Sundhnúksgígar Eruptions Could Cease in July

Reykjanes eruption, april 2024

The string of volcanic eruptions in the Sundhnúksgígar area of Reykjanes could come to an end in July. Vulcanologist Haraldur Sigurðsson and Geophysisist Grímur Björnsson predict this as a likely outcome, Vísir reports.

Magma corridor narrowing

The first eruption in this series began on 18 December last year after a period of seismic activity, which triggered the evacuation of the town of Grindavík. Three more eruptions followed, with the most recent one lasting from 16 March through 9 May.

“The cooling and coagulation of magma in the magma corridor is constantly narrowing the magma’s path and will eventually end the activity under Sundhnúksgígar,” Haraldur wrote on his blog. “Based on the data, Grímur Björnsson and I predict that the series of eruptions will cease at the start of July.”

Next Reykjanes eruption uncertain

Haraldur added that the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management does not support their findings. “It’s a shame and, in fact, worrisome, that the Department has such a negative view of the science,” Haraldur wrote.

He added that the conclusion will be determined by how quickly the magma will cool down and coagulate. “The magma corridor will tighten and eventually stop all magma flow in Sundhnúksgígar,” Haraldur wrote. “But what happens next and where in Reykjanes it will happen is of course completely uncertain.”

In Focus: Tourist Safety

reykjanes grindavík

In October of last year, the latest period of seismic and volcanic activity began in the Reykjanes peninsula in the southwest of Iceland. The area lies near the capital region and is home to Keflavík International Airport, the Blue Lagoon, and multiple towns, hotels, and attractions. With four eruptions in the Sundhnúkagígar crater system during this spell, it’s no wonder that prospective tourists have been asking themselves if it’s still safe to visit Iceland.

The short answer is “yes, absolutely.” The long answer is “yes, but use common sense!” Iceland is an island located on a rift between tectonic plates, created by the very same volcanic activity we see today. Icelanders have had to learn how to stay safe in harsh conditions, but these natural forces have also formed the beautiful landscapes that make the island worth inhabiting and visiting.

víðir reynisson
Víðir Reynisson – Photo submitted by Almannavarnir.

As a result of these conditions, there is a strong base of knowledge and experience within Iceland’s institutions, universities, and emergency response units when it comes to volcanic eruptions. Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson says that securing tourist safety during the current volcanic activity in Reykjanes has proved a relatively straightforward project for authorities in the larger scheme of things. “But we do get asked a lot about the effects on transportation, especially air travel, and the comparison to the Eyjafjallajökull eruption,” he says.

The 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption created an ash cloud that disrupted air travel within, to, and from Europe for days. “The volcanic activity in Reykjanes, however, is of the kind that only has an impact locally,” Víðir says. “These are fissure eruptions and the lava only flows for a few kilometres. This makes it easier for us to control who can access the area and provide all the necessary information. We can easily close off or reduce traffic so people don’t get themselves in trouble when there’s danger afoot. In this regard, the impact is low, both for tourists and the locals who travel through these areas.”

Ample time to evacuate

The latest Sundhnúkagígar eruption ended on May 9 after chugging along for 54 days. Protective barriers have been constructed to limit the impact on nearby settlements. The town of Grindavík has already suffered severe infrastructure damage due to earthquakes, subsidence, and faults though inhabitants were evacuated well before three houses were destroyed by the lava flow in January. The damage could’ve been worse, but thankfully scientists and authorities had time to respond. Many worry that the situation will be different if an eruption takes place further west in Svartsengi, where the popular Blue Lagoon spa, several hotels, and a geothermal plant are situated.

“In Sundhnúkagígar, we’ve only had very little notice from when the magma starts breaking through until an eruption begins, ranging from a few minutes and up to an hour,” Víðir says. “But this area is relatively far away from where people tend to be. If we look at the Svartsengi area, scientists tell us that the notice would be at least 4 to 8 hours. If the magma were to breach through, it would come with tremendous seismic activity. This had already happened in Sundhnúkagígar and culminated in the November 10 earthquakes. We’d need to see this kind of havoc first if magma were to reach the surface in Svartsengi or other nearby areas.”

grindavík safety
Grindavík. Photo by Art Bicnick.

