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.

 

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.

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.

Deep North Episode 64: Wall of Fire

Reykjanes peninsula eruptions

On Sunday morning, January 14, around 4:30 AM, Ari Guðmundsson’s phone rang. The Reykjanes peninsula was trembling. Three and a half hours later, it rang again. This time it was Víðir Reynisson, the head of Iceland’s Civil Protection Department. A fissure had opened and an eruption had begun.

The long, earthen lava barriers – of which Ari had led the design and rapid construction, which were meant to protect the evacuated town of Grindavík, and which were still incomplete – were about to go through trial by fire.

Read the story here.

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.

Kerið: A Volcanic Crater Lake in South Iceland

iceland tourism private land

Kerið is a volcanic caldera in the Grímsnes volcano system in southern Iceland, formed as a result of an inward collapse of a volcano about 6,500 years ago. The caldera is about 270 m [886 ft] long and 170 m [558 ft] wide, with a depth of 55 m [180 ft]. Its lake’s depth varies between 7-14 m [23-46 ft]. Kerið is known for its visually attractive palette. The lake has a distinct teal colour due to the soil’s minerals. Its surrounding hills are composed of low bushes, moss and red lava; the red colour is due to the oxidation of the magma’s iron (hematite). 

Visiting Kerið

Kerið is located on a private property owned and managed by Arctic Adventures. As of 2024, the entry fee is ISK 450 [$3.25, €3], and it is open all year. Swimming or drinking the water is not allowed. It is one of the destinations on the famous Golden Circle route, which includes stops such as Gullfoss waterfall, Haukadalur geothermal area and Þingvellir National Park. 

How to get to Kerið

Via Route 1 and Route 35, Kerið is a 67 km [42 mi] drive from Reykjavík city centre. From the capital, drive south on Route 1 for about 55 km [34 mi] before turning left on Route 35 towards Laugarvatn lake. Drive for about 13 km [8 mi], and you will see the parking area on your right. Kerið is right by the parking lot, so hiking is not required; however, there is a 1.4 km [0.9 mi] trail around the caldera for added vantage points.

 

Breaking: Eruption Begins on Reykjanes Peninsula

reykjanes eruption at sundhnúk february 2024

An eruption has begun in Iceland, the third on the Reykjanes peninsula since December. It poses no immediate threat to infrastructure, inhabited areas, or flights through Iceland.

The eruption is reported to have began around 6:00 this morning. After seismic activity around 5:30 this morning, February 8, a fissure opened on the Reykjanes peninsula near Sundhnúk.

Following a Coast Guard surveillance flight, the Icelandic Met Office reports that the fissure opened near the eruption of December 18, approximately one kilometre from Grindavík.

The Met Office also reports that the initial fissure seems to be some 3 km [1.8 mi] in length. Initial reports indicate a slightly lesser lava flow than the December 18 eruption.

Lava jets are estimated to reach 50-80 m [164-262 ft] and can be seen from the capital area.

The Blue Lagoon is reported to have evacuated its guests shortly after the beginning of the eruption.

Initial reports show no immediate threat to the town of Grindavík or the Svartsengi geothermal power plant. The established pattern of such eruptions is that they begin with the most force and die down relatively quickly.

This is breaking news. Stay up to date with our coverage for the latest on the situation, or read about the history of the Reykjanes eruptions here.

Chances of Eruption in Grindavík Diminishing

Svartsengi Grindavík

The most likely location of an eruption on Reykjanes is now considered to be north of Grindavík and east of Svartsengi Power Station and the Blue Lagoon, according to experts. The likelihood of an eruption has, however, diminished overall. The construction of lava barriers to protect the power station is ahead of schedule and while an evacuation order remains in effect, regulations on entering Grindavík for residents and business operators have been relaxed.

It has been a time of upheaval for the 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. An eruption is still considered a possibility, though the likelihood of one has diminished.

Grindavík eruption less likely

One of the reasons Grindavík was evacuated was that experts could not rule out an eruption in the town itself. Now, the most likely location of an eruption is considered to be between Sýlingarfell and Hagafell mountains, northeast of Grindavík and east of Svartsengi Power Station and the Blue Lagoon.

Data indicates that magma is continuing to stream into the magma dike that stretches below Grindavík and northeast from the town. However, some experts have suggested that the magma in the dike is partly solidified, though it would take months for it to solidify fully. While an eruption is still possible, it is considered to be less likely than previously believed. The likelihood of an eruption within the town limits of Grindavík is also considered less and less likely to occur.

Lava barriers ahead of schedule

The construction of lava barriers, which began around two weeks ago, is ahead of schedule, the Director of the Civil Protection and Emergency Management Department told RÚV. The barriers are to surround Svartsengi Power Plant and the neighbouring Blue Lagoon, and are expected to take 30-40 days to complete.

While an evacuation order remains in effect for Grindavík, authorities have relaxed restrictions for the town’s residents and businesses, who are permitted to enter the town in order to take care of their property and retrieve belongings. Some businesses have also begun operating once more during daytime hours. While some of the town’s water and power infrastructure sustained damage in the recent earthquakes, water and power are functional in much of the town and repairs are being conducted.

Iceland’s Parliament passed a bill yesterday to provide financial support to businesses in Grindavík whose operations are impacted by the evacuation. The support is intended to help businesses continue to pay out employee salaries over the coming months.

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.