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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Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula Likely to Erupt Again Soon

svartsengi power plant reykjanes

Magma is collecting below Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula again and experts say another eruption could happen at any time. The land by Svartsengi has now risen more than it did before last month’s eruption. The speed of uplift has also increased again, after slowing down last week.

Magma chamber refilling

Following two months of earthquakes and land deformation, Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula experienced a short but powerful eruption from December 18 to December 21. According to Benedikt Ófeigsson, Coordinator of Deformation Observation at the Icelandic Met Office, the magma chamber beneath Svartsengi has now replenished 75% of the magma expelled by the December eruption.

These developments indicate that another eruption is on the way, Benedikt told RÚV.  The most likely location is the Sundhnúkur Crater Row, between Stóra-Skógfell and Hagafell mountains. According to Benedikt, the eruption could begin there “at any time.”

Blue Lagoon remains open

An overnight evacuation order remains in effect for the nearby town of Grindavík (pop. 3,600). The town was evacuated on November 10 due to powerful earthquakes that damaged roads, homes, and infrastructure in and around the community.

The nearby Blue Lagoon was reopened to visitors on Saturday. Benedikt says an eruption is not likely to occur in the area around the lagoon. “So even if an eruption begins, there will most likely be plenty of time to evacuate people.”

The Reykjanes peninsula, the location of Keflavík International Airport and a stone’s throw from Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík, has entered a period of increased volcanic activity that could last hundreds of years. The four eruptions that have occurred on the peninsula since 2021 have not impacted infrastructure or flights. The earthquakes and deformation preceding the December 2023 eruption, which caused damage in and around Grindavík.

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.

M4.2 Earthquake Near Blue Lagoon

A 4.2 magnitude earthquake shook Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula last night, originating just west of the Blue Lagoon. Magma is collecting some 4-5 kilometres [2.5-3.1 miles] below the surface of the peninsula, not far from where three eruptions have occurred over the last three years. While those eruptions did not damage infrastructure or inhabited areas, this latest magma intrusion is close to Svartsengi Geothermal Power Plant, the town of Grindavík, and the aforementioned Blue Lagoon.

Earthquakes and deformation

An earthquake swarm began on the Reykjanes peninsula on the night of October 24 just north of the town of Grindavík. On October 27, the land in the area began to rise, indicating a magma intrusion in the earth below. No volcanic unrest has been detected and there are no signs an eruption is imminent. However, the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management has declared an uncertainty phase in the area due to the earthquake activity.

This is the fifth time that deformation has been measured at this location since 2020. None of the previous instances resulted in an eruption. In a notice, the Icelandic Met Office stated that earthquakes are expected to continue. The notice also warned travellers of the risk of rockfall from steep slopes.

Water and electricity supply could be impacted

Reykjanes residents receive their hot water, cold water, and electricity from the Svartsengi Geothermal Power Plant, located near the magma intrusion that has formed on Reykjanes. According to the CEO of HS Orka, which owns the power plant, an eruption at the site could make it difficult to supply residents with hot water. Representatives of HS Orka answered residents’ questions at a town hall meeting in Grindavík yesterday, along with Icelandic authorities and experts.

Kristinn Harðarson, HS Orka’s production manager, stated that the company is prepared to respond if an eruption does occur near Svartsengi. “We are well prepared as far as that goes, what can be done,” Kristinn stated at the meeting. “We are very well connected with working groups within the Department of Civil Protection who will work with us to protect the power plant in the event of lava flow. And every effort will be made to protect the power plant, if such an event were to happen.”

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.

Askja Slowly Preparing for Eruption

Askja, Viti, Öskjuvatn, volcano

The land at Askja has risen 70 cm over the past two years, indicating that some 20 million cubic metres of magma are collecting under the volcano’s surface. Measurements show that the temperature of the site’s geothermal lake Víti has risen this summer. There are no signs of an imminent eruption at the remote highland volcano, however, and if and when one occurs, experts say it is unlikely to affect inhabited areas or air traffic.

Askja’s last eruption occurred in 1961 and gave clear warning in the form of strong earthquakes and a significant rise in geothermal temperatures. No such signs have yet occurred at the site despite the uplift and higher lake temperature, Kristín Jónsdóttir, head of the Icelandic Met Office’s Volcanos, Earthquakes, and Deformation Department, told RÚV.

