanes?

An eruption in Iceland

An eruption began at approximately 8:00 on the morning of January 14. The eruption site is much closer to the Reykjanes town of Grindavík than the previous eruption, which commenced on December 18th.

On this occasion, the town of Grindavík had been evacuated the day before, following a series of troubling seismic readings and magma caldera measurements which at that time indicated about a 50/50 chance of another eruption beginning. As such, all residents of the town are safe.

How dangerous is the volcano in Reykjanes?

While the eruption has just begun, volcanologists are already comparing it to last December’s eruption, i.e., a fissure eruption that may run its course in a relatively short span of time. The course of volcanoes are notoriously hard to predict, even after an eruption has begun, so these are only the best estimates of educated professionals. Volcanologist Þorvaldur Þórðarson told RÚV that this eruption “is about 1/3 to 1/6 the lava output of the previous eruption”, or about 50 to 100 cubic metres per second. He also pointed out that “slower” volcanoes tend to last longer.

Is Grindavík in any danger?

Unfortunately, this eruption has occurred much closer to Grindavík than the previous one, and while lava flow defense walls were dug out over the past month, the fissure has opened on both sides of those walls. At around noon the same day, a second fissure opened just metres from the town. Meanwhile, rescue workers have been building earthen walls between the lava flow and the town as fast as they are able. While these walls have kept lava from the initial eruption at bay for the time being, lava from the second eruption reached the first house in Grindavík at around 2:00 PM.

Lava ended up not only burning three homes. The town is without electricity or hot and cold water, and lava flow reportedly covered water piping to the town. Residents will need long term housing, financial support and counseling, which Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has pledged to provide.

Grindavík, which is home to some 3,600 people, is situated on the south cost of the Reykjanes peninsula in southwest Iceland. The town was in the midst of repairs from the previous eruption last December when this eruption occurred. While no lava flow reached the town at that time, there was considerable destruction done to the town in the form of crevasses which opened up throughout the town, doing damage to roads and other infrastructure.

The town has had a rough go of it, as this is the fifth such eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula in just four years. It seems likely that the volcanic systems on this peninsula are entering another stage of high activity. In addition, a search that was launched last Sunday for a man who fell into a crevasse was called off due to increased safety risks of rescue workers.

Is it safe to travel to Iceland?

At the time of this writing it is still safe to fly to Iceland. The eruption does not threaten Keflavík International Airport nor Reykjanesbraut, the main highway between the airport and the greater Reykjavík area.

Some tourist and activities and centres, such as the Blue Lagoon, may be closed. One can simply visit the official sites or the social media accounts of whatever you may have had booked in the area to check. It is also advisable to check your airline as well, even though conditions at the airport are still normal.

Is it possible to visit the eruption site?

In a word, no. This eruption is not a so-called “tourist volcano”, i.e., an eruption far from any infrastructure that may be visited safely. This eruption is very close to the town of Grindavík, is still in its early stages and as such is a very dangerous area to visit. Only earth scientists, Civic Protection, the Icelandic Coast Guard, rescue workers and other relevant parties are permitted near the eruption site.

The Icelandic Red Cross has set up a page with donation options for those wishing to lend support, whether you live in Iceland or abroad. This includes both one-time donations and repeat subscriptions.

How can I stay updated on the eruption in Reykjanes?

Apart from news updates that we provide, below are some links you may find useful as you stay apprised of the situation or your visit to Iceland nears:

The Icelandic Met Office, which provides updates on earthquake and volcano activity.

The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, which provides detailed updates on road conditions all over the country.

Safe Travel, which provides continuously updated information relevant to traveling to and within Iceland.

Isavia, which operates Keflavík International Airport.

What’s the situation on the Reykjanes peninsula? Is there going to be another eruption?

Reykjanes Svartsengi power plant

Update: An eruption began on the Reykjanes peninsula on December 18, 2023 at 10:17 PM and ended around December 21. The eruption site is near Sýlingafell, some 3km [1.9mi] away from Grindavík. More information on the December 2023 eruption. The article below describes the lead-up to that eruption.

 

It has been a time of upheaval for the Southwest Iceland town of Grindavík (pop. 3,600), which was evacuated on November 10 amid powerful seismic activity. Earthquakes and the formation of a magma dike under the town have opened crevasses and damaged roads, homes, and infrastructure in and around Grindavík.

As of early December, it appears that magma has stopped flowing into the dike and experts say an eruption is considered less likely. However, they warn that the seismic events could repeat over the coming months, with magma flowing into the dike once more and threatening Grindavík. While the town’s evacuation order remains in effect, Grindavík residents are permitted to enter the town to retrieve belongings and maintain their homes and properties. Some businesses in the town have also restarted operations.

As always, volcanic activity is difficult to predict. As the last eruptions on the Reykjanes peninsula have shown, Iceland has some of the best-monitored volcanoes in the world, but despite this, when, where, and if an eruption will occur can be difficult to say with precision, even for experts. With that warning out of the way, here’s what we know so far about the latest phase of seismic activity on the Reykjanes peninsula.

