Grindavík Sees Workers Team Up to Clear 700°C Lava

An ambulance lingers just outside of Grindavík

Around 100 people are working on repairs and salvaging operations in Grindavik, tackling tasks like restoring heating, power, and water supply, in addition to clearing new lava at a temperature of about 700°C. Strict safety measures are being observed.

Clearing a considerable amount of lava

As noted in a Facebook post by the Grindavík-based rescue team Þorbjörn yesterday, around 100 people have been engaged in various repairs and salvaging operations in the town of Grindavik in recent days. According to the update, the utmost safety has been observed in these efforts and “tremendous energy” has been invested in various projects in the town.

“Plumbing and electrical teams, accompanied by response units, have been traversing the town, working hard to restore heating to houses. The extent and amount of work vary by location, but efforts have been made to cover as many houses as possible. This work is nearly complete as of the time of writing.”

The update noted that teams from Landsnet (a transmission system operator) and the utility company HS Veitur have worked to restore the power line between the Svartsengi Geothermal Power Plant and Grindavik, a task that was completed last night. Earthmoving contractors, along with Grindavik’s fire brigade and municipal employees, have also been working to get the town’s cold water supply back up and running.

This requires clearing a considerable amount of new lava, still about 700°C. “This work is progressing well, and hopefully, water will be restored soon,” the post from Þorbjörn reads.

700-metres of fencing

Several hundred metres of fencing have also been erected in Grindavik to enclose areas where fissures and potential land collapses pose a threat, particularly in open spaces where the ground has not been reinforced or where fissures are visibly open. 

“Everyone working in Grindavik these days must adhere to strict safety requirements and receive specific safety instructions. For instance, each person must wear a fall-arrest harness and helmet, accompanied by response units equipped with gas detectors and communication devices. In the industrial area in the eastern part of Grindavik … people must be secured with safety lines while working there.”

A portable five-metre steel bridge has also been constructed to cross fissures and enhance the safety of those working in Grindavik. Plans are underway to build another similar bridge to keep multiple roads open simultaneously.

“All these measures aim to increase the safety of those in Grindavik, with the goal of starting valuable salvaging operations as soon as the opportunity arises. There is now a strong emphasis on planning the salvaging of valuables in the town, but as previously mentioned, such actions cannot commence until the risk assessment map from the Icelandic Meteorological Office changes,” the post reads.

“Finally, we would like to express our profound gratitude to everyone who has participated in the projects in Grindavik recently. Unity and collaboration have characterised the work, with up to 100 people involved in operations each day.”

Continued Seismic Activity on Reykjanes Peninsula

Svartsengi

Two earthquakes, one of magnitude 3.4 and another of 3.0, rattled the Reykjanes Peninsula last night, amidst a series of around 400 tremors. Geophysicist Páll Einarsson describes this seismic activity as a typical feature of the peninsula’s long geological history, marked by intermittent volcanic action.

Two earthquakes of magnitude 3.0

Two earthquakes reached a magnitude of three on the Reykjanes Peninsula last night, RÚV reports. The larger one, measuring 3.4, occurred approximately two kilometres north-northwest of Grindavík at 12.30 AM. Just after 5 AM, another quake, registering at 3.0, also occurred. Around 400 tremors have been detected since midnight, with seismic activity remaining similar to recent patterns.

The latest satellite data from the Icelandic Meteorological Office confirms the continued uplift near Þorbjörn. The same data show no signs of magma accumulation in Eldvörp or near Sýlingarfell, where seismic activity has been recorded in recent days.

Concurrent volcanic and seismic activity rare

In an interview with Mbl.is, published this morning, geophysicist Páll Einarsson provided insight into the ongoing geological drama unfolding on the Reykjanes Peninsula, including the seismic activities near Grindavík and the Blue Lagoon. “If we look at this from the beginning, what is happening on the Reykjanes Peninsula is part of a long history,” he stated.

Iceland’s dynamic landscape is shaped by its position straddling the boundary of diverging tectonic plates. This geological setting is the foundation for the sequence of events that characterise the Reykjanes Peninsula’s activity.

Read More: What’s the Situation on the Reykjanes Peninsula

Páll further elaborated on the region’s distinctiveness: “This is a part of the tectonic plate boundaries of Iceland, and this particular section has the unique nature that volcanic activity comes into play for a relatively short period of time and then there is a pause.”

In geological terms, “short” is relative; in this context, it refers to active periods lasting 200-300 years, punctuated by 700-800 years of quiescence in magma activity. During these quieter times, the plate boundaries’ activity is primarily expressed through earthquakes.

Páll also noted the rarity of the Peninsula’s geological features: “These plate boundaries are somewhat unique in that this is a so-called oblique rift zone, with movement at an angle to the belt, which means that this belt has both volcanic and seismic activity, which is unusual.”

In contrast to most regions where belts are exclusively earthquake or volcanic zones, the Reykjanes Peninsula exhibits a rare combination of both. According to Páll, there are only two known examples of this phenomenon on a significant portion of the earth: the Reykjanes Peninsula and the oblique rift zone near Grímsey, both marked by concurrent volcanic and seismic activity.

