Tourists Stopped from Approaching Volcano

reykjanes eruption, april 2024.

Police has turned away several people attempting to walk to the ongoing volcanic eruption at Sundhnúkagígar, according to Suðurnes Police Commissioner Úlfar Lúðvíksson.

“We’ve had to shoo people away, but it hasn’t been a big group of people,” Úlfar told Mbl.is. “It’s mostly been foreign tourists.”

Minimal activity in Grindavík

Úlfar said that police are asking people not to get close on foot, as the area surrounding the eruption could be dangerous. The power of the eruption could increase with little notice or new fissures could open up. He said that authorities are monitoring the state of the eruption, which has been chugging along since March 16.

He added that in nearby Grindavík, which has been mostly abandoned since it was evacuated before a previous eruption, some 15 companies are still operating, most of them around the harbour area. Some 300 people work on site for these companies. Last night, locals stayed overnight in 20 Grindavík houses. The town is shielded from lava flow by protective man-made barriers.

Lava flow could increase

Vulcanologist Þorvaldur Þórðarson warned that the eruption could increase in power soon. He told Rás 2 radio this morning that even if the lava flow increased, the eruption would continue at a comfortable level and that there’s plenty of room in the area for the lava to pool.

“Even if the lava flow goes over the barriers, it will most likely only be in splashes coming down on the Grindavík side,” he said. “And it would strengthen the protective barriers. They’d be fortified on the inside, thereby increasing their resilience and height.”

Too Soon to Discuss Protective Barriers for Hafnarfjörður

Protective barrriers in Reykjanes

An earthquake near Trölladyngja has led to a discussion of the possibility of erecting protective barriers in Hafnarfjörður. The director of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management has stated that such discussions are premature.

No observable change in Svartsengi

On Wednesday, a large earthquake occurred near Mt. Trölladyngja, a volcano located on the Reykjanes peninsula, between Grindavík and the capital area. Speaking to Vísir yesterday, a geologist on duty at the Icelandic Meteorological Office stated that there had been about 640 tremors since the earthquake. Their frequency had rapidly decreased, however. The geologist also stated that there had beeen no signs of geological unrest in Svartsengi, where a volcanic eruption occurred in December, after the earthquake.

Speaking to Stöð 2’s evening news on Wednesday, volcanologist Ármann Höskuldsson discussed the earthquake and its potential implications. He expressed interest in exploring the construction of protective barriers in the westernmost part of Hafnarfjörður given that the tremor might indicate possible eruptions near the town in the coming years.

Discussion of protective barriers premature

Víðir Reynisson, Director of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, told Vísir yesterday that any discussion of protective barriers for the capital area was premature while a comprehensive hazard assessment for volcanic activity in the area was still underway.

“This work on hazard assessment for Iceland’s volcanoes started in 2012 and has been ongoing since. Some locations have been addressed, and the assessment for the capital area began over a year ago. We are working as quickly as possible. Many scientists are involved,” Víðir stated.

Several volcanologists have called for such a risk assessment, and Víðir was surprised that they were not aware that this work had long been in progress: “We know to some extent where eruptions can occur and are familiar with these areas. It’s possible to simulate lava flows from these locations, but the hazard assessment is the foundation of everything we do. It’s being actively worked on,” Víðir noted.

As noted by Vísir, land uplift near the Svartsengi Power Station has continued, although the rate has significantly slowed in recent days. A similar pattern occurred before the eruption in Sundhnúkagígar in mid-December.

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.

Barrier Construction Temporarily Halted Due to Poor Weather

Reykjanes peninsula

Construction of protective barriers in the Reykjanes peninsula has been temporarily halted due to the Icelandic Meteorological Office’s difficulty in monitoring air quality amid poor weather. The project, involving over 50 workers alternating between 12-hour shifts, aims to protect the Svartsengi Geothermal Power Plant in the event of an eruption.

12-hour shifts

About 165 earthquakes have been recorded near the town of Grindavík on the Reykjanes peninsula since midnight. All of them were below magnitude two and were detected along the magma conduit. According to the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO), this number is somewhat fewer than in recent days, when about 1,500 to 1,800 earthquakes were measured per day.

Due to the IMO’s challenges in monitoring air quality in the area due to poor weather conditions, construction of the protective barriers near the Svartsengi Power Plant was temporarily suspended last night and today. (Svartsengi provides hot water, cold water, and electricity to residents on the Reykjanes peninsula.) In an interview with Mbl.is today, Arnar Smári Þorvarðarson, a construction engineer at Verkís, stated that the team would reassess the situation before potentially resuming work later today, just before the next night shift begins.

Arnar Smári noted that the first phase of the project, which includes building barriers three metres high, is nearing completion. This progress is particularly evident in the area stretching from east of Grindavíkurvegur to Sýlingarfell, where a relatively tall barrier has been erected. The construction initially started at the northern end of Sýlingarfell and has been progressing westward.

Involving over 50 workers, the project operates continuously with 12-hour shifts. Arnar Smári observed that the determination of the barriers’ height follows the guidance of volcanologists and predictions about lava flows, targeting at least three metres but potentially higher in some regions to adapt to the landscape.

The well-being of the workers is emphasised, with supervisors urging them to voice any discomfort and offering reassignments when necessary. According to reports, the team is managing well in these challenging conditions.

Government Awaits Proposal for Protective Barriers in Reykjanes

Iceland Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir

During an informal session of Parliament yesterday, the Chairman of the Centre party inquired as to the government’s progress on protective barriers against potential volcanic eruptions near Grindavík, Vísir reports. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir responded by noting that recommendations for such barriers were expected to be submitted to the government for review in the coming days. Recent earthquakes caused visible damage to infrastructure near Mt. Þorbjörn, prompting HS Orka to initiate preparatory work for barriers at the Svartsengi power plant.