Earthquakes and uplift on Reykjanes

An earthquake swarm began on the Reykjanes peninsula on the night of October 24, 2023 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. The intrusion was later confirmed by experts, 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.

The magma intrusion has since grown and lengthened to stretch below the town of Grindavík and out to sea. In late November, some experts suggested that most of the magma in the intrusion had solidified, though fresh magma was still believed to be streaming in. So far, no volcanic unrest has been detected. This is the fifth time that deformation has been measured at this location since 2020. None of the previous instances resulted in an eruption.

Threat posed to Svartsengi power plant

Current data and measurements indicate that another eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula is still a possibility. Given the possible location of an eruption, there is a real danger posed to operations at Svartsengi, which is the main supplier of electricity and water to the Reykjanes peninsula. Iceland’s Parliament passed a bill on November 13 to enable the building of lava barriers around the power plant and the Blue Lagoon and construction has begun and is ahead of schedule.

Town of Grindavík

In the path of an eruption for the fourth time now, Grindavík was evacuated on the evening of November 10 according to existing evacuation plans. Residents have since been permitted to enter the town temporarily to retrieve belongings, valuables, and pets that may have been left behind. The town has experienced significant damage due to the ongoing seismic activity, including cracks in roads and buildings, damage to water and electrical infrastructure, and crevasses that have opened up throughout the town. Experts have stated that an eruption would be preceded by shallow earthquakes and volcanic unrest, which would give at least 30 minutes warning before magma broke through above ground.

Tourism affected

The Blue Lagoon was closed on November 9, initially only until November 16. The company came under some criticism for not closing operations earlier, especially after tour operator and transit company Reykjavík Excursions ceased trips to the lagoon on November 7, citing concerns for staff and customer safety. The closure was extended several times before the lagoon officially reopened on December 17, 2023. While the lagoon itself as well as its on-site restaurant are open to visitors, the hotel remains closed for the time being in line with the continued overnight evacuation of Grinavík.

Resources

In addition to following our news coverage, 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.

 

M4.5 Quake Rocks Southwest Iceland

svartsengi power plant reykjanes

An M4.5 earthquake registered near Trölladyngja on the Reykjanes peninsula shook Southwest Iceland around 10:50 this morning.

A smaller, secondary M3.9 earthquake was registered soon after, at 10:54 local time. Smaller aftershocks were also registered.

reykjanes earthquake
Met Office Iceland

According to the Meteorological Office of Iceland, the earthquakes originated at a depth of 5 km [3 mi]. The Meteorological Office further stated that they are likely “trigger” quakes, which accompany magma movement.

The quakes were felt throughout much of South and West Iceland. The epicentre was located at around 20 km [12 mi] north-northeast of the Svartsengi power plant, where recent land rise due to magma intrusion has been detected.

Stay up to date with the latest on the Reykjanes peninsula here.

 

Hazard Area Around Grindavík Expanded

grindavík hazard area

The Icelandic Met Office updated its map of the hazard area around Grindavík yesterday, November 20.

The updated map was made with new data from satellite mapping of the area, in consultation with the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, the IMO, and experts from University of Iceland.

As can be seen on the map, three zones are marked.

Hazard zone A, the largest zone, indicates an increased likelihood of seismic activity.

Hazard zone B indicates a danger of volcanic eruption, including fissures that may open with little warning, dangerous gases, sinkholes, and lava flow.

Hazard zone C indicates the same dangers posed by zone B, but at a heightened level. ICE-SAR, police authorities, and workers in this area are advised to have escape routes in mind, in addition to carrying gas metres and gas masks.

Making predictions

In an interview with Vísir, geophysicist Benedikt G. Ófeigsson stated that the most likely scenario is that an eruption may occur near Hagafell, a mountain east of Þorbjörn.

“That’s where we’ve seen magma influx occur after the formation of the magma chamber. It’s shallow, and we have good data on this, so we are looking at it as the most likely location for the source if an eruption occurs,” he stated.

Benedikt also reiterated the difficulty in predicting what this means for Grindavík. Importantly, the impact on the town of Grindavík would heavily depend on the exact location of a fissure and models of lava flow can only be made once it has reached the surface.

Government Emergency Response Plan Activated

iceland eruption grindavík

The government and tourism industry have activated a contingency plan in response to recent earthquakes on the Reykjanes Peninsula.

Emergency response plan activated

Today, November 11, the Action Management of the Tourism Service (ASF) and the Execution Team of the Tourism Service (FHF) will be convened. This measure is in accordance with recent developments in the past 24 hours and the anticipated events outlined in the existing response plan.

The main elements of the plan focus on ensuring the safety of travelers in Iceland, informing travelers, minimizing the impact to travel, and ensuring information flow between tourism service providers and the Coordination Center of Civil Protection.

The plan can be read here in English.

Significant damage in Grindavík

Since its evacuation last night, significant damage has been reported in the town of Grindavík.

Large cracks in roads in and around the town have been recorded, in addition to structural damage to buildings.