New Magma Intrusion Below Reykjanes Peninsula

Þorbjörn efitr Pálmi Erlendsson Veðurstofan

Magma is collecting some 4 km [2.5 mi] below the surface of the Reykjanes peninsula, not far from where three eruptions have occurred over the last three years. The new magma intrusion is just northwest of the town of Grindavík, close to Þorbjörn mountain and the Blue Lagoon. While there are no signs that an eruption is imminent, a specialist at the Icelandic Met Office says it is a possibility both by Þorbjörn Mountain as well as by Fagradalsfjall, the area where the last three eruptions on Reykjanes occurred.

Earthquakes and uplift (land rise) have occurred before all three recent eruptions on the Reykjanes peninsula, the most recent eruption occurring just last summer. On October 24, an earthquake swarm began northwest of Grindavík, where uplift of 3 cm is now being detected. Strong earthquakes have continued at the site, with an earthquake above M4 felt across the capital area at noon yesterday.

Although experts now say magma is collecting below the site, it will not necessarily lead to an eruption. Benedikt Ófeigsson, a coordinator at the Icelandic Met Office, says an eruption could also still occur at Fagradalsfjall. “We cannot write off Fagradalsfjall immediately,” Benedikt told RÚV. “We are still seeing deformation (uplift) there and it could just as well be that the next eruption will occur there, but we are monitoring both places now.”

While there are no indications that an eruption is imminent, the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management has declared an uncertainty phase on the Reykjanes peninsula. Experts have stated that the recent eruptions on Reykjanes indicate the start of a period of volcanic activity that could last decades or centuries. None of the three recent eruptions have impacted inhabited areas or infrastructure.

Land Rising Faster on Reykjanes than Before Past Eruptions

Grindavík - Þorbjörn

The land on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula has risen some 3 cm [1.2 in] since October 27, indicating an eruption might be on the way. Uplift (the scientific term for this geological activity) has occurred before all three eruptions on Reykjanes in the past three years. While there are no indications that an eruption is imminent, the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management has declared an uncertainty phase on the Reykjanes peninsula.

Earthquakes and faster uplift

A powerful earthquake swarm began on the Reykjanes peninsula on the night of October 24 just north of the town of Grindavík. The most powerful earthquakes at the start of the swarm measured M3.9 and M4.5. More than 7,000 earthquakes have been detected in the area since, including an M5.0 earthquake on October 27.

On October 27, the land in the area began to rise, indicating a magma intrusion in the earth below. This is the fifth time that uplift is measured at the location since 2020. The rate of uplift is faster than uplift that occurred in 2020 and 2022 in a similar area. All three eruptions that have occurred on the Reykjanes peninsula in the past three years were preceded by earthquakes and uplift.

Land rise close to Blue Lagoon

The midpoint of the uplift is some 1.5km to the northwest of Þorbjörn mountain, near the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon’s Director of Sales, Operations, and Services told RÚV that the company is meeting with authorities daily to monitor the situation and has updated their contingency plans. The temperature of the water in the lagoon is monitored regularly and no changes have been detected.

More eruptions can be expected on Reykjanes

In March 2021, an eruption began on the Reykjanes peninsula following a period of nearly 800 years with no eruptions in the area. That eruption lasted around six months and was followed by two shorter eruptions in 2022 and 2023. Geologic activity on the Reykjanes peninsula is characterised by seismic periods lasting 600-800 years, alternating with volcanic periods lasting 400-500 years and experts have stated that more eruptions can be expected on the peninsula in the coming decades. None of the three recent eruptions have impacted inhabited areas or infrastructure.

Land Rises Four Centimetres on Reykjanes

Grindavík - Þorbjörn

The land around Svartsengi, on the Reykjanes peninsula, has risen 4 centimetres since April 21. The uplift is most likely due to a magma intrusion 4-5km below the surface. Satellite images published by the Icelandic Met Office indicate the intrusion is 7-8km long and stretches west of Þorbjörn mountain and underneath Svartsengi Power Station. An earthquake swarm is ongoing at the site, but there is no sign of volcanic unrest.

These geological events are reminiscent of landrise that occurred in the area in 2020. While in that instance, the magma that was collecting underground never reached the surface, a volcanic eruption did occur nearby on the peninsula in 2021, at Fagradalsfjall. While the 2021 eruption was far from infrastructure, the growing magma intrusion is located underneath a geothermal power plant, which is at risk of damage if magma reaches the surface.

Residents of the nearby town of Grindavík were invited to a town hall meeting yesterday evening to discuss the geological activity and go over preparedness in the case of an eruption. Travellers and hikers on the Reykjanes peninsula are warned to stay away from steep inclines, where earthquakes can cause landslides or rockfall. The Civil Protection Department website features earthquake preparedness information in English.

Experts have stated that it is too early to say whether the activity will result in an eruption.

The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management has declared an uncertainty phase in the area and the aviation code for the area has been changed to yellow.