The Blue Lagoon has already been evacuated multiple times in anticipation of imminent eruptions in Sundhnúkagígar, but has always reopened and remains open at the time of writing. Blue Lagoon management has stated that they prioritise the safety of their guests and staff, employ a team of trained staff to carry out evacuations, monitor gas pollution from nearby eruptions, and cooperate closely with authorities.

“All our evacuation plans are based on getting people away within an hour, even if we’re sure to have a much larger time frame,” Víðir says. “This has been the case during our evacuations of Svartsengi so far, including all the hotels, the Blue Lagoon and the nearby geothermal power station. We’ve generally managed to evacuate everyone within 40 to 60 minutes.”

No one in harm’s way

Icelandic authorities have been concerned about how the natural disasters are being presented in international media. So much so, in fact, that Minister of Tourism, Trade, and Culture Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir launched a campaign to respond to and correct news coverage that painted Iceland as a dangerous tourist destination and could impact the tourism industry.

“First off, people seem to think that the whole country is in a state of emergency due to the volcano,” Víðir says. “We get asked how it has impacted Reykjavík, if Keflavík International Airport is still in operation, and whether everything has broken down. The other thing is that because of the excellent publicity we got in 2010 when Eyjafjallajökull erupted and air traffic in Europe was affected, that is exactly what people think of when they learn about a new volcano in Iceland. The first question from all major international media has always been whether it will become like the Eyjafjallajökull eruption.”

grindavík safety
Grindavík. Photo by Art Bicnick.

Víðir has tried to correct this in interviews with international television, print, and radio media. He also connects reporters to local specialists when further details are needed. “But I also tell people that we’d never put anyone in harm’s way. Our number one concern is the people working on the protective barriers who we monitor closely. But if we thought tourists were at any risk, we’d simply close areas off. Everything around the fissure is closed off, and no one should go there. We still see people get themselves into trouble, getting their cars stuck, getting lost and injured. But any visitor in Iceland can travel around, see the glow from eruptions from a great distance when they’re active, go to the Blue Lagoon, and enjoy Reykjanes activities. The area we’ve closed off isn’t very large.”

Follow instructions

The key to staying safe is following instructions, Víðir reiterates. “We’ve labelled clearly where people can go and where they can’t. You can see the instructions for instance on the road leading to the Blue Lagoon. People need to respect the road signs and there are also many people working on this in the area that they can ask if they have questions or need directions.”

Víðir adds that SafeTravel.is has all the necessary information and that Icelandic media is quick with updates in English when anything happens.

Staff at Svartsengi Geothermal Station Asked to Stay Home

grindavík evacuation svartsengi power plant

Staff at the Svartsengi Geothermal Power Station were asked not to report to work today, RÚV states.

The decision by HS Orka, the company which operates the Svartsengi Geothermal Power Station, was made following changes in local boreholes which may be indicative of impending volcanic activity.

Employees not to report to work

Birna Lárusdóttir, a representative for HS Orka, confirmed this in a statement to RÚV today.

However, Civil Protection authorities say there are no indications of a volcanic eruption.

The evacuation of the Svartsengi Geothermal Power Station is not unprecedented. It has been evacuated numerous times during the Reykjanes eruptions and is capable of operating remotely for extended periods of time.

Power production is not believed to be threatened at the moment.

Blue Lagoon not evacuated

At the time of writing, operations continue as usual for the popular tourist destination, the Blue Lagoon.

Helga Árnadóttir, director of sales, management, and service for the Blue Lagoon, stated to RÚV that no evacuation orders have come from Civil Protection.

“We always keep a close watch and follow everything that Civil Protection and the Meteorological Office say,” Helga stated to RÚV.

