Multiple Smaller Quakes Recorded Near Mt. Þorbjörn

Svartsengi

Numerous smaller quakes have been recorded under and around Mt Þorbjörn on the Reykjanes peninsula this afternoon.

A great many of these quakes have been recorded aligning with the ongoing eruption fissure. While none of these quakes have been recorded as having a magnitude greater than 2, there have not been this many smaller quakes over such a short period of time since the eruption on March 16th.

This follows a 3.3 quake yesterday, although today’s cluster reportedly stopped around 3:00 PM Icelandic time.

Meanwhile, ground surface rising has been continuing at the same rate as was recorded in the beginning of April. While probably an indicator of magma movement beneath the surface, this does not necessarily mean the arrival of another eruption.

The current eruption, comprising a single crater issuing lava and gasses, does not appear to be increasing in activity.

Eruption Crater Wall Collapses

Grindavík volcanic eruption January 2024

The last remaining lava crater from the eruption that began on March 16th has collapsed, following it overflowing with lava yesterday evening. The lava is flowing in a northerly direction.

Overflowed last night

As reported, the eruption in in Reykjanes has calmed considerably over the past few weeks, but has managed to stay active. For a while, it had plateaued to two craters, which then later reduced to one.

These craters are formed at fissure sites. As lava surrounding the fissure begins to cool, walls begin to form, which grow higher as the eruption continues. As recently as last Saturday, this particular crater was filled with bubbling lava that was occasionally spraying eastward. All that changed last night, Vísir reports, as the lava began to overflow the crater itself.

No immediate danger

As this lava continued flowing, soon the crater wall itself collapsed, issuing forth considerably more lava, albeit for a short span of time. Böðvar Sveinsson, a natural hazards expert at the Icelandic Met Office, told Vísir that it is very unlikely that the lava will affect any nearby infrastructure, but that they are monitoring the situation closely.

Eruption Reduces from Two Craters to One

Although still ongoing, the Reykjanes eruption that began on March 16th has more encouragingly reduced from two craters issuing lava into the air to just one, mere days after an announcement from the Icelandic Met Office that two craters were still active.

Hard to predict what happens next

Speaking to RÚV, national hazards expert Sigríður Kristjánsdóttir said that while the crater Sundhnúkagígar is still active, the other remaining crater has ceased apparent activity since last Friday. “It’s a particular development and it’s difficult to predict what will happen next,” she said.

She added that lava has been more or less contained to the lava pool within the crater itself. On occasion, lava does manage to splash out of the crater, in an easterly direction.

Downgraded, but still active

The news comes mere days after Civil Protection downgraded the eruption area from “emergency phase” to “alert phase” (applying strictly to the eruption area; not the country as a whole).

In the wake of this the Blue Lagoon has opened to guests once again.

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.

 

High Levels of Gas Pollution over Weekend, Areas of Grindavík Fenced Off

lava, hraun, eruption, eldgos

Significant levels of gas pollution were detected in Grindavík over the weekend. Parts of town were also closed off over the weekend, and the Blue Lagoon closure has been extended.

Highest levels of SO2 since records began

“Especially on Saturday, there was an unusually high level [of SO2] in Grindavík,” stated Þorsteinn Jóhannsson, an air quality specialist at the Environment Agency, to RÚV. Readings are said to have topped out at 9,000 μg/m, or around 3 parts per million.

Although the highest levels were reached only briefly, the recordings are the highest-ever in an inhabited area since records began.

Such levels are considered by the Environment Agency of Iceland to be “Unhealthy.”

The high levels of SO2 are of course due to Grindavík’s proximity to the latest eruption.

According to RÚV, the Met Office also installed three new gas monitors in and near Grindavík over the weekend.

One is at the harbour, another at Húsafell mountain near the live webcam, and the third at the Blue Lagoon.

Travellers and residents can monitor the air quality in Iceland live here.

Areas of Grindavík fenced off

Additionally, nine dangerous areas in Grindavík were fenced off over the weekend following the results of a geological survey. Vísir reports.

The survey was conducted with ground-penetrating radar, reaching depths of 4 – 4.5 metres [15 feet] in order to search for sinkholes or fissures that prove hazardous.

“We quickly scan with shallow ground-penetrating radar (COBRA) and then use deeper radar in areas where we see indications of cracks or voids,” Hallgrímur Örn Arngrímsson, the project manager for the survey at Verkís, stated to Vísir.

“And what has emerged is that there are nine locations in the western part of town that we need to examine more closely and report those findings to Civil Protection authorities.” Hallgrímur continued.

The engineering firm Verkís is responsible for carrying out the geological survey of Grindavík, but it will ultimately be up to the Grindavík town council to take action, whether that means repairing roads, filling in cracks, or condemning certain parts of town.

As a protective measure, several areas in Grindavík were fenced off to prevent residents and workers from venturing into the dangerous areas.

Blue Lagoon closure extended

Today, March 25, the Blue Lagoon also extended its temporary closure through Wednesday, March 27.

Read more here.

 

Reykjanes Peninsula Eruption Shows Signs of Longevity

volcano eruption Geldingadalir Reykjanes

The recent volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes Peninsula is showing signs of longevity and stability similar to the 2021 Fagradalsfjall eruption, differing significantly from the short-lived eruptions earlier in the year. Geophysicist Benedikt Ófeigsson highlights the ongoing eruption’s potential to last for months, with efforts underway to fortify protective barriers against the lava flow towards Grindavík.

Different from the last three eruptions

The ongoing volcanic eruption in the Reykjanes Peninsula, between Hagafell and Stóra-Skógfell, has begun to resemble previous, longer eruptions in Reykjanes, such as the 2021 eruption in Fagradalsfjall; despite the eruption’s initial intensity, and indications that it could be short-lived, there are currently no signs that the eruption is waning.

