Real Estate Sales Nearly Double, Rent Prices Rise

architecture downtown Reykjavík houses

Real estate sales in Iceland nearly doubled between January and February of this year, according to the latest report from the Housing and Construction Authority. The jump is most noticeable in municipalities near the capital area. In Reykjanesbær, not far from the evacuated town of Grindavík, the number of sales tripled between January and February.

Rental prices rise

In Akranes, just one hour north of Reykjavík, the number of real estate sales more than doubled, while in Árborg, South Iceland, they nearly doubled. Rental prices also rose faster than general price levels, according to the report. This was especially true on the Suðurnes peninsula, where Grindavík is located, where rental prices are 16% higher now than they were in September 2023. Rental prices rose 3-9% in the capital area during the same period.

675 Grindavík properties wait for government buyout

The town of Grindavík (pop. 3,600), located on the Suðurnes peninsula, was evacuated in November 2023 due to seismic activity. The town has since seen four volcanic eruptions just to the north, in the Sundhnúkagígar area. Three houses were destroyed in the January eruption and the Government has since offered to buy homes from Grindavík residents if they choose.

On April 12, the first such purchase was approved, and 675 others were waiting to be processed. For comparison, an average of 625 real estate purchase contracts were registered in the capital area and neighbouring municiaplities each month last year. This means that the property purchases of Grindavík residents who are relocating could equal the region’s total monthly demand.

Grindavík residents say the government buyouts are proceeding too slowly, impacting their ability to relocate in the heating-up housing market. They have called a protest for this afternoon in front of Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament.

Another Hot Water Shortage in Reykjanes a Possibility

Reykjanes peninsula eruptions

After a volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula on February 8 disrupted the hot water supply in Suðurnes, a town hall meeting was held to discuss the risk posed by future eruptions to the hot water supply. A representative from HS Orka stated that although the primary hot water conduit to Suðurnes had been fortified, the possibility of another hot water shortage could not be discounted.

Town hall meeting in Reykjanesbær

Following a volcanic eruption that began on the Reykjanes peninsula on the morning of February 8, lava flowed over and breached the Njarðvíkur conduit, a pipeline that transports hot water from the Svartsengi geothermal power plant to the towns in Suðurnes: Vogar, Reykjanesbær, Garður, Sandgerði, and Grindavík.

Shortly after noon that same day, the utility company HS Veitur reported a hot-water outage in the upper areas of the Reykjanesbær municipality and the towns of Sandgerði and Garður. The rest of Suðurnes soon followed. It took five days for the authorities to restore hot water.

Given that another eruption seems to be imminent, the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management (DCPEM) held a town hall meeting at the Stapi conference hall in Reykjanesbær last night. The meeting was attended by representatives of the DCPEM, the Icelandic Meteorological Office, and the utility companies HS Orka and HS Veitur, alongside the Minister of Justice, Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir.

Another hot water shortage a possibility

According to Kristinn Harðarson, Executive Vice President of Operations at HS Orka, the possibility of another hot water shortage in the Suðurnes region cannot be discounted if an eruption occurs again on the Reykjanes Peninsula, Mbl.is reports.

Kristinn was asked whether there was still a possibility that residents in the Suðurnes region would once again be without hot water if lava flowed over the Grindavík road again. He answered affirmatively but pointed out that a long section of the Njarðvík pipeline, where lava is most likely to flow over, had been fortified. “This is a method that was tested at Fagradalsfjall. We are hopeful that this could work. Of course, we are in somewhat uncharted territories,” Kristinn observed.

“We are, at least, in a much better position, although it is never possible to rule anything out,” Kristinn continued. “If an eruption occurs somewhere else and lava flows over that section of the pipeline that is unprotected, there could be a disruption in delivery. But, in that case, we are prepared to respond, with materials on hand, and will do everything possible to ensure that any interruption is as short as possible.”