ICE-SAR near grindavík
Slysavarnafélagið Landsbjörg – Submitted

A  main heating pipe running along Austurvegur to Grindavík was reported as broken, and heating to homes in Grindavík may be affected. Note that all residents have been evacuated since last night.

In an informational meeting held today by the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management today, experts stated that residents will not be able to return home in the coming days. Efforts are underway to arrange schooling for children and find accommodation for those who cannot stay with relatives, friends, or acquaintances.

Situation being monitored

According to the latest information from the Icelandic Met Office, around 800 earthquakes have been detected in the affected area since midnight. Although seismic activity has slightly decreased in the past few hours, it is still considerable. The most significant seismic activity in the last few hours has been towards the southwest, close to Grindavík.

Data from IMO suggests that the magma movement extends from Stóra-Skógsfell in the north to south of Grindavík towards the sea. The current depth of the top of the magma is estimated to be about 1.5 km. According to the latest GPS data, the rate of displacement is much higher than what has been measured in the recent changes in Reykjanes Peninsula. Based on these measurements and simulated data, the Icelandic Met Office believes the size of the magma movement and the associated lava flow appear to be multiple times greater than what has been observed in the recent changes in Reykjanes Peninsula in the past years.

iceland eruption reykjanes
Icelandic Met Office

The IMO states that the likelihood of a volcanic eruption in the near future “is considered significant.”

Read our overview of the situation here.

 

 

 

 

Information Meeting Held on Potential Eruption

Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management Iceland

A Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management press conference was held today at 15:00 to report on the current situation on the Reykjanes peninsula.

A state of uncertainty has been declared for the Reykjanes peninsula and there are indications that magma has begun flowing faster to the northwest of Mt. Þorbjörn. An eruption in the area could disrupt power production at Svartsengi power station, the largest supplier of power and water to the Reykjanes peninsula, necessitate the evacuation of Grindavík, and affect operations at the Blue Lagoon.

Kristín Jónsdóttir

Kristín Jónsdóttir, the head of natural hazard monitoring at the Icelandic Met Office, stated that some 1300 earthquakes have been recorded on the Reykjanes peninsula during the most recent phase of activity.

She stated that deformation measurements indicate an increased rate of stress accumulation since Friday, November 3. This deformation is likely due to magma accumulation at a depth of about 5 km. The data suggests a more powerful event than what has been observed in the area before.

Earthquake activity on the Reykjanes peninsula is expected to continue due to increased stress in the area.

Kristín stated that although when and where the next eruption will be is impossible to answer, the most likely eruption sites would be to the west and north of Þorbjörn, a mountain on the Reykjanes peninsula between the town of Grindavík and the Blue Lagoon.

Kristinn Harðarson

Kristinn Harðarson, from HS Orka, stated that an eruption in the area could potentially disrupt operations at Svartsengi power station, a critical power station for the region.

Svartsengi is located in the area where some of the most land rise has been detected recently.

Kristinn stated that the current priority is to ensure the safety of the staff. Contingency plans have been created, escape routes defined, gas metres installed, and more.

Operations at the power station have also been organised in such a way as to minimise the amount of staff working there at any time. 

Kristinn also said that in the event of an evacuation, it will be possible to remotely control the power plant.

Páll Erland

Páll Erland from utility company HS Veitur stated that their well-trained staff are prepared to handle situations like the one currently facing Svartsengi.

HS Veitur provides electricity, water, and heating to customers from the Svartsengi geothermal power plant.

In the event that Svartsengi operations are disrupted, other utility companies have offered to support operations on Reykjanes if necessary.

Backup power generators are also being set up in Grindavík, he stated.

Páll emphasizes that in the case of a severe power outage, people might resort to using electric heaters to heat their homes, which would put a significant strain on the power grid. He also stressed the importance of having a fully charged car, as charging may become impossible in a worst-case scenario.

He identified heating as the most critical issue. Around 30,000 residents rely on the heating utility. In a scenario in which people are left without heat, emergency shelters would be necessary.

Fannar Jónasson

Fannar Jónasson, mayor of Grindavík, stressed that coordination and consultation regarding earthquakes on the Reykjanes Peninsula first started four years ago, when volcanic and seismic activity on the Reykjanes peninsula resumed.

Fannar stated that although the most recent eruptions have not threatened critical infrastructure, we may now be facing a different situation.

He praised the responders and staff of Grindavík, saying that evacuation plans are in place and that experts are doing their very best to prepare residents for what could happen.

He stated there is some fear among the residents of Grindavík and reiterated the importance of solidarity and cooperation. Diverse groups in society must be considered, such as older people and people of foreign origin, and it must be ensured that all members of the community receive reliable information.

Fannar stated that the current emphasis is on protecting Svartsengi.

Fannar also reiterated that preparations began at the first sign of increased activity on Reykjanes, and that they have had 13 days to prepare so far.

Worst-case scenario

In a Q&A session following the briefing, Víðir Reynisson, Director of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management described the worst-case scenario as one in which an eruption would occur near the Svartsengi power station with little to no warning.