Increased Likelihood of Eruption as Magma Continues to Accumulate

Art Bicnick. The 2024 Sundhnúksgígaröð eruption

The latest update from the Icelandic Met Office indicates that some 16 million cubic metres of magma have accumulated under the Reykjanes peninsula since March 16. The Met Office states that there is an increased likelihood of an eruption in the coming days, and that the next eruption will most likely occur in the Sundhnúksgígaröð volcanic crater system. There are, however, no concrete indicators that warn of an imminent eruptive fissure.

80 earthquakes detected since May 15

The Met Office reports that some 80 earthquakes were recorded in the area around the magma dyke since May 15, though most with a magnitude less than 1.0.

This seismic activity is similar to the background activity of recent days, with about 50 to 80 earthquakes recorded per day, most of them between Stóra-Skógfell and Hagafell mountains on one side and south of Þorbjörn mountain on the other side.

The Met Office states that signs of a new magma intrusion would be similar to before, with a localized micro-earthquake swarm near the magma dyke, acceleration in deformation, and pressure changes in boreholes in the area.

grindavík and sundhnúksgígar
National Land Survey of Iceland. The Sundhnúksgígar crater system lies north of the town of Grindavík.

Magma accumulates at the same rate

Although magma continues to accumulate at a steady rate beneath Svartsengi, the Met Office states that at this time, there is no reason to believe that anything else other than further accumulation will occur in the coming days.

In previous magma intrusions and eruptions, about 8 to 13 million cubic metres of magma have been added to the magma chamber beneath Svartsengi. The Met Office state that about 16 million cubic metres of magma have been added to the magma chamber beneath Svartsengi since March 16, when the last eruption began.

The Met Office states further that as the number of magma intrusions increases, more pressure is needed to trigger them. There is currently some uncertainty about when sufficient pressure will be reached to trigger a new magma intrusion and for the magma to reach the surface in an eruptive fissure.

The Met Office have also warned that the next Reykjanes eruptive fissure could form with very short notice.

Next Eruption Weeks From Now, Experts Suspect

Art Bicnick. The 2024 Sundhnúksgígaröð eruption

Magma keeps building up under the Svartsengi area in the Reykjanes peninsula. The Icelandic Meteorological Office expects that the next volcanic eruption in Reykjanes could take place some weeks from now, Vísir reports.

The latest eruption in Sundhnúkagígar ended Thursday morning after 54 days. Magma is still building up in the area, however, and a new magma intrusion and a volcanic eruption are still likely. An eruption could begin at a moment’s notice.

Evacuations possible

The nearby Svartsengi area contains a geothermal plant, the spa destination Blue Lagoon, and numerous hotels. The area has been evacuated regularly due to the Sundhnúkagígar eruptions,.

“There is a lot of magma there right now,” said Kristín Jónsdóttir with the Met Office. She added that an evacuation of the nearby town of Grindavík could come to pass, an opinion which has been shared by Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson.

More pressure needed

“We’re faced with the same situation as we’ve seen before between eruptions,” Kristín added. “We have a considerable amount of magma under Svartsengi, which keeps accumulating. We also know that more and more pressure is needed to kickstart the next magma intrusion.”

Seismic activity has also increased since the latest eruption ended. Kristín’s conclusion is that it could take some weeks until the next eruption.

Like reading about Iceland? How about winning a free trip to Iceland? Find out more here!

Land Continues to Rise at Svartsengi

Art Bicnick. The 2024 Sundhnúksgígaröð eruption

Land rise (uplift) continues at Svartsengi on the Reykjanes peninsula, above the magma chamber that is feeding the ongoing eruption. Experts say new fissures could open in the area with little or no notice. While lava flow from the ongoing eruption has slowed, it could continue for some time.

Uplift at Svartsengi has continued at a steady rate for weeks, according to the latest notice from the Icelandic Met Office. That means that pressure is continuing to build up in the magma chamber below. Earthquake activity at Sundhnúksgígaröð has also increased, likely a sign of pressure being released in and around the magma tunnel at the site of the ongoing eruption, which began on March 16.

A new eruption may occur

Data and modelling show considerable uncertainty about whether the ongoing activity on Reykjanes will lead to another eruption. According to the Met Office, there are two likely scenarios. Firstly, new fissures may open up in the area between Stóra-Skógfell and Hagafell and/or the current eruption vent could grow due to a sudden increase in lava flow. That could happen with very little or no notice.

