Five Magma Intrusions, Three Eruptions

svartsengi power plant reykjanes

Five magma intrusions have formed near the town of Grindavík, Southwest Iceland, since November but only three of them have broken the surface as eruptions. Magma continues to collect below Svartsengi and uplift (land rise) continues at the site. Recent earthquakes on Reykjanes are more likely a result of magma cooling underground than signs of an impending eruption, according to Salóme Jórunn Bernharðsdóttir, natural hazard specialist at the Icelandic Met Office.

Three brief eruptions occurred on the Reykjanes peninsula near the town of Grindavík in December, January, and February. In late February, as the magma chamber below Svartsengi filled once more, experts predicted a fourth eruption would occur in early March. However, while collecting magma flowed out of the chamber, it never broke the surface and now appears to be cooling underground.

Magma continues to collect below Svartsengi and the amount is now more than it was before the magma intrusion in early March. Salóme told RÚV that if another eruption occurs at the site, it will likely be preceded by the same seismic activity as the last three eruptions in the area.

The eruptions have not impacted flights or travel to and from Iceland.

Read more about the recent eruptions on the Reykjanes peninsula.

New Signs of Potential Eruption

Reykjanes eruption Iceland eruption

The crustal uplift at Svartsengi is slowing down, according to a new notice from the Icelandic Meteorological Office. This is an indication that magma pressure is building and that a new magma intrusion or volcanic eruption are becoming more likely.

These developments, confirmed by GPS data discussed by a group of Met Office scientists, are similar to the ones observed on December 15, three days before the eruption at Sundhnúkagígar began. “It’s difficult to assert that this pattern will repeat,” the notice adds.

Seismic activity stable

The first sign of a magma intrusion is a sudden increase in seismic activity, much like before the December 18 eruption that lasted only a few days. Seismic activity has been stable in recent days, however, with around 200 earthquakes per day. Most of the quakes are measured at under 1.0 on the Richter scale. 30 have been above 1.0 since December 29, with the largest one at 2.1 on the north side of the town of Grindavík. The town was evacuated on November 10, but residents were allowed to return to their homes after the eruption just days before Christmas.

Sundhnúkagígar the most likely eruption spot

The Met Office scientists estimate that if an eruption takes place it will be at Sundhnúkagígar again, in between Stóra-Skógfell and Hagafell. Magma intrusions do not always result in a volcanic eruption and this has been observed in previous developments in the Reykjanes peninsula.

Eruption Near Grindavík Remains Likely

Grindavík seismic activity and potential eruption

A volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula remains a likely outcome, according to a notice from the Icelandic Met Office today. Crustal uplift continues in the Svartsengi area and is now at a higher level than in early November when a magma intrusion formed under the town of Grindavík. The town’s population of over 3,000 people was evacuated November 10 and remains displaced, after seismic activity and a magma dike opened crevasses and damaged roads, homes, and infrastructure.

Crustal uplift has slowed down over the weekend, but remains at a high level, the Met Office has confirmed. “As long as magma continues to accumulate by Svartsengi, there remains likelihood of a new magma propagation and also an eruption,” the notice states. If a magma propagation occurs, the most likely scenario is that the magma will propagate from Svartsengi into the previously formed dike that formed on November 10. The most likely place for an eruption would then be north of Grindavík, in the direction of Hagafell mountain and the Sundhjúksgígar area. Seismic activity has remained stable and low for the last few days and mostly contained near Hagafell.

Estimate of ISK 10 billion in Grindavík damages

The damage to homes and infrastructure in Grindavík could amount to ISK 10 billion [$71.4 million, €66.3 million], according to the director of the Natural Catastrophe Insurance of Iceland. Before paying out damages, authorities must reconsider the town’s zoning plan and whether some areas will be deemed no longer safe for residential housing. 230 properties have been reported damaged.

Blue Lagoon, the popular tourist destination on Reykjanes peninsula, announced Friday that its current closure will remain in effect until Thursday, at which point the situation will be reassessed. There remains no official estimate on if or when an eruption could occur. It is also not clear when it would be safe for Grindavík residents to return to their homes.

Magma Could Threaten Grindavík Again (and Again)

grindavík evacuation

Magma may start flowing into the dike underneath the town of Grindavík again days or months from now. The Icelandic town remains evacuated and experts say it is not clear when it will be safe for its residents to return to their homes. While an eruption near the town, located on the Reykjanes peninsula, is now considered less likely in the short term, a new phase of seismic activity may be beginning.

In late October, an earthquake swarm and uplift began on the Reykjanes peninsula near the town of Grindavík indicating magma collecting underground. The magma intrusion grew and filled a dike stretching beneath the town, leading authorities to issue an evacuation order on November 10 due to the risk of eruption.

