Iceland Allocates Millions for Lava Cooling Equipment

Grindavík volcanic eruption January 2024

The Icelandic government has approved nearly ISK half a billion for equipment to cool lava near Grindavík and Svartsengi, RÚV reports. This equipment, which can also combat wildfires, is crucial for protecting infrastructure where barriers may fail, the Director of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management has stated.

A last line of defence

The Minister of Finance has approved a funding allocation of nearly ISK half a billion [$3.6 million / €3.3 million] to the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management for the purchase of equipment intended for cooling lava near the town of Grindavík and Svartsengi on the Reykjanes peninsula.

As noted by RÚV, Finance Minister Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson announced the funding at a government meeting on Tuesday, citing the purchase and rental of equipment designed to cool lava near Grindavík, Svartsengi, and other locations where barriers are either nonexistent or inadequate to halt or redirect lava flow from critical infrastructure. The funding represents the maximum amount to be spent, and price comparisons have been conducted to limit costs as much as possible.

Read More: Wall of Fire (On the Construction of Lava Barriers on Reykjanes)

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Víðir Reynisson, Director of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, stated that delivering water to Svartsengi for lava cooling, which requires large and powerful pumps due to the considerable distance the water must be transported, posed a significant challenge.

The equipment, however, can be used for more than just lava cooling: “This equipment, because it is essentially firefighting equipment, is also intended for laying long pipelines to combat wildfires that have troubled us around these eruptions,” Víðir explained.

The equipment will be stored in portable units and deployed as needed. Víðir emphasised the equipment’s importance for protecting infrastructure: “If the barriers were to fail, and we have seen them severely tested in recent surges, with the lava having risen to the top of the barriers in many places, we want to have what we call a ‘last line of defence’ if something unexpected happens.”

20 Million Cubic Metres of Magma Beneath Svartsengi

svartsengi power plant reykjanes

Land uplift at Svartsengi indicates that another eruption remains highly likely, according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office. Approximately 20 million cubic metres of magma have accumulated in the magma chamber below Svartsengi.

Another eruption remains “highly likely”

Well before the end of the latest eruption at Sundhnúkagígar – which ceased on May 9, after chugging along for 54 days – there were indications that another eruption was in the offing. Little has changed since then.

Land uplift at Svartsengi on the Reykjanes peninsula continues steadily, with around 20 million cubic metres of magma having accumulated in the magma chamber, according to deformation data reported by the Icelandic Meteorological Office on its website.

In an interview with RÚV in February, a geophysicist noted that experience has shown that eruptions in Reykjanes have begun when the volume of magma in a given chamber reaches between 8-13 million cubic metres (although dependent on a variety of factors).

In light of this accumulation, it remains “highly likely that a new magma intrusion and subsequent eruption will occur,” the MET Office notes. The timing and exact location of such an event, however, remain uncertain. “Nonetheless, it is most likely that the magma intrusion will happen in similar areas to the six intrusions since November.”

400 earthquakes registered

As noted on the MET Office’s website, approximately 400 earthquakes have been recorded near the former eruption sites over the past seven days. The largest earthquake measured 2.2 in magnitude and was located near Sundhnúkur.

“Yesterday, nearly 100 earthquakes were recorded in the area, and until 6:30 PM [yesterday], nearly 70 quakes were measured. The crust in the disturbance area between Stóra-Skógfell and Hagafell is heavily fractured, making it likely for magma to reach the surface easily. These disturbances may not be accompanied by significant seismic activity, and the warning time could be short.”

The Icelandic MET Office stresses that visiting the vicinity of the eruption sites remains hazardous. The hazard assessment remains unchanged from last week.

A hazard map for the Svartsengi area on the Reykjanes peninsula
Hazard Map / The Icelandic Meteorlogical Office

For more information on tourist safety on the Reykjanes peninsula, see our latest In Focus Article.

“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!’”

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.

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.

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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.

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New Eruption Lengthier Than Previous Ones

The latest Reykjanes peninsula eruption has already gone on for longer than the previous three eruptions in this recent spell of volcanic activity in the area. The eruption, which began Saturday, is still being fed by magma pooling under nearby Svartsengi, which is causing crustal uplift in the area, RÚV reports.

Lava may spare road

The fissure between Hagafell and Stóra Skógfell sent lava flowing both west and south and while the flow to the west has stopped, lava still flows to the south, bypassing the town of Grindavík, but heading in the direction of Suðurstrandarvegur.

This raised cause for concern, for several reasons. If it reached Suðurstrandarvegur that would naturally further impede traffic to and from central Reykjanes; the road Grindavíkurvegur, which connects Grindavík to the Reykjanesbraut highway, has already been overrun with lava. However, the lava has not crawled closer to Suðurstrandarvegur road since yesterday, according to local police.

Air pollution decreasing

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution from the eruption has decreased since the beginning of the eruption. Projections show the remaining air pollution spreading to the northeast from the eruption site.