Read More: The Reykjanes Eruptions

Secondly, the magma flow from the magma chamber under Svartsengi to the active crater on the Sundhnúksgígaröð could gradually increase until there is a balance between the inflow of magma into the magma chamber and the outflow from there to the surface.

The volcanic activity does not impact travel to and from Iceland and the hazard assessment for the area remains unchanged.

Tourists and civilians are asked to stay away from the area.

Like reading about Iceland? How about winning a free trip to Iceland? Find out more here!

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.”

Lava Has Breached Defensive Wall

reykjanes eruption, april 2024.

Some lava has breached one of the earthen walls built to protect Grindavík, on the Reykjanes peninsula, RÚV reports. There is not, however, any immediate danger to Grindavík or other human settlements from this lava.

“Cold lava”

The breach was noticed yesterday at a wall north of Grindavík. It is moving very slowly, and is not a great deal of lava, but is being monitored continuously, just like the rest of the eruption area.

Atli Gunnarsson, inspector general of the Suðurnes Police, told reporters, “This is a small amount of lava that just rolled over the wall, cold lava that was pushed over the brim. So this is really insignificant and we’re not worried about it right now.”

Not enough time for a warning

That said, there have been indications of yet another eruption on the way soon. People have been reminded to stay away from the eruption site, especially as ground surface rising indicates accumulating magma, which may lead to a second fissure at or near the location of the ongoing eruption.

Benedikt Ófeigsson of the Icelandic Met Office told reporters that if another eruption comes, it will likely be so sudden that there would not be enough time to warn people to avoid the area.

What a new eruption could mean for defensive walls which, in some parts, are already holding back a considerable amount of lava remains to be seen.

Like reading about Iceland? How about winning a free trip to Iceland? Find out more here!

Public Urged to Stay Away from Eruption

Reykjanes eruption, april 2024

Suðurnes police are urging people not to walk to the active Sundhnúksgígar volcano on foot. There is risk that ongoing eruption increases in power or that a new crater opens up nearby, RÚV reports.

Four eruptions have taken place in the area during this round of activity. The first one was in December, the second one in January, the third one in February and the latest one began on March 16 and has been ongoing since. The nearby town of Grindavík has sustained serious damage to infrastructure and three houses were destroyed by lava.

A second crater possible

According to Benedikt Ófeigsson with the Icelandic Meteorological Office, there is a great deal of uncertainty about what happens next. The magma chamber under Sundhnúkar has been filling up, which in the past has resulted in a magma intrusion or volcanic eruption.

“We haven’t seen this before, both an eruption and crustal uplift at the same time,” Benedikt said. “So there’s a great deal of uncertainty about what happens.”

He added that there would be no way of alerting people in the vicinity if a second crater opened up near the active one. “A two to three kilometre crevice could open up on short notice, which could create a dangerous situation.”

Like reading about Iceland? How about winning a free trip to Iceland? Find out more here!

Eruption Could Go Off Any Time

Reykjanes eruption, april 2024

Seismic activity in Reykjanes is giving every indication that an eruption could occur at any moment. Scientists believe it will go off at roughly the same location as before, Sundhnúksgígaröð.

Rising ground levels

Speaking to Stöð 2, Víðir Reynisson of Civic Protection told reporters that since the fourth eruption on March 16th, activity appeared to be calming. Although the eruption has been steady, there were no indications that activity was increasing.

That changed in early April, as the ground surface began to rise again. This is a typical sign of magma gathering beneath the surface of the earth. The rising has reached a level where now an eruption is predicted to occur at any moment.

Unlikely to erupt elsewhere

Benedikt Ófeigsson, a geophysicist at the Icelandic Met Office, told RÚV he considers it unlikely that the eruption will occur anywhere else but where it already is, Sundhnúksgígaröð. As such, it may erupt near Grindavík or Svartsengi.

As it stands now, scientists are monitoring the situation closely.