Safety Concerns, Poor Weather Halt Grindavík Property Visits

Grindavík residents are currently unable to visit their properties due to ongoing efforts to fill and assess dangerous crevasses, with work being hampered by recent bad weather. The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management is focusing on evaluating the town’s safety this weekend, with hopes to soon allow brief returns for residents.

Efforts being made to fill crevasses

Grindavík residents will not be able to visit their properties today, Víðir Reynisson, head of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, stated yesterday. Efforts are being made to fill the cracks and assess their danger with the help of ground-penetrating radars, but the work has been delayed due to bad weather in recent days. 

Víðir observed that the civil protection authorities intended to spend the weekend assessing the situation in town, which has been divided into areas east and west of Víkurbraut; the eastern area is much more dangerous. 

“The danger of earth collapse and the opening of new crevasses is still considered high. What we have been focused on in recent days is filling these cracks and scanning them with ground-penetrating radars. We have also been trying to assess which areas are safer than others so as to prepare to allow the people of Grindavík to come home and visit their properties,” Víðir stated in an interview in the evening news on Stöð 2 yesterday.

Inauspicious weather conditions

Víðir added that the weather had not been on the authorities’ side in recent days and the forecasts for the weekend don’t look especially heartening. Hopefully, however, work over the weekend could continue: “There is significant wind and precipitation forecasted, so we have to take into account whether this is actually feasible, but we will see it more clearly tomorrow,” Víðir noted yesterday.

Víðir stated that he understood that people were eager to return to their homes and that the lack of electricity and heating in the town was a further cause for concern for residents; many were hoping to move their belongings to new homes outside the town: “Hopefully, we can get everyone living west of Víkurbraut back home in a short time, and that means each person might get about four hours at home,” Víðir remarked.

A meeting will be held this morning to review the situation and assess what needs to be done to allow residents to enter the town. The authorities hope to allow residents to return home for a brief period, two to four at a time, in one or two cars.

Rising Hazard Levels in Grindavík, New Subsidence Valley Forms

An ambulance lingers just outside of Grindavík

An expert from the Icelandic Meteorological Office warns of the possibility of another magma intrusion and subsequent eruption near Grindavík, as magma continues to accumulate under Svartsengi. Recent volcanic activity has created a new subsidence valley in Grindavík, making the town as hazardous as it has ever been.

Another magma intrusion likely

The eruption that began last Sunday on the Reykjanes peninsula can be said to have ended with the last lava spewing shortly before 1 AM on Tuesday. Land uplift continues at a similar pace in the Svartsengi area and magma accumulation, too. 

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Kristín Jónsdóttir, department head of volcanism, earthquakes, and geodynamics at the Icelandic Meteorological Office, stated that as long as magma continues to accumulate, there is a chance of another magma intrusion, and, thereby, another eruption.

“As long as the magma accumulation continues unabated, there is a likelihood of another magma intrusion. But when that will happen is, of course, uncertain. But now, this has been a fairly regular event since about November 10, approximately every month. So, it’s a question of whether or not that’s what we are seeing,” Kristín stated.

Kristín noted that if enough magma accumulated under Svartsengi, it would begin to flow eastward under the Sundhnúksgígaröð range, the site of the last two eruptions. She also explained how the magma had moved during the latest volcanic events.

“On November 10, of course, this very large magma dyke formed, 15 km long. On December 18, the magma moved north along the dyke, and on January 14 it moved south. It’s just a question of what happens next,” Kristín noted, adding that changes in Grindavík during the eruption last Sunday were no less significant than when the magma dyke formed on November 10.

“There will be displacement and, in fact, subsidence where the magma moves closer to the surface. And we see this clearly. An aerial measurement was carried out on Monday, and then both the lava breadth and this subsidence depression are very clearly seen in these measurements.”

Rising hazard in Grindavík

On a new map based on the Meteorological Office’s map of January 16, 2024, a new subsidence valley to the east of the older subsidence valley is visible. This subsidence valley stretches over the eastern part of the town, southward, and down into the sea. The eruption on Sunday occurred to the west of this subsidence valley.

“The results demonstrate that there are cracks that have also formed in the eastern part of the town. These are, of course, old cracks, but they have been strained. And there has been a subsidence of over a metre in the eastern part of the town,” Kristín noted.

The widening in the new subsidence valley amounts to 1.4 metres. As noted by RÚV, scientists believe that as much magma flowed under Svartsengi into the magma dyke on Sunday as happened in the eruption on December 18. 

Kristín emphasised that there was great uncertainty regarding what would happen next: in the event of another magma intrusion, would the magma flow north or south, and would that lead to another eruption.