Uplift also occurring at Torfajökull

While eruptions at Askja can produce ash like the Eyjafjallajökull eruption of 2010 that disrupted air traffic, Kristín says an effusive eruption is the more probable outcome and would most likely not impact inhabited areas or air traffic. An uncertainty phase is in effect for the area and authorities have discouraged travellers from bathing in Víti geothermal lake or hiking around Askja lake.

The Icelandic Met Office reported yesterday that uplift is also occurring at Torfajökull, a small glacier also in the Highland region. The uplift indicates that magma is collecting below the surface but no increased earthquake activity has been measured at the site. The last eruption at Torfajökull occurred in 1477.

Meanwhile, the Reykjanes peninsula’s third eruption in three years has officially ended.

Increased Geothermal Activity at Askja

Askja

Satellite images taken two days ago indicate increased geothermal activity at the bottom of Lake Askja, part of the Askja volcanic system in Iceland’s highland. Increased geothermal activity coincides with land deformation (uplift) and seismic activity in the region. There are no signs of an imminent eruption.

The Volcanology and Natural Hazard Group at the University of Iceland published a series of satellite images of Askja on their Facebook page yesterday, showing large thaw holes in the ice on the lake as compared to previous years. “The thaw holes that appeared [January 8] are big and can only be explained by increased geothermal heat in the water. That’s in line with the signs of uplift and earthquakes that have been measured (see Icelandic Met Office). So, it is therefore worth being vigilant about Askja these days.”

GPS measurements show that the land around Askja has risen about half a metre since August 2021, when monitoring began. The development has been relatively steady, with little seismic activity. In September 2021, the National Police Commissioner declared an “uncertainty phase” due to the uplift that remains in effect.

The last eruption at Askja occurred in 1961. It lasted 5-6 weeks and produced about 0.1km3 of basaltic lava, considered a moderate eruption. Askja lake is the youngest caldera in the volcanic system, occupied by a lake measuring 12km2 [4.6mi2] and 200m [656ft] deep. Askja erupts on average 2-3 times every century.

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.

Uplift on Reykjanes Peninsula

Land has started rising again on the Reykjanes peninsula, RÚV reports. The uplift has been detected north of Mt. Keilir and south of the Fagradalsfjall eruption site. The land around Fagradalsfjall fell during the eruption itself, most likely because of the magma streaming out of the chamber beneath the surface.

According to GPS measurements, land fall began to subside at the end of August and then rise again around the middle of September. The uplift is, however, minimal: only one to two centimetres at the highest points.

According to the Met Office’s models, the magma accumulation deep within the earth is the most likely cause of the uplift, although scientists also believe that it is connected to a month-long wave of seismic activity that began at the southern end of Keilir at the end of September. No dislocation has been observed on the surface as of this time, which might mean that magma is getting closer to the surface.

See Also: The Fourth Longest Eruption Since the Start of the 20th Century

Magma accumulation under volcanic systems sometimes occurs after eruptions. As such, the current uplift is not necessarily an indication that magma will move toward the surface in the near future. It’s possible that this process would instead take years or even decades, although that is difficult for scientists to predict with much accuracy.

There has been no lava flow at Fagradalsfjall since September 18. Gas emissions are still being detected at the eruption site, but only in very small quantities.

 

Eruption Still a Possibility at Askja

Askja volcano iceland

The Icelandic Met Office is closely monitoring uplift at Askja volcano in the Central Highland. Benedikt Gunnar Ófeigsson, a deformation scientist at the institution, told mbl.is that it is not possible to rule out an eruption at the site. The land at Askja has risen 15 centimetres since the beginning of August, movement that is most likely explained by magma accumulating below the surface.

Askja is located in Iceland’s Central Highland, far from inhabited areas. Over the last 7,000 years, its eruption frequency has been around 2-3 eruptions per 100 years. The last eruption at the site occurred in 1961: it was a moderate eruption that produced about 0.1km3 of lava.

Though Benedikt states that the uplift at Askja may still lead to an eruption, he added that it was too early to say when a potential eruption would occur. An uncertainty phase is active in the area.