A new chapter of activity

Magma inflow to the dike has likely stopped, according to a notice from the Met Office, and the chances of an eruption happening along the dike at this time have decreased. However, magma continues to accumulate just north of Grindavík, beneath Svartsengi, where a geothermal power plant and the Blue Lagoon are located. “The ongoing activity at Svartsengi, which began in October, is not yet over and a new chapter may have begun with an increased chance of a new magma propagation and, subsequently, increased likelihood of an eruption,” the Met Office notice states.

“[T]he dike beneath Grindavík was fed by magma accumulating beneath Svartsengi. It is likely that this sequence of events will repeat,” the notice continues. A new magma propagation would provide a warning in the form of earthquakes and ground deformation, which would be detected by equipment “several hours before the magma propagation is likely to pose a threat to Svartsengi or Grindavík.”

Timeline impossible to estimate

According to the Met Office, this pattern of magma accumulating beneath Svartsengi and flowing into the dike that stretches below Grindavík is likely to happen again, even repeatedly. However, it is impossible to estimate whether that will be “in the next few days or possibly after several months.”

Kristín Jónsdóttir, Head of the Volcanos, Earthquakes, and Deformation Department at the Icelandic Met Office, told RÚV it was not clear when it would be safe for Grindavík residents to return to their homes.

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.

Blue Lagoon Closed Due to Earthquakes and Eruption Threat

Blue Lagoon Earthquakes REykjanes Svartsengi

The Blue Lagoon, a popular bathing spot on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula, has been closed to visitors from today until November 16. Strong earthquakes rattled the area around midnight last night, the continuation of an earthquake swarm that began in late October. A magma intrusion is forming underground just west of the lagoon, but there are still no signs an eruption is imminent.

Reykjanes earthquakes intensify

Over 10 earthquakes over M3 were detected near the lagoon starting around midnight last night, with the strongest measuring M5, the most powerful quake since an earthquake swarm began in the area around October 24. That quake was felt as far as Selfoss, South Iceland, and Dalabyggð, West Iceland. A magma intrusion is forming 4-5 km [2.5-3.1 mi] below the surface of the peninsula, just west of the Blue Lagoon and Þorbjörn mountain. There have, however, been no signs of volcanic unrest.

Blue Lagoon criticised for staying open

A notice from the Blue Lagoon cited the disruptions to their guests’ experience last night and the prolonged strain on their employees as the main reasons for the closure. Two days ago, Reykjavík Excursions decided to suspend all transport to the lagoon citing staff and customer safety. The Blue Lagoon remained open at the time, despite criticism from the public and the Suðurnes police force.

Read more about what’s happening on the Reykjanes peninsula.

Information Meeting Held on Potential Eruption

Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management Iceland

A Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management press conference was held today at 15:00 to report on the current situation on the Reykjanes peninsula.

A state of uncertainty has been declared for the Reykjanes peninsula and there are indications that magma has begun flowing faster to the northwest of Mt. Þorbjörn. An eruption in the area could disrupt power production at Svartsengi power station, the largest supplier of power and water to the Reykjanes peninsula, necessitate the evacuation of Grindavík, and affect operations at the Blue Lagoon.

Kristín Jónsdóttir

Kristín Jónsdóttir, the head of natural hazard monitoring at the Icelandic Met Office, stated that some 1300 earthquakes have been recorded on the Reykjanes peninsula during the most recent phase of activity.

She stated that deformation measurements indicate an increased rate of stress accumulation since Friday, November 3. This deformation is likely due to magma accumulation at a depth of about 5 km. The data suggests a more powerful event than what has been observed in the area before.

Earthquake activity on the Reykjanes peninsula is expected to continue due to increased stress in the area.

Kristín stated that although when and where the next eruption will be is impossible to answer, the most likely eruption sites would be to the west and north of Þorbjörn, a mountain on the Reykjanes peninsula between the town of Grindavík and the Blue Lagoon.

Kristinn Harðarson

Kristinn Harðarson, from HS Orka, stated that an eruption in the area could potentially disrupt operations at Svartsengi power station, a critical power station for the region.

Svartsengi is located in the area where some of the most land rise has been detected recently.

Kristinn stated that the current priority is to ensure the safety of the staff. Contingency plans have been created, escape routes defined, gas metres installed, and more.

Operations at the power station have also been organised in such a way as to minimise the amount of staff working there at any time. 

Kristinn also said that in the event of an evacuation, it will be possible to remotely control the power plant.