According to calculations by the Icelandic Meteorological Office, about 8.5 to 9 million cubic metres of magma have accumulated under Svartsengi. In previous eruptions on the Reykjanes Peninsula, eruptions have occurred when the volume of magma reached 8 to 13 million cubic metres. The lead-up to an eruption can be very short, according to geologists.

As noted by RÚV, it was also revealed during the town hall meeting that backup power has been secured for the distribution system, alternative water sources have been secured, and drilling for hot water in low-temperature areas has begun.

Grindavík Residents Can Stay Overnight at Own Risk

An ambulance lingers just outside of Grindavík

Grindavík residents are permitted to stay overnight in the evacuated town as of today, but do so at their own risk. The Chief of Suðurnes Police has decided to permit the town’s residents as well as those who work in the town to stay and work there without restrictions. There is currently neither hot nor cold water in the town, and the Suðurnes police notice underlines that Grindavík is not safe for children.

No water, heating, or schools

Grindavík (pop. 3,600) was initially evacuated last November due to seismic activity and the threat of an eruption. Earthquakes and three eruptions since December have opened crevasses throughout the town, and damaged buildings and roads as well as power and water infrastructure.

The notice from Suðurnes police underlines that residents enter and stay in the town at their own risk and are “responsible for their own actions or inaction.” The notice underlines that the town is “not a place for children or children at play. There are no operational schools, and infrastructure is in disrepair.” There is currently neither hot nor cold water in the town, though authorities are working to restore both.

Police chief does not recommend staying overnight

In order to enter the town, residents, workers, and media professionals will have to apply for a QR code. Those who do enter the town are advised to stick to roads and sidewalks and avoid going into lots or other open areas due to the risk posed by crevasses.

“The police chief does not expect many Grindavík residents to choose to stay in the town overnight. They are allowed to do so, but the police chief does not recommend it,” the notice continues.

The arrangement will be reviewed again on February 29, barring and major changes in the area. Land rise continues at Svartsengi, north of Grindavík, and further eruptions are expected.

Grindavík Businesses Call for More Access

A group of 144 Grindavík businesses have sent an appeal to Icelandic authorities calling for more access to the evacuated town so they can keep their operations running. The town’s municipal authorities have released a statement backing the call. If Grindavík businesses are forced to relocate elsewhere, it’s a death sentence for the community, locals say.

Three eruptions in three months

The town of Grindavík (pop. 3,800), on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula, has been more or less evacuated since November 10, when powerful seismic activity damaged buildings are roads in and around the community. Crevasses formed by the activity now crisscross the town, making it dangerous to access certain areas. A worker who fell into a crevasse last month while attempting to repair it has not been found.

Since December, three eruptions have occurred near Grindavík. The second of these, in January, destroyed three houses at the north edge of the town, while the third, in February, flowed over the main road into Grindavík (Route 43). Seismic activity and historical data indicate that further eruptions can be expected in the area.

Fishing industry is main employer

“What all the companies have in common is that they have been very seriously damaged by all the access restrictions,” Pétur Hafsteinn Pálsson told RÚV. He is the CEO of Grindavík seafood company Vísir and acting spokesperson for the 144 businesses in question. “This appeal is primarily about taking matters into our own hands,” Pétur continues, saying that Grindavík contractors have been repairing crevasses across the town and would be able to manage greater access safely on their own, without deferring to authorities.

Pétur and other business owners say the town should be opened to businesses sooner after eruptions are over. “We think that the time between eruptions could have been utilised much better that it has been.” He adds, however, that safety must always be the top priority.

Town’s survival depends on businesses

Grindavík is one of the few towns on the southwest stretch of Iceland’s coast that has a harbour. The fishing industry is the town’s largest employer, with public service being the second largest. Municipal authorities in Grindavík have seconded businesses’ appeal with a statement of their own. “The situation is no longer emergency response, rather a long-term event and businesses have reached their limits and now need to begin creating goods rather than rescuing valuables.”