When asked by RÚV whether it would be accurate to state that since the eruption on Sunday the town of Grindavík had never been as hazardous, Kristín concurred.  “Yes, I would say that,” she stated.

As reported by RÚV this morning, hot water was restored within the eastern part of Grindavík last night. This morning, workers from the utility company HS Orka, aided by rescue workers and the police, will inspect whether there is heat in the buildings in Grindavík. Residents will not be allowed to retrieve their belongings today.

Saving Trapped Hikers at Eruption Site “a Near Impossibility”

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

A public relations Officer with the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue has told Mbl.is that rescue workers had to assist several hikers near the eruption site at Litli-Hrútur last night and into the early hours today. Rescuing hikers who become trapped in the lava is “a near impossibility.”

Approximately 3,000 hikers visited eruption site yesterday

In an interview with Mbl.is this morning, Jón Þór Víglundsson, Public Relations Officer with the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (Landsbjörg), stated that there were seven instances of minor injuries or fatigue at the Litli-Hrútur eruption site late last night and into the early hours today.

An estimated 3,000 hikers, with varying levels of preparedness, trekked to the site during this time. The procession of hikers began to disperse away from the volcanic area and towards the parking lot at around 3 AM.

Nearly impossible to save trapped hikers

According to Jón, rescue teams succeeded in assisting hikers, even those who strayed from the marked trail or failed to reach the viewpoint. “Ascending to the lookout lifts one out of the dense smoke from the wildfires, but hikers are often drawn closer,” he said.

Read More: Favourable weather conditions at eruption site today

Jón warned of the perils of venturing near the lava, explaining that rescue via the same route would be impossible. “The only possible method would be an aerial evacuation, which isn’t always feasible. The chances of rescuing individuals trapped by fresh lava flows are slim, and anyone falling into the lava would, simply put, perish,” he concluded.

Six groups of rescue teams

For the past two nights, six rescue groups have been operating in the area, managing closure points and providing on-site assistance.

Jón also shared an interesting observation from travellers in the area: “Several travellers approached our teams, reporting sensations of a ‘knocking’ from beneath the ground, akin to a heartbeat, according to one of the hikers.” While Jón speculated these could be volcanic tremors, earthquakes, or natural tremors in the area, he believed the source of the knocking to be within the lava fields.

Heedless Tourists Call for More Rest Stops on Ring Road

Route 1

Roads in Iceland must be made safer, says the Director of the Public Roads Administration in an interview with RÚV. Owing to a lack of lay-bys (or rest stops), there are over 100 places along the Ring Road where tourists habitually pull their vehicles over, which increases the risk of accidents. Increased funding is needed.

Heedless Motorists

Tourists have had a significant impact on the Ring Road (or Route 1, a 1,332km road that loops around the island). Many have reported seeing them walking along the road, parking their vehicles on the shoulder, or simply stopping their cars in the middle of the road. In a meeting held Wednesday, January 29, the Public Roads Administration discussed the prospect of additional lay-bys.

“We’re worried about tourists on the Ring Road. There’s an increased risk of accidents. That’s why we’re interested in determining how many lay-bys to introduce and where. It’s a matter of hospitality, in some sense: offering suitable, safe places from where travellers can take in the landscape and take pictures,” Bergþóra Þorkelsdóttir, Director of the Public Roads Administration stated in an interview with RÚV.

102 Spots

“I drove the Ring Road recently and took note of 102 such places. They are, actually, more numerous, as many of these places occur along long stretches of the road that afford the same view. With a suitable lay-by and adequate signage, we could nudge these motorists toward safe places where they could take photographs,” Sóley Jónasdóttir, a project manager at the Public Roads Administration’s Design Department stated.

According to Sóley, the need for increased safety is most urgent in South Iceland, in Eldhraun, and near Mývatn, among other places. Tourists pulling over to the side of the road increase the risk of accidents, while also damaging the road itself.

“Shoulders flatten out, verges and surface dressings crack, and the road begins disintegrating. There are always going to be novel challenges, as well. Like in Brekkukot, by the roots of the Eyjafjöll mountain range, where it’s become customary to leave bras dangling on the fence. We’re talking a long stretch of road where traffic slows considerably; people slow down, stop, and try to take pictures,” Sóley said.

Winter Conditions

The weather and road conditions during winter, also play a significant role. There have been six traffic accidents on the Ring Road in January.

“Traffic has increased by 50% since 2013, much of it owing to tourists. Clearly, the Public Roads Administration is using all available funds for road-safety measures. Much more needs to be done, of course, given that the road is being used in a completely different way than we initially imagined,” Bergþóra stated.

Asked what’s holding the Administration back, Bergþóra replied: “A lack of funding, first and foremost.”