Reykjanes Eruption: Road Sacrificed, Town Protected

Geldingadalir reykjanes eruption volcano

Icelandic authorities will not attempt to divert lava from the ongoing eruption in Geldingadalir away from the adjacent Suðurstrandarvegur road. The eruption has been ongoing for more than three months now and its growing lava field is expected to reach the road in one to three weeks. Efforts will instead be focused on protecting the nearby town of Grindavík and Svartsengi power station if necessary.

“We’ve had many meetings over the past days and weeks and assess whether it’s feasible to protect Suðurstrandarvegur,” Fannar Jónasson, Mayor of Grindavík, told RÚV. “After a thorough review it was decided that it wouldn’t work, both for technical reasons, due to time, and not least due to the cost.” Fannar says authorities are now looking further ahead to see what infrastructure will need protecting if the eruption continues for many more months. “If it continues for a few months or years we might have to respond so it doesn’t flow to Svartsengi [power station] or even Grindavík. We want to have enough time to prevent that and create powerful barriers. That wouldn’t happen for a long time but structures are being designed nevertheless that would provide protection in that case.”

While geologists say there is no way to predict how long the Reykjanes eruption will last, several have stated that it could be a shield volcano in the making. Shield volcanoes are formed by long, slow eruptions like the one in Geldingadalir where lava forms a gently sloping volcano over time. Such eruptions have rarely occurred in Iceland since the end of the Ice Age but they can last years at a time.

Protective Barrier to Be Erected Near Volcano

Flowing lava

The construction of a protective barrier near the Geldingadalur volcano began last night, Vísir reports. Local authorities hope to impede the flow of lava into Nátthagi valley, from where it may proceed south toward Suðurstrandarvegur and cause damage to infrastructure.

Suðurstrandarvegur in jeopardy

In an interview with Vísir yesterday, Fannar Jónasson, Mayor of Grindavík, expressed his concern regarding the flow of lava from the eruption near Fagradalsfjall toward Suðurstrandarvegur (a coastal road running between Grindavík and Þorlákshöfn, which besides being an important transportation artery has also been widely used by travellers visiting the volcano). If the lava were to flow into Nátthagi valley, it could stream south toward the coastal road, resulting in disruption to traffic and damage to infrastructure (including fibre-optic cables).

According to Fannar, the Grindavík Town Council resolved last week to do everything in its power to impede the flow of lava into Nátthagi, having already drawn up plans for a specially-made barrier. “We’re planning a four-meter high barrier. Within it, there will likely be a kind of cavity, which we hope will steer the lava in a different direction.”

Fannar also emphasized that the barrier was designed, first and foremost, with people’s safety in mind. “There’s been a Herculean effort in this area to ensure the safety of visitors.”

Large bulldozer” on the scene

This morning, Vísir reported that a large bulldozer had begun work on the barrier, and in an interview with, Mayor Fannar Jónasson remarked that construction was progressing nicely.

The project will involve, among other things, the filling of two rifts, with rocks from the area being utilized for this purpose. Construction workers hope to fill the western rift today and the eastern rift over the coming days.

The construction is undertaken by the Department for Civil Protection and Emergency Management.

Neither representatives from the town of Grindavík nor the Department for Civil Protection and Emergency Management could be reached for comment.