It is unclear whether or when Grindavík residents will be able to live in the town once more, and the government has offered to buy the homes of those who would prefer to relocate. The businesses’ appeal states, however: “In order for the town to have a chance to build up again, the businesses need to keep their lights on.”

Emergency Efforts Underway to Restore Heat in Suðurnes

eruption, eldgos, civil protection dept. almannavarnir, Sundhnjúkargígjarröð

The Reykjanes peninsula experienced a volcanic eruption that led to a hot water outage across Suðurnes since noon yesterday. Efforts are underway to establish an auxiliary water pipeline to restore hot water, with residents and critical facilities like nursing homes receiving emergency heaters in the meantime.

Suðurnes without hot water since noon yesterday

Following a volcanic eruption that began on the Reykjanes peninsula at 6 AM yesterday, lava eventually flowed over and breached the so-called Njarðvíkur conduit, a pipeline that transports hot water from the Svartsengi geothermal power plant to the towns in Suðurnes: Vogar, Reykjanesbær, Garður, Sandgerði, and Grindavík.

Shortly after noon, the utility company HS Veitur reported that a hot-water outage had occurred in the upper areas of the Reykjanesbær municipality and the towns of Sandgerði and Garður. The rest of Suðurnes soon followed. Residents were urged to lower the temperature in their homes to extend the availability of hot water as long as possible. 

In response to the hot-water outage, many also waited in long lines to buy electric radiators, gas tanks, and heater fans. Several schools in the area were closed, and the Keflavík International Airport was likewise without hot water. 

Working to connect an auxiliary pipeline

As soon as it was clear that the pipeline had been damaged, a group of workers began working on welding bypass connections to a new auxiliary water pipeline to compensate for the old Njarðvík conduit. This group of workers included welders, plumbers, excavation workers, and more. Although the night was uneventful regarding the eruption itself — it could conclude as early as today or the weekend — efforts to connect the new auxiliary pipeline were in full swing.

In an interview with RÚV this morning, Hjördís Guðmundsdóttir, Communication Manager with the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, stated that work on the new pipeline was progressing well. 

As noted by RÚV, the civil protection authorities purchased heaters for those who couldn’t do so themselves, such as for nursing homes and hospitals: “The approximately 100 heaters that were purchased were delivered to operation control in Suðurnes to be distributed to those who could not secure such items for themselves,” Hjördís remarked. “They have been very useful, especially at the Nesvellir and Hlíðarvangur nursing homes. We have also ordered a large quantity of heaters, which will arrive in the country today.”

The foremost priority of the civil protection authorities is to restore heat. Hjördís emphasised, however, that this process could take some time, assuring residents that the authorities would continually update residents on the progress: “As we have already noted, even though the auxiliary pipeline is connected, it will take time to restore heat to the system. So, it will remain cold today, but we hope that the process will proceed quickly and securely.”

Grindavík Residents May Be Home for Christmas

grindavík evacuation

The evacuation order on Grindavík may be lifted in time for residents to return to their homes for Christmas, according to the Chief of Suðurnes Police. Authorities are waiting for the next risk assessment from the Icelandic Met Office to make a final decision on the matter. The Southwest Iceland town (pop. 3,600) was evacuated on November 10 due to seismic activity and the risk of a volcanic eruption.

Seismic activity has calmed

In late October and early November, a powerful earthquake swarm and land deformation damaged roads, homes, and infrastructure in Grindavík. On November 10, residents were ordered to evacuate the town, and the evacuation order remains in effect. While seismic activity has since calmed, a “danger phase” remains in effect for the Grindavík area. Residents are now permitted to enter Grindavík between 7:00 AM and 9:00 PM but are not allowed to stay overnight.

Chief of Suðurnes Police Úlfar Lúðvíksson says that most Grindavík residents have respected the evacuation order, though Vísir reports that one restauranteur refused to leave the town yesterday evening. Seismic activity in the town has calmed, as well as land rise, though it continues in the Svartsengi area north of Grindavík.

