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.

 

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.

Eruption Site Closed Due to Gas and Wildfire Pollution

Almannavarnadeild ríkislögreglustjóra. The eruption on Reykjanes, July 10, 2023

The Suðurnes Chief of Police has decided to close the active eruption site on Reykjanes due to dangerous pollution levels from wildfires as well as the eruption itself. The site will be closed until Saturday, when authorities will review whether conditions have changed. The eruption is significantly stronger than the 2021 and 2022 eruptions at the same site and has been producing significant gas pollution and set off wildfires in the surrounding vegetation.

Some enter site despite warnings

In a written statement, the chief of police said the safety of people entering the site could not be ensured in the current conditions. The prevailing winds are now blowing the gas pollution from the eruption along the hiking route, and smoke pollution from wildfires is adding to the danger. Nevertheless, some travellers have ignored the warnings of first responders and have entered the site.

The eruption began on Monday, July 10 and so far only minor injuries have been reported from the site, such as twisted ankles and exhaustion. However, Hjördís Guðmundsdóttir, Communications Director for the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management stated that visitors’ behaviour was not exemplary yesterday. “It’s just a matter of time before something serious happens,” she told RÚV.

Worse pollution than 2021 and 2022 eruptions

The air quality at the current eruption site is much worse than at the 2021 and 2022 eruptions, according to Vísir. This is in part due to the wildfire smoke. “We see that the smoke from wildfires is spreading over a large area,” Gunnar Guðmundsson, lung specialist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Iceland, told mbl.is. “When vegetations burns, small soot particles form in the smoke, so the smoke can be very irritating to the eyes and respiratory system.”

The smoke is mostly a risk for hikers at the site and residents of the Suðurnes peninsula need not be concerned, Gunnar stated. He did encourage those with sensitivities, such as asthma, to show caution and use medication when necessary.

A Small Eruption That May Last Long

Almannavarnadeild ríkislögreglustjóra. The eruption on Reykjanes, July 10, 2023

The eruption that began on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula yesterday has already decreased in intensity. This is the third eruption on Reykjanes in three years following a break of some 800 years, and experts say the region has entered a period of increased volcanic activity. Residents of the Reykjanes peninsula and the Reykjavík capital area are encouraged to keep their windows closed today due to gas pollution.

Eruption exactly where expected

An eruption began on the Reykjanes peninsula at 4:40 PM yesterday afternoon following around a week of increased earthquake activity, including an M5.2 earthquake on Sunday night that was felt across the country. The eruption is located between Litli-Hrútur and Mt. Keilir, right where experts had predicted it would break out and just north of the 2021 and 2022 eruption sites.

Civilians asked to stay away

At the moment, the eruption does not threaten roads, infrastructure, or inhabited areas. The risk of gas pollution both at the site and elsewhere in the region is, however, significant. Civilians have been asked to stay away from the eruption site for the time being due to life-threatening conditions. Authorities have also told residents across Southwest Iceland, including the capital area and even as far as the Snæfellsnes peninsula to keep their windows closed due to the pollution.

Activity decreased since yesterday

The eruption is behaving typically for a fissure eruption, according to the Volcano and Natural Hazard Group of South Iceland. Such eruptions tend to be most powerful when they start, due to gas that accumulates high up in the magma intrusion that makes its way to the surface. When the eruption begins, the pressure in the magma tunnel begins to drop and with it the intensity of the eruption. “Now it’s just a question of how long the eruption channel stays open before the eruption ends,” the group wrote.

The eruption can be seen on a live feed below.

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.

Two Injured at Eruption Site

björgunarsveitin þorbjörn

Two people were injured while visiting the eruption that began on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula yesterday. One broke an ankle and had to be transported to hospital by a Coast Guard helicopter. Several others visiting the site required assistance due to minor injuries. It’s likely that thousands visited the eruption yesterday, according to RÚV, despite authorities’ warnings that the hike is long and not for those who are inexperienced or unprepared.

Challenging 17-kilometre hike

The eruption is located in Meradalir valley, further inland from the Fagradalsfjall eruption that occurred on the Reykjanes peninsula last year. The hike to the site is around 17 kilometres [10.6 miles] long and includes considerable elevation.

Suðurnes Police Commissioner Úlfar Lúðvíksson reminds the public that the hike is difficult and not for everyone. He told RÚV that many visiting the eruption last night were not carrying flashlights, though it has begun to get dark in the evenings.

Off-road driving is banned at the site, as everywhere else in Iceland. Several individuals were fined for off-road driving near the eruption yesterday.

Not for children

Those who do visit the eruption need to be particularly aware of the risk of gas poisoning. Authorities advise visitors to avoid bringing children, who are more sensitive to toxic gases and more prone to poisoning, as heavy toxic gases collect closer to the ground. The same is true of pets such as dogs.

Calm weather is forecast at the site later today, meaning that gas will likely collect in low-lying areas. Gas measuring equipment will be installed at the eruption site tomorrow.

Gas Pollution on Eruption Hiking Path

People admiring lava flowing from the crater in Geldingadalur on the Reykjanes peninsula

People are advised to hold off on hiking to the eruption site in Geldingadalir today due to gas pollution on the marked hiking path. Guðmundur Eyjólfsson with the Suðurnes police force told Vísir that the night was a success although there were two minor injuries due to ice on the hiking path. The Met Office is working on a colour-coded system to inform hikers on whether it’s safe to approach the eruption.

The current wind direction, from the north and north-east, means that the gas pollution from the eruption is blown onto parts of the marked hiking path. The eruption emits dangerous levels of sulphur dioxide and it is not advisable to hike in those conditions, although taking longer hiking routes where you can have the wind in your back is an option. Authorities’ policy is not to close access to the area again but rather provide information and assistance to hikers, who make the trek on their own responsibility.

People are still showing up at the area, “in tens, not hundreds,” stated Guðmundur Eyjólfsson, but both police officers and search-and-rescue volunteers are on location advising people on how to proceed.

According to the Icelandic Meteorological Office, weather conditions for hiking have been fine this morning but will deteriorate quickly around noon. Wind speeds of 13-18 m/s (29-40 mph) and snowstorms are expected.

The route is icy and there are some stretches of the hiking paths where that has caused some problems. Two hikers were brought to hospital with minor injuries after slipping on the ice in the night.

Gas Pollution Warning Near Mýrdalsjökull

Mýrdalsjökull

The Icelandic Met Office warns there is a risk of gas pollution to the east of Mýrdalsjökull glacier, not far from the village of Vík í Mýrdal, in South Iceland. In a post on its Facebook page, the IMO urges travellers in the area to be cautious, particularly in low-lying areas.

The gas pollution is thought to be a consequence of geothermal water leaking from under the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap and seeping into the Múlakvísl river. This has increased the river’s conductivity in recent days. Travellers in the area around the ice cap have also reported a significant smell of sulfur (hydrogen sulfide).

“Due to geothermal activity below the glacier, meltwater accumulates beneath cauldrons on the glacier and at a certain point finds a way from there to the glacial rivers,” explains the post. “It is quite common that it happens during the summer when surface melt on the glacier has started.”