Five Magma Intrusions, Three Eruptions

svartsengi power plant reykjanes

Five magma intrusions have formed near the town of Grindavík, Southwest Iceland, since November but only three of them have broken the surface as eruptions. Magma continues to collect below Svartsengi and uplift (land rise) continues at the site. Recent earthquakes on Reykjanes are more likely a result of magma cooling underground than signs of an impending eruption, according to Salóme Jórunn Bernharðsdóttir, natural hazard specialist at the Icelandic Met Office.

Three brief eruptions occurred on the Reykjanes peninsula near the town of Grindavík in December, January, and February. In late February, as the magma chamber below Svartsengi filled once more, experts predicted a fourth eruption would occur in early March. However, while collecting magma flowed out of the chamber, it never broke the surface and now appears to be cooling underground.

Magma continues to collect below Svartsengi and the amount is now more than it was before the magma intrusion in early March. Salóme told RÚV that if another eruption occurs at the site, it will likely be preceded by the same seismic activity as the last three eruptions in the area.

The eruptions have not impacted flights or travel to and from Iceland.

Read more about the recent eruptions on the Reykjanes peninsula.

Grindavík Residents Can Stay Overnight at Own Risk

An ambulance lingers just outside of Grindavík

Grindavík residents are permitted to stay overnight in the evacuated town as of today, but do so at their own risk. The Chief of Suðurnes Police has decided to permit the town’s residents as well as those who work in the town to stay and work there without restrictions. There is currently neither hot nor cold water in the town, and the Suðurnes police notice underlines that Grindavík is not safe for children.

No water, heating, or schools

Grindavík (pop. 3,600) was initially evacuated last November due to seismic activity and the threat of an eruption. Earthquakes and three eruptions since December have opened crevasses throughout the town, and damaged buildings and roads as well as power and water infrastructure.

The notice from Suðurnes police underlines that residents enter and stay in the town at their own risk and are “responsible for their own actions or inaction.” The notice underlines that the town is “not a place for children or children at play. There are no operational schools, and infrastructure is in disrepair.” There is currently neither hot nor cold water in the town, though authorities are working to restore both.

Police chief does not recommend staying overnight

In order to enter the town, residents, workers, and media professionals will have to apply for a QR code. Those who do enter the town are advised to stick to roads and sidewalks and avoid going into lots or other open areas due to the risk posed by crevasses.

“The police chief does not expect many Grindavík residents to choose to stay in the town overnight. They are allowed to do so, but the police chief does not recommend it,” the notice continues.

The arrangement will be reviewed again on February 29, barring and major changes in the area. Land rise continues at Svartsengi, north of Grindavík, and further eruptions are expected.

Iceland Facing Greatest Challenge Since Republic’s Founding

Prime Minister of Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir delivered an oral report to Parliament yesterday on the new challenges facing the Reykjanes Peninsula due to recent volcanic activity. She emphasised that, while Iceland was facing its most significant natural disaster challenges, the country was better prepared than ever. A comprehensive hazard assessment led by the Icelandic Meteorological Office is underway and is expected to be completed by 2025.

The luxury of relative calm

Taking the podium before Parliament yesterday, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir delivered an oral report on the new reality facing residents of the Reykjanes peninsula. Katrín noted that the Icelanders had been no strangers to natural disasters since the settlement, although they had enjoyed “the luxury of a relatively calm environment” around the most densely populated area of the country over the past centuries. 

Geoscientists had, however, pointed out that the Reykjanes peninsula would awaken sooner or later, given that volcanic activity on the Reykjanes peninsula is cyclic, occurring every 800 to 1000 years.

Read More: In Focus (A Brief Chronology of the Recent Reykjanes Eruptions)

“As nearly 800 years have passed since the last known eruptions on the peninsula, and with eruptions starting almost four years ago, it should have been clear to everyone that events could unfold sooner or later,” Katrín continued. “This reality has become apparent to us and reminds us just how much our lives and existence are shaped by nature.” 

Greatest challenge in the history of the Republic

Katrín recalled visiting the area near the town of Grindavík on Monday and observing how new lava and protective barriers had altered the landscape, following the three eruptions that had occurred near Grindavík since December 18.

During the most recent event on February 8, the eruption initially seemed to pose little danger, but soon lava began flowing powerfully over Grindavík Road and the hot-water pipeline, known as the Njarðvíkur conduit, which transports hot water to all residents of the Suðurnes region from the Svartsengi power plant. This resulted in four days without hot water for residents of the Suðurnes region, representing one of the darkest scenarios we had anticipated.”

Given these recent events, the Minister went on to characterise the coming years on the Reykjanes peninsula as the greatest challenge facing the Republic since its founding: “I am confident in stating that our society is currently confronting the most significant natural disaster challenges in the history of our republic. However, I also assert that we are more prepared to address these challenges now than at any previous point in time,” Katrín stated. 

The Icelandic Republic was established on June 17, 1944, ending the union with Denmark.

Comprehensive hazard assessment to be finalised in 2025

Katrín concluded by emphasising that work had begun on the creation of a comprehensive hazard assessment for the Reykjanes Peninsula as led by the Icelandic Meteorological Office. 

“This is extremely important because there are many volcanic systems beneath the Reykjanes peninsula, and a great deal has been done to expedite this work because it takes considerable time. The aim is to publish the results in stages so that we receive interim reports on the work. We expect this project to be completed in 2025.” 

The assessment will cover the effects and impact areas of earthquakes and lava flow near populated areas, and it will also include a risk assessment on the effect of ash and gases in the atmosphere. Katrín noted that such a hazard assessment had already been conducted for the most active part of the Reykjanes Peninsula and that the rest of the assessment would be published in stages until the year 2025.