Waiting for risk assessment

“I expect the Met Office to update their risk assessment map on Wednesday,” Úlfar told Vísir. “I’m waiting for that day because we weight and evaluate the situation every day and if we believe there’s reason to lift the evacuation then, with good reasoning, then we’ll do that.”

Suspend Blue Lagoon Transport Due to Threat of Eruption

Reykjanes Svartsengi power plant

Reykjavík Excursions has suspended all transport services to the Blue Lagoon due to the risk of an eruption near the site. The Blue Lagoon itself remains open to visitors, a decision Suðurnes Police Commissioner Úlfar Lúðvíksson called “irresponsible” in a RÚV interview yesterday evening. Magma is collecting some 4-5 km below the surface of the Reykjanes peninsula just west of the Blue Lagoon and Þorbjörn mountain, but so far there have been no signs of volcanic unrest.

Infrastructure and town threatened

The Reykjanes peninsula has seen three eruptions in the past three years, indicating the start of a period of volcanic activity that could last centuries. All three eruptions were preceded by earthquakes and land rise similar to the ongoing activity near the Blue Lagoon. However, land rise and earthquakes have also occurred on Reykjanes during this period without leading to an eruption.

While the previous three eruptions did not impact infrastructure or inhabited areas, the midpoint of the current activity is not only near the Blue Lagoon, it also threatens the Svartsengi Power Station and the town of Grindavík. Not only is the location closer to infrastructure, but experts have also indicated that a potential eruption from the magma intrusion could produce faster-flowing lava than the three recent eruptions on Reykjanes. This would mean inhabitants and visitors to the area would have limited time to evacuate.

Evacuation plans have been issued for the town of Grindavík and are available in English, Polish, and Icelandic.

Prioritising staff and customer safety

“Like everyone, we are trying to figure out what the scientists are saying and what the pace [of the seismic activity] is,” Reykjavík Excursions CEO Björn Ragnarsson told Vísir yesterday when asked about the decision to suspend transport to the Blue Lagoon. “We put a lot into the safety of our staff and customers and decided based on our interests as a company to make this decision today.”

On Reykjavík Excursions’ website, it is not possible to book a Blue Lagoon transfer for the coming days, though it is possible to book from November 19. The company has a notice about the seismic unrest on their Facebook page as well where they note they have suspended trips to the Blue Lagoon from noon today. The website also features a banner warning of potential volcanic unrest on Reykjanes asking customers to subscribe to SafeTravel to receive alerts.

Five volcanic systems on Reykjanes

Iceland is located on a rift between two tectonic plates, the North American and the Eurasian. Broadly speaking, the rift cuts through Iceland diagonally from the southwest to the northeast and the movement of the plates is what causes Iceland’s volcanic and seismic activity. The rift cuts across the Reykjanes peninsula, which contains five separate volcanic systems. The magma now collecting below the surface is within the Eldvörp-Svartsengi system.

The Reykjanes peninsula alternates between periods of seismic activity lasting 600-800 years and periods of volcanic activity lasting 400-500 years. The recent eruptions indicate the start of a period of volcanic activity on Reykjanes.

Read more about the geology of the Reykjanes peninsula.

Eruption Site Closed Due to Gas and Wildfire Pollution

Almannavarnadeild ríkislögreglustjóra. The eruption on Reykjanes, July 10, 2023

The Suðurnes Chief of Police has decided to close the active eruption site on Reykjanes due to dangerous pollution levels from wildfires as well as the eruption itself. The site will be closed until Saturday, when authorities will review whether conditions have changed. The eruption is significantly stronger than the 2021 and 2022 eruptions at the same site and has been producing significant gas pollution and set off wildfires in the surrounding vegetation.

Some enter site despite warnings

In a written statement, the chief of police said the safety of people entering the site could not be ensured in the current conditions. The prevailing winds are now blowing the gas pollution from the eruption along the hiking route, and smoke pollution from wildfires is adding to the danger. Nevertheless, some travellers have ignored the warnings of first responders and have entered the site.

