Grindavík Begins Barrier Construction Amid Eruption Fears

Reykjanes peninsula

The construction of a protective barrier north of the town of Grindavík began yesterday. Once finished, the barrier will stretch an estimated two kilometres. Contractors will work around the clock and coordinate with the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management to ensure safety.

Permits in, work begins

On December 29, the authorities announced plans to construct a protective barrier north of Grindavík, located on the southern coast of the Reykjanes Peninsula, as a precaution against potential volcanic eruptions. As reported by RÚV, as soon as the Ministry of Justice had received all necessary permits by noon yesterday, construction of the barrier began.

Drawing on lessons from a previous barrier project around the Svartsengi Geothermal Plant, which has yet to be completed, contractors are utilising large excavators that have proven highly effective in digging up material to be used for the project. Materials will also be sourced from a nearby quarry.

The entire protective barrier is expected to be two kilometres in length, and the first section of the barrier is estimated to take about three weeks to complete. The project will cost an estimated ISK 6 billion [$44 million / €40 million].

Working around the clock

Víðir Reynisson, Head of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, told RÚV yesterday that numerous contractors would be involved in the project and that they would work around the clock.

He explained that while contractors would use their personal vehicles to access the site, they’ll maintain direct communication with the DCPEM’s control centre to ensure that they can be promptly directed to evacuate if necessary. “People are prepared for an eruption at any moment,” Víðir stated. 

As noted by RÚV, the land uplift near the Svartsengi Geothermal Power Plant has slowed down, which could be a sign that another volcanic eruption is imminent (which also was the case before the last eruption in December).

Víðir also noted that the authorities had advised the people of Grindavik not to stay overnight in town, although they were within their rights to do so; acknowledging that some residents had no other place to stay, Víðir asked these individuals to remain alert to the possibility of an eruption in or near Grindavík. To ensure residents are alerted promptly, especially at night, a text-message system and two police cars are on standby to notify people if another eruption occurs.

60 earthquakes since midnight

As reported by RÚV this morning, there have been no changes in the activity on the Reykjanes Peninsula since yesterday. According to the Icelandic Meteorological Office, about 60 earthquakes have been detected since midnight, with no observed changes in land uplift.

Eruption at Mt. Askja Likely “Sooner Rather than Later”

Lake Askja, Askja, Volcano

Ármann Höskuldsson, a volcanologist and geochemist at the University of Iceland’s Institute of Earth Sciences, told Fréttablaðið on Wednesday that the Askja volcano was likely to erupt “sooner rather than later.” Temperature patterns at the surface of Lake Askja suggest that geothermal flux had significantly increased over the past few weeks.

“It’s about to erupt”

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, the University of Iceland’s Volcanology and Natural Hazard Research Group (i.e. Rannsóknastofa í eldfjallafræði og náttúruvá) revealed that the surface water of Lake Askja (situated in the crater of the volcano Askja in the northeast of the glacier Vatnajökull) had reached a temperature of 2°C and that a thermal analysis of a satellite image showed that the water was heating up steadily.

Ármann Höskuldsson, a volcanologist and geochemist at the University of Iceland’s Institute of Earth Sciences, spoke to Fréttablaðið regarding this update: “This means the geothermal fissures have opened up. It is the effect of magma flowing into the mountain. The roof of the mountain gives way and cracks open. This means that the heat reaches the surface faster and that the water heats up and the ice melts.”

Ármann added that under normal conditions there would be ice over the lake. This increased ground temperature in the area was, therefore, abnormal – which could only mean one thing: “It’s about to erupt,” Ármann concluded. The volcanologist was, however, careful to caveat this statement by saying that it was impossible to predict exactly when the eruption would occur.

“But we’ll hopefully be given reasonable notice when the time comes,” Ármann remarked.

Read the full post from the University of Iceland’s Volcanology and Natural Hazard Research Group here.

Preemptive Lava Barriers Proposed in Grindavík Town Hall

Proposals to erect protective lava barriers on the Reykjanes peninsula were introduced at a town hall meeting in Grindavík yesterday. A geophysicist with the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management expressed scepticism that the barriers would be situated on the “right side” of a possible eruption.

A familiar pattern

Despite the Icelandic MET Office reporting that no uplift had occurred over the past three to four days in the Svartsengi area on the Reykjanes peninsula, the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management held a town hall meeting in Grindavík yesterday.

As of late May, the land around Svartsengi had risen almost five centimetres – likely owing to magma intrusion 4-5km below the surface – and an earthquake swarm had been ongoing, despite no signs of volcanic unrest. These geological events are reminiscent of similar disturbances in the area before the eruption near Fagradalsfjall in 2021. While the Fagradalsfjall eruption did not threaten infrastructure in the area, the current magma intrusion is located underneath a geothermal power plant, and an uncertainty phase is still in effect in the area.

Proposals on protective lava barriers introduced

In addition to professors in geology, the town hall meeting in Grindavík was also attended by police officers and search-and-rescue workers on the Reykjanes peninsula, along with representatives from the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, from neighbouring municipalities, and from companies that operate important infrastructure in the area.

There were also a few engineers present, among them Ari Guðmundsson from Verkís, who introduced the proposals of a task force, established in March of last year, entrusted with protecting important infrastructure in the event of an eruption.

Although the task force’s proposals will not be made available to the media prior to review by public administrators, Ari Guðmundsson told RÚV that, among other things, the task force had proposed the erection of preemptive protective barriers.

“That’s what we’ve proposed: the partial erection of protective lava barriers. But these proposals are subject to further review, in regard to environmental impact, e.g., and in regard to just how complete these barriers will be.”

Commenting on this proposal, Björn Oddsson, a geophysicist with the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, offered the following caveat: “Given that we have an open area with long fissures, it’s uncertain whether a protective barrier that’s erected prior to an eruption will be situated on the right side of the eruption – or the wrong side.”

“The proposals will be reviewed by the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management,” Ari Explained, “and they’ll decide on the next steps. We also proposed a review of a more extensive area on Reykjanes, stretching as far as Bláfjöll and Hengill, but that’s a much more extensive project.”

“It’s the beginning of a much more comprehensive project that must be undertaken,” Björn agreed.

A “temporary hiatus”

Despite no signs of volcanic unrest, Þorvaldur Þórðarson, professor of geology and volcanology at the University of Iceland, stated that the relative stillness on the peninsula over the past few days should be taken as a “temporary hiatus” as opposed to a sign that geological activity had ceased.

“Obviously, magma is no longer intruding at the former depth, and so there’s no uplift, which means that the immediate threat of an eruption has decreased; there won’t be an eruption any time soon,” Þorvaldur stated.

“Not this summer?” RÚV reporter Hólmfríður Dagný Friðjónsdóttir inquired.

“I wouldn’t think so. I certainly don’t hope so.”