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.

Construction of Reykjanes Lava Barriers Begins

Reykjanes Svartsengi power plant

The construction of lava barriers around Svartsengi Power Plant and the Blue Lagoon has begun. The barriers are meant to protect important infrastructure on the Reykjanes peninsula in case of an eruption, which is still considered likely in the coming days or weeks. Iceland’s Parliament approved a bill just before midnight last night to enable the building of lava barriers, which will be financed through a tax hike.

An ambitious project

The barriers will be 6-8 metres [20-26 feet] high and are expected to take 30-40 days to complete, Vísir reports. The gravel and soil used to build them are being mined from nearby Stapafell mountain. Minister of Justice Guðrún Hasteinsdóttir stated yesterday that the preparations for building the barriers are going well. Protecting the Svartsengi Power Plant is critical as it provides water and electricity to the entire Suðurnes region.

200 companies and 2,000 workers affected

Both Guðrún and Minister of Social Affairs and Labour Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson expressed the government’s desire for assisting Grindavík in repairing the damage the town has sustained, as well as supports its residents who have been evacuated from their homes and who may also face unemployment. Nearly 200 companies with around 2,000 employees operate within the evacuated area, and face uncertainty as to whether and when they may continue operations. The Directorate of Labour has stated that affected workers will be eligible for retroactive unemployment benefits from yesterday.

Lava barriers financed with a tax hike

The lava barriers will be financed by levying an additional tax on property owners in Iceland equivalent to 0.08% of their property’s fire insurance valuation (brunabótamat). The owner of a property worth ISK 100 million [$695,000, €650,000] will therefore pay an additional ISK 8,000 [$56, €52]. The tax will be levied for a period of three years, though it bears noting that similar taxes imposed in Iceland have later become permanent.

Pirate Party MP Þórhildur Sunna Ævarsdóttir and Centre Party Chairman Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson argued that any lava barriers constructed should be paid for with existing tax revenue. Some locals have argued that the privately-owned Svartsengi Power Plant and Blue Lagoon, which have made significant profits in recent years, should partake in financing the barriers.

Read more about the ongoing seismic activity on the Reykjanes peninsula.

Iceland’s Parliament Proposes Tax to Fund Lava Barriers

Grindavík earthquakes crevasse

Iceland’s Parliament held its first reading of a bill that proposes an additional 0.08% property tax to fund the building of lava barriers that would protect key infrastructure on the Reykjanes peninsula from a potential eruption. The town of Grindavík, located on the south side of the peninsula, was evacuated last Friday due to strong earthquakes and a magma dyke forming beneath the town. The town and surrounding area have sustained damage to roads, homes, and power and water infrastructure.

Additional property tax to fund barriers

The parliamentary bill proposes levying an additional tax on homeowners in Iceland equivalent to 0.08% of their property’s fire insurance valuation (brunabótamat) in order to fund the building of lava barriers. The owner of a property worth ISK 100 million [$695,000, €650,000] would therefore pay an additional ISK 8,000 [$56, €52] in taxes per year if the bill is passed in its current form.

“Temporary” tax hike

The tax would be imposed for a period of three years and is projected to funnel nearly ISK 1 billion [$6.95 million, €6.5 million] into state coffers. MPs expressed a strong desire to help the residents of Grindavík and protect infrastructure on the peninsula, which includes the Svartsengi Power Plant. However, Pirate Party MP Þórhildur Sunna Ævarsdóttir and Centre Party Chairman Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson argued that any lava barriers constructed should be paid for with existing tax revenue.

Iceland’s government has imposed such “temporary” taxes in response to natural disasters and to finance disaster prevention measures in the past, many of which later became permanent, as Vísir reports. After the Heimaey eruption in 1973, the government raised sales tax by 2% to help fund rebuilding in the Westman Islands. The hike was supposed to be temporary but was never rescinded.

The second reading of the bill will take place at 7:00 PM tonight. The bill is required to undergo three readings before it can be passed.

Residents allowed to retrieve belongings

All Grindavík residents were permitted to enter the town for a short period this afternoon in order to retrieve belongings and pets. The earthquakes on the peninsula have subsided since Friday and the situation remains largely unchanged since then. The damage caused by the quakes is visible across town, including crevasses across roads and cracks in buildings. While the magma intrusion still stretches across the town, threatening from below, experts are now saying a possible eruption could be smaller than previously feared.

Deflection Dams May Be Built to Divert Lava from Roadway

Meradalir eruption, August 2022

The Department of Civil Protection will likely build deflecting dams to prevent lava from flowing onto Rte. 427, RÚV reports. Also called Suðurstrandavegur, this road runs along the south coast of the Reykjanes peninsula between the municipalities of Grindavík and Ölfus.

Lava has yet to start flowing out of the Meradalir valley, but scientists say it’s just a matter of time. At time of writing, the lava around the low-lying mountain pass called Meradalaskarð had reached a height of eight metres [26 ft]. Should it rise a mere metre or so higher, however, it will overflow the valley. On Wednesday, scientists estimated that this could happen over the course of a few hours, but so far, the lava level has been rising slower than anticipated.

See Also: Lava Could Reach Reykjanes Roadway If It Rises Any Higher

“The lava’s been flowing in other directions since we got this tongue, which has actually reached the pass where it can start to flow out of Meradalir,” explained Kristín Jónsdóttir, the Met Office’s team leader for natural disasters. “And, of course, the way the lava flows is random. Tongues are breaking off from the lake of lava and what we saw yesterday was that the lava was mostly flowing in the immediate vicinity of the crater, mostly to the west and the north.”

But currently, it isn’t possible for scientists to say whether the lava will overflow the valley “tomorrow or in a week,” said Kristín.

Plan to divert lava from fibre optic cables, important infrastructure

Diversion dams are only temporary measures, added Björn Oddsson, a geophysicist with Civil Protection. But experiments erecting these barriers in the path of oncoming lava were successful last year and as such, Björn expects that “the engineers and designers who are working on this will make use of [this experience] and will resort to [diversion dams] if the lava starts to flow toward Suðurstrandavegur or fibre optic cable or other things we want to divert it from.”

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.”