Grindavík More Damaged Than Previously Thought

Director of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, Víðir Reynisson

Rationing of hot water could become necessary in municipalities neighbouring Grindavík due to infrastructure damage,  the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management announced yesterday. Infrastructure repair will be time consuming and costly, RÚV reports.

The January 14 volcanic eruption near Grindavík destroyed three houses, caused crevasses to form across town, and displaced the 3,800 inhabitants for the foreseeable future. The town had already been evacuated once before, on November 10 last year, due to seismic activity. Grindavík residents await a government decision on how they can be helped while displaced.

Half of the hot water wasted

“This is a tricky situation,” Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson said. “The hot water runs through piping