Inquiry into the state of protective barriers

During an informal question session in Parliament, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, Chairman of the Centre Party, raised concerns about the construction of protective barriers and other preventive measures in response to potential volcanic eruptions near Grindavík. He urged the government to heed expert advice and make decisions regarding the construction of these barriers to protect settlements and infrastructure.

“Isn’t it time to start heeding the advice of these experts and, at the very least, make some decision, preferably to begin construction to protect settlements and other infrastructure?”

Ongoing preparations since 2021

In response, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir outlined the ongoing efforts since the first disturbances on the Reykjanes peninsula. She highlighted the collaboration with local authorities, emergency responders, and the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management in mapping the area and compiling data.

Katrín mentioned that proposals for protective barriers were under review and that recommendations to the government were expected soon: “These proposals have been under review by the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management who plans to make recommendations to the government in the coming days on the appropriate course of action.”

(As noted by RÚV yesterday, when the eruption began at Fagradalsfjall in 2021, a group of experts was established to focus on the protection of critical infrastructure on the Reykjanes Peninsula. This group has been considering possible scenarios based on existing data, with the greatest emphasis being placed on protecting the Svartsengi power plant and the Blue Lagoon.)

Accused the coalition of indecisiveness

Sigmundur Davíð criticised the government for its indecisiveness and the disarray in handling the information related to this issue. He referenced Víðir Reynisson, Head of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, emphasising the urgency of a decision.

Katrín acknowledged the commencement of preliminary work for such projects but noted the current infeasibility of large-scale actions: “We have not yet reached the stage where a formal proposal from the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management is in place. However, I expect it to be presented in the next few days, and I can then discuss it in more detail.”

Sigmundur Davíð further inquired if immediate action would follow the receipt of this proposal. Katrín assured that the proposal would undergo thorough examination and expert review before any decision. She concluded by expressing confidence in the coordinated efforts of all parties involved to manage the challenging situation.

“I want to take this opportunity to say that I believe all parties in the system are working in a coordinated manner to address this difficult situation,” Katrín concluded.

Visible damage to Svartsengi Power Plant

As reported by Vísir yesterday, a swarm of earthquakes in the early hours of Thursday, November 9, caused visible damage to roads and infrastructure near Mt. Þorbjörn on the Reykjanes peninsula. The Blue Lagoon was subsequently closed. Cracks formed in the asphalt of Grindarvíkurvegur, the road that leads to the town of Grindavík, and on the walls and floors of the Svartsengi power plant.

“Cracks have appeared widely in floors and walls, and it was clear upon arrival this morning that there was a considerable tremor last night. Monitors have fallen to the floor, and new cracks have appeared in many places,” Kristinn Harðarson, the production manager at HS Orka, told Vísir yesterday.

Prep work for protective barriers underway

Kristinn revealed that HS Orka had initiated preparatory work for the construction of protective barriers: “We are beginning preparations, bringing materials to the site so we can respond quickly if we need to set up protective barriers. We are trying to shorten the response time as much as possible,” Kristinn stated, adding that he hoped that this would ensure uninterrupted and ongoing operations at the power plant in case of an eruption.

Four to six trucks, carrying gravel from a nearby quarry to the power plant, drove into the area yesterday. As noted by Vísir, this gravel could be used for protective barriers or even to cover boreholes and pipelines in the event of an eruption.

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.”

Ministers to Visit Flateyri in Wake of Avalanches

Bjarni, Katrín, Sigurður Ingi coalition

The chairmen of the three coalition parties, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Bjarni Benediktsson, and Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, will travel by helicopter to Flateyri this afternoon, RÚV reports. The ministers intend to survey the damage wrought by two large avalanches that descended upon the town this week.

Significant Damages

Just before midnight on January 15, two large avalanches fell on the town of Flateyri in the Westfjords (and one in Súgandafjörður, as well). Although no one was seriously injured, properties were damaged, and Flateyri’s small-boat harbour was completely destroyed.

Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister and chairman of the Left-Green Party; Bjarni Benediktsson, Minister of Finance and chairman of the Independence Party; and Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, Minister of Transport and Local government, and chair of the Progressive Party, will travel by the coast guard helicopter to Flateyri this afternoon. The ministers will spend the day in the Westfjords, surveying the damage caused by the avalanches, before returning to Reykjavík in the evening.

Representatives from the Icelandic Red Cross and the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management will also be travelling with the ministers, including Hulda Ragnheiður Árnadóttir, director of the National Catastrophe Insurance of Iceland, and Jón Svanberg Hjartarson, director of ICE-SAR.

The Landslide Fund

As RÚV reported this morning, former mayor of Ísafjörður Halldór Halldórsson has criticised the government’s allocation of funds to avalanche protection. As a board member of the Landslide Fund, Halldór estimates that the fund has roughly ISK 23 billion, which could be used to improve avalanche protection throughout the country.

According to Halldór, plans were initially drawn in the aughts that called for the completion of mitigation measures against avalanches in 2010. Later regulation pushed back these plans to 2020. Current plans assume that these measures won’t be finalised until 2050.

“We must prioritise and act quickly … I’m glad that the government has declared that it will examine the protective barriers. Everything needs to be as safe as possible, so that future avalanches won’t flow over the barriers.”

Snow from both of the avalanches that fell in Flateyri this week flowed over two protective barriers, which were constructed following a large avalanche in 1995.

Halldór added that there is much that needs to be done in the Westfjords, in the Eastfjords, and in North Iceland: “I’ve thought a lot about how these protective measures are decided in the eyes of the law. We’re only protecting residential properties, not residential areas or harbours.”