The Suðurnes police commissioner has allowed Grindavík residents and those employed in town to stay there and work, arguing that Grindavík is not under threat from the current lava flow. However, it is recommended that people don’t stay in Grindavík overnight.

Svartsengi Geothermal Power Station Evacuated Due to Air Pollution

grindavík evacuation svartsengi power plant

The Svartsengi geothermal power station was evacuated this morning due to sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution from the ongoing Reykjanes eruption. Five employees were reported to be in the area when the decision to evacuate was made. RÚV reported first.

Svartsengi can operate remotely

The Svartsengi geothermal power station is a major provider of electricity and hot and cold water for the Reykjanes peninsula. After the first Reykjanes eruption in 2021, steps were taken to ensure the continued operation of the station, even during an eruption. It is capable of operating nearly autonomously for shorter periods of time, and during such eruptions, it operates with a skeleton crew. It has been operated almost entirely remotely for the past month.

reykjanes eruption march 19
Meteorological Office of Iceland

Not advisable to remain in area

Birna Lárusdóttir, a spokesperson for HS Orka, the operator of Svartsengi, stated to Morgunblaðið that “SO2 levels had reached a point where it was no longer advisable to be in the area.” She noted that they had prepared for this eventuality and that as wind patterns change later in the day, it may be possible for employees to return today. She emphasised that such decision are made in cooperation with Civil Protection and the Met Office.

Power production not at risk

Birna continued: “However, this is certainly not a completely unmanned power plant. We need to attend to various tools and equipment that are part of the daily operations of the power station. We need to take care of buildings, equipment, and machinery when we deem it necessary, as we did this morning.”

According to Birna, power production at Svartsengi is not currently at risk.

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 Eruption Likely This Weekend

Grindavík volcanic eruption January 2024

A new volcanic eruption could happen this weekend, according to Ármann Höskuldsson, volcanologist with the University of Iceland. The most likely place for it would be Sundhnúkagígar, where eruptions took place in December, January and February, damaging the nearby town of Grindavík.

Last night, the Icelandic Meteorological Office reported some sixty earthquakes over a 24 hour span in the magma corridor that lies under the area. The area with the highest level of activity was to the east of Sýlingarfell, where the first signs of a magma intrusion are expected to come to light.

Eruptions in Eldvörp possible

In an interview with Mbl.is, Ármann said that there’s no reason to think that a new eruption won’t occur in the area in the coming days. “Except if it were to occur in Eldvörp,” Ármann said.

Eldvörp is a row of craters to the northwest of Grindavík, the town of 4,000 inhabitants that was evacuated during the series of seismic activity and eruptions since November. Ármann explained that nearby Svartsengi, home to a geothermal plant and popular tourist destination Blue Lagoon, is something of a trap for magma, which is why it’s become the centre of activity.

Were the magma to reach Eldvörp, the activity around Svartsengi will cool off, as Eldvörp provides an easier route for the magma to reach the surface, due to its location on the boundaries of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. Ármann added that persistent seismic activity was the only way for the magma to break through to Eldvörp, with each volcanic eruption making it more likely.

New Water Pipeline Completed, Hot Water Returning to Reykjanes

lava, hraun, eruption, eldgos, hot water pipe

Residents of the Reykjanes peninsula, who have been without hot water since an eruption damaged a pipeline last Thursday, may finally be able to take a hot shower later today, RÚV reports. A new pipeline was completed around 1:00 AM last night and has been successfully transporting water to reserve tanks since around 3:00 AM this morning. Some 30,000 residents on the peninsula have been without hot water and heating since lava flowed across the main hot water pipeline from Svartsengi Power Station.

Using plug-in heaters to heat homes

The vast majority of homes on the Reykjanes peninsula are heated with hot water from Svartsengi, a geothermal power plant. The hot water outage began shortly after noon on Thursday, when the hot water pipeline serving the peninsula was damaged. Residents were urged to lower the temperature in their homes to extend the availability of hot water as long as possible, but by Thursday evening, reserves were depleted. Many rushed to buy electric radiators, gas tanks, and heater fans to keep their homes warm. Several schools in the area were closed as a result of the outage.

Construction completed ahead of schedule

Construction on the new pipeline had begun before the eruption, but when the outage occurred, it was put in full swing. Welders, plumbers, excavation workers, and others worked throughout the weekend to get the new pipeline completed and did so ahead of schedule. Hot water is now filling the tanks, and could reach homes as early as tonight, though it may still take up to a few days. Authorities ask residents to continue limiting their electricity use to 3 KW per home in order to avoid outages, particularly in the evening when strain on the system increases.

Further eruptions expected

The eruption that occurred last Thursday is the third in the area in three months. While it appears to already be over, further eruptions are expected. Geological activity, including land rise at Svartsengi, indicates that magma is once again collecting below the surface of the Reykjanes peninsula.

Read more about the series of eruptions that began on the Reykjanes peninsula in 2021.