Páll Erland

Páll Erland from utility company HS Veitur stated that their well-trained staff are prepared to handle situations like the one currently facing Svartsengi.

HS Veitur provides electricity, water, and heating to customers from the Svartsengi geothermal power plant.

In the event that Svartsengi operations are disrupted, other utility companies have offered to support operations on Reykjanes if necessary.

Backup power generators are also being set up in Grindavík, he stated.

Páll emphasizes that in the case of a severe power outage, people might resort to using electric heaters to heat their homes, which would put a significant strain on the power grid. He also stressed the importance of having a fully charged car, as charging may become impossible in a worst-case scenario.

He identified heating as the most critical issue. Around 30,000 residents rely on the heating utility. In a scenario in which people are left without heat, emergency shelters would be necessary.

Fannar Jónasson

Fannar Jónasson, mayor of Grindavík, stressed that coordination and consultation regarding earthquakes on the Reykjanes Peninsula first started four years ago, when volcanic and seismic activity on the Reykjanes peninsula resumed.

Fannar stated that although the most recent eruptions have not threatened critical infrastructure, we may now be facing a different situation.

He praised the responders and staff of Grindavík, saying that evacuation plans are in place and that experts are doing their very best to prepare residents for what could happen.

He stated there is some fear among the residents of Grindavík and reiterated the importance of solidarity and cooperation. Diverse groups in society must be considered, such as older people and people of foreign origin, and it must be ensured that all members of the community receive reliable information.

Fannar stated that the current emphasis is on protecting Svartsengi.

Fannar also reiterated that preparations began at the first sign of increased activity on Reykjanes, and that they have had 13 days to prepare so far.

Worst-case scenario

In a Q&A session following the briefing, Víðir Reynisson, Director of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management described the worst-case scenario as one in which an eruption would occur near the Svartsengi power station with little to no warning.

Reykjanes Earthquakes Continue as Concern for Area Grows

Grindavík - Þorbjörn

Conditions have remained unchanged on the Reykjanes peninsula, where recent seismic activity has raised concerns over a new eruption and its potential impact on infrastructure in the area, including the popular tourist destination the Blue Lagoon.

M4.2 Earthquake Near Blue Lagoon

An M3.6 earthquake was recorded near Þorbjörn this morning, a mountain near the town of Grindavík and the epicentre of the recent seismic activity. Several other smaller quakes were recorded during the night, the strongest of which occurred around midnight.

According to the latest monitoring data from the Icelandic Met Office, the land near Þorbjörn continues to rise at the same rate, and there are no clear signs that the magma is approaching the surface. New models have been used to estimate the location of the magma injection point, and these models do not indicate any significant changes in the magma’s position, which is located at a depth of about 4-5 km northwest of Þorbjörn. As magma accumulation continues, increased seismic activity on the Reykjanes peninsula can be expected.

All Possibilities to Be Considered

The recent seismic activity around Þorbjörn, which overlooks the Blue Lagoon, has raised some concern about the popular geothermal spa in the event of an eruption.

Þorvaldur Þórðarson, a professor in geology and volcanology at the University of Iceland, stated in a recent interview that though he didn’t want to make any concrete predictions regarding public safety at this moment, all possibilities should be taken into account.

“We can get lava flows that can travel at several kilometres per hour, even up to 20 kilometres per hour,” he stated to Morgunblaðið.

Given such possible speeds, the response time to an eruption could be very short, Þorvaldur continued. If a fissure opens in the Illahraun lava fields, a lava field just over a kilometre from the Blue Lagoon, the response time could only be minutes.

“If we prepare ourselves for when the magma begins to rise, then, of course, we will have more time,” Þorvaldur stated.

Calls to Close Blue Lagoon

Given the uncertain situation, some have called openly for the Blue Lagoon to close its doors.

In an editorial for Vísir, environmental engineer Sveinn Gauti Einarsson recounted the tragic 2019 Whakaari eruption in New Zealand, in which some 22 people lost their lives. The island is a popular tourist destination known for its volcanic activity and an investigation after the eruption found that owners of the island resort and tour operators may not have fully conformed with health and safety regulations in taking visitors to the area.