Benedikt Ófeigsson, a geophysicist at the Icelandic Meteorological Office, told Vísir yesterday that this most recent eruption appeared to be dissimilar from the last three eruptions in the area – which occurred in December 2023, January 2024, and February 2024 – and which did not last for more than three days.

“This eruption is longer, starting very similarly to the other eruptions in this area, but after it decreased, instead of stopping, it stabilised. There has been a relatively steady flow since March 17, very similar to what we’ve seen in previous eruptions near Fagradalsfjall,” Benedikt observed.

When asked if this current eruption could endure as long as the Fagradalsfjall eruption, which lasted for approximately six months, Benedikt replied in the affirmative: “[It could last for ] months even. It’s not out of the question. Currently, we see no measurable signs of it decreasing. It’s very stable, so there are no indications that it’s ending.”

Benedikt did not, however, dismiss the possibility that the eruption could suddenly cease: “We can’t exclude that possibility, but there’s nothing in our measurements that suggests it’s about to end. As long as that’s the case, we can expect it to continue for days, weeks, or even months,” he stated.

Read More: Wall of Fire (On the Construction of Protective Barriers in Reykjanes)

Barriers reinforced and raised

As noted yesterday, the lava has begun pressing against the Grindavík protective barriers, and efforts are being made to reinforce and raise them. Benedikt believes it’s possible to control the eruption with these barriers.

When asked if there was a chance that the lava would reach Grindavík, Benedikt replied that everything was being done to reinforce the barriers.

“I fully believe that attempts can be made to control this. Everything possible is being done to strengthen the barriers, raise them, and direct the lava away from the town,” he remarked. “This process occurs much more slowly when the lava flow is this low, that is, less than during the initial phase of the eruption. Naturally, this gives the authorities more time to try to prevent the lava from heading towards the town. I think everything possible is being done. Let’s just hope for the best,” Benedikt concluded.

 

A Powerful Volcanic Eruption and a Heated Presidential Race

Reykjanes peninsula eruptions

In this episode of Iceland News Review, the still-ongoing volcanic eruption on Reykjanes peninsula, a hotly contested presidential race, a bird’s incredible return to East Iceland, and much more.

Iceland News Review brings you all of Iceland’s top stories, every week, with the context and background you need. Be sure to like, follow and subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode!

Is it safe to travel to Iceland in March 2024?

Volcanic Eruption in Reykjanes Iceland, 2023

Volcanic eruptions are notoriously hard to predict. Nevertheless, during the seven eruptions on the Reykjanes peninsula within the last three years, travel to and from Iceland was never seriously impacted. Based on past evidence, there is little chance that an eruption on Reykjanes will significantly affect travel.

Previous eruptions

Many people remember the Eyjafjallajökull eruption of 2010, which severely disrupted air travel across Europe for several days and are consequently worried that such a disruption could happen again. One important factor for determining whether air travel will be impacted is the production of ash. The Eyjafjalljökull eruption of 2010 was what is known as an explosive eruption. Due to the volcano’s location underneath a glacier, the erupting lava comes into contact with water and produces ash plumes, which disturbed flights for six days. In contrast, the Reykjanes eruptions have all been effusive fissure eruptions, resulting in relatively calm lava flows with minimal ash and gas.

Blue lagoon may be affected

Previous eruptions have likewise not threatened Keflavík International Airport nor Reykjanesbraut, the main highway between the airport and the greater Reykjavík area. Some local tourist activities such as the Blue Lagoon may remain closed for some time, so travellers are advised to stay updated. While the first three eruptions on Reykjanes were described as “tourist-friendly,” the four eruptions since have threatened the community of Grindavík. As such, the authorities have advised the general public to stay away from these eruptions. The town of Grindavík remains evacuated and unnecessary travel near the eruption sites should be avoided.

Useful resources

At the time of writing, the most recent eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula occurred on March 16. It is currently still active, but will not affect the greater capital area.

In addition to staying up to date with our news coverage, travellers may find the following links useful:

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.

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.

Lava Flow Not Likely to Reach Southern Highway or Sea

As the situation stands now, it is highly unlikely that the southern lava flow of last night’s eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula of southwestern Iceland will reach Suðurstrandarvegur, the road that runs along the south coast of Reykjanes.

As reported, the fissure which erupted between Hagafell and Stóri Skógfell sent lava flowing both westerly and southerly. The westerly lava flow ceased to advance this afternoon, but the southerly lava flow, while diverted away from the town of Grindavík by earthen walls, continued to advance.

This raised cause for concern, for several reasons. If it reached Suðurstrandarvegur that would naturally further impede traffic to and from central Reykjanes; the road Grindavíkurvegur, which connects Grindavík to the Reykjanesbraut highway, has already been overrun with lava.

Roads, however, can be detoured. Of greater concern was the lava reaching an area farm south of that road, and then the sea. Were that to happen, natural hazards specialist Pálmi Erlendsson said, it would release a steam plume containing toxic gases.

At that time, the lava was advancing south at a rate of about 20 metres per hour, and was 400 metres away from Suðurstrandarvegur. The Icelandic Met Office now states that this lava has reduced to some 12 metres an hour, and is still 200 to 300 metres away from Suðurstrandarvegur. Even if that did reach the road, it would need to travel another 350 metres to reach the see.

Given how much the lava has slowed over this period of time, and the distance it has yet to traverse, it is now considered unlikely that the lava will even reach Suðurstrandarvegur, let alone the sea. That said, seismic activity in Reykjanes is likely to continue for a while to come yet.