The eruption began on Monday, July 10 and so far only minor injuries have been reported from the site, such as twisted ankles and exhaustion. However, Hjördís Guðmundsdóttir, Communications Director for the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management stated that visitors’ behaviour was not exemplary yesterday. “It’s just a matter of time before something serious happens,” she told RÚV.

Worse pollution than 2021 and 2022 eruptions

The air quality at the current eruption site is much worse than at the 2021 and 2022 eruptions, according to Vísir. This is in part due to the wildfire smoke. “We see that the smoke from wildfires is spreading over a large area,” Gunnar Guðmundsson, lung specialist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Iceland, told mbl.is. “When vegetations burns, small soot particles form in the smoke, so the smoke can be very irritating to the eyes and respiratory system.”

The smoke is mostly a risk for hikers at the site and residents of the Suðurnes peninsula need not be concerned, Gunnar stated. He did encourage those with sensitivities, such as asthma, to show caution and use medication when necessary.

Flights Cancelled, Passengers Unable to Disembark Due to High Winds

Gale-force winds and heavy snowshowers caused considerable disruptions for travellers on Sunday, Mbl.is and RÚV report. While most international flights were cancelled or delayed before they departed, however, eight flights from North America were already en route to Keflavík when the weather took a turn for the worst. The unfortunate passengers on seven of these flights were stuck in their planes for six or more hours, as it was too windy to use jet bridges for disembarkation.

On Sunday, the Met Office issued an orange warning for the west and southwest of Iceland, which experienced winds of 18-28 m/s [40-62 mph]; a yellow warning was issued for the rest of the country, where winds gusted at an ever-so-slightly calmer 18-25 m/s [40-55 mph].

Search and Rescue teams used a bus and another large vehicle to shelter an external stairway from the wind. Image via Lögreglan á Suðurnesjum, FB

Eight hundred passengers stranded in planes on runway

Eight airplanes transporting close to 800 passengers from North America landed at Keflavík on Sunday morning around 6:00 am. One of these planes, arriving from Newark, New Jersey, was able to disembark without issue. The other seven were not so lucky. The wind picked up and became too strong to allow for the use of jet bridges. Search and Rescue teams were called in to assist with the disembarking process.

As of 1:00 pm, only one plane’s passengers had been able to exit their aircraft. Search and Rescue teams managed to successfully evacuate the flight, which had flown in from Miami, Florida, by rolling an external stairway up to the pane, sheltering it from the wind with large vehicles, and rigging up a rope system to help passengers keep their balance as they went out into the frosty gusts.

At time of writing, Search and Rescue teams were still working diligently to evacuate the remaining airplanes, and do so as safely as possible.

Hell’s Angels Expelled from Iceland

Twenty-two members of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang were deported from Iceland on Saturday morning. The Hell’s Angels are one of several motorcycle gangs that are gaining ground in Iceland and the expelled members have suspected ties to organized crime. Vísir reported first.

The individuals had apparently come to Iceland to attend a gathering in the capital area. Icelandic police have protocols in place to address the arrival of “people connected to motorcycle clubs” and were ready and waiting when 15 members of the Hell’s Angels landed at the airport from Germany. These individuals were detained and questioned while authorities determined whether they would be allowed to enter the country. No arrests were made at the airport, although seven of their fellow club members were stopped and arrested by police on the road to/from the airport on the same day. Those individuals had flown to Iceland from Sweden.

RÚV reports that the cases of five other Hell’s Angels members who arrived from Denmark are still under review, but it is assumed that they came to Iceland to attend the same gathering.

This is not the first time this year that members of international motorcycle clubs have been expelled from Iceland upon arrival. In February, a high-ranking member of the Bandidos motorcycle club in Sweden was deported; three members of the Finnish Bandidos club were deported in October 2021. Bandidos MC is another motorcycle with international chapters that is believed to have established a foothold in Iceland.