In his editorial, Sveinn stated: “Near the centre of the current activity lies the Blue Lagoon, a popular bathing spot. The authorities of the Blue Lagoon have been asked in recent days whether it is safe to bathe in the lagoon. There are no clear answers to that question, but they say that sufficient precautions will be taken to evacuate the lagoon in case of an eruption. Now, I’m not a volcanologist, but I’ve been wondering about this statement. There have been eruptions three times in Reykjanes in recent years, and it was never possible to predict the onset of the eruption, and there were no warnings that the eruption was about to start. How is the situation different now? Why do people trust that they can give several hours of warning even though we were’nt able to at Fimmvörðuháls, the Fagradalsfjall eruption, or in New Zealand? Can it be said with full certainty that an eruption cannot occur there without warning? If a powerful eruption occurs under the Blue Lagoon, it would take only a few seconds to 2-3 minutes for the magma to boil all the water in the lagoon. If people are in the lagoon, there is no time for escape. It would be the greatest tragedy in Iceland in recent times and even worse than in New Zealand.”

The Blue Lagoon currently informs visitors on its website of the increased seismic activity.

Three Routes from Grindavík

An evacuation plan by the Civil Protection for the town of Grindavík, the community nearest the likely eruption site, is now in place. Plans include includes three designated evacuation routes out of the town, evacuation routes within the town, and the locations of major facilities and gathering points.

The evacuation plans are available in Icelandic, English, and Polish

According to authorities, residents are encouraged to prepare for the possible evacuation of the town due to earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. Among other things, residents of the area are encouraged to keep the following in mind:

  • All family members should be informed of the plan.
  • Before leaving one’s house, windows should be closed and electronics unplugged. Basic supplies, such as clothing and medicine, should be prepared in an emergency kit.
  • When leaving one’s house, place a visible note or poster on a window or door notifying neighbours and family.
  • Assist others where possible and drive carefully.
  • Those with extra room in their vehicle should consider helping those on foot.
  • The official meeting point for the community will be the Grindavík sports centre.

In the event of an eruption, more information can be had at the Red Cross helpline: 1717.

 

Over 300 Tremors Recorded in Reykjanes Since Midnight

Grindavík - Þorbjörn

Over 300 tremors have been recorded on the Reykjanes peninsula since midnight, RÚV reports. Despite there being no signs of an imminent volcanic eruption, the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management is meeting this morning to assess the situation.

Residents “unsettled” by tremors

An earthquake of magnitude 3.7 was recorded northwest of Grindavík just before 1 AM this morning, with its origin traced to a depth of about five kilometres. Since midnight, the area has experienced approximately 300 tremors, several of which ranged between magnitudes 2 and 3.

Böðvar Sveinsson, a Natural Hazards Specialist at the Icelandic Met Office, conveyed to RÚV this morning that the seismic activity in the area remains significant, with no notable changes in the situation.

According to RÚV, while there are no indications of a volcanic eruption, the ongoing tremors signify a magma intrusion, with magma movement detected at depths ranging from 1.5 to 5 kilometres. The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management continues to uphold the Uncertainty Phase, and has scheduled a meeting for this morning to further assess the situation.

Yesterday, Vísir interviewed residents in Grindavík, who have become accustomed to earthquakes following numerous tremors over the past few years. Nevertheless, the residents admitted that they still found them “unsettling.”

Considerable Seismic Activity on the Reykjanes Peninsula

litli-hrútur reykjanes

Starting around midnight today, the Reykjanes Peninsula has experienced considerable seismic activity. The strongest earthquake was measured at a magnitude of 3.9. At 11 PM yesterday, a 4.9 magnitude earthquake was also detected near Bárðarbunga, a known seismic hotspot in South Iceland.

A new volcanic era

The Reykjanes Peninsula experienced several tremors tonight, although most were relatively minor. The strongest earthquake was measured at a magnitude of 3.9 and originated just north of the town of Grindavík. Several earthquakes were measured between magnitudes two and three.

Einar Hjörleifsson, a Natural Hazards Specialist on duty at the Icelandic Meteorological Office, told RÚV this morning that seismic activity on the peninsula had begun to increase just after midnight. He saw no signs of volcanic unrest, although the MET Office would continue to monitor the situation.

In an interview with Vísir in early September, Benedikt Gunnar Ófeigsson, a specialist with the Icelandic MET Office, stated that land uplift had resumed on the Reykjanes Peninsula and that a volcanic eruption might occur in the coming months. Benedikt noted that this was the first time that uplift had been detected so soon after an eruption’s end; this year’s eruption near Litli Hrútur began on July 10 and lasted for just over a month.

With the Reykjanes peninsula having entered a new volcanic era, the region might witness frequent eruptions in the foreseeable future.

Seismic activity near Bárðarbunga

An earthquake measuring 4.9 in magnitude was also detected near Bárðarbunga, an active stratovolcano located under the Vatnajökull glacier in South Iceland, around 11 PM last night. Einar Hjörleifsson told RÚV this morning that earthquakes of this magnitude were common in this area. An earthquake of magnitude 2.2 was measured in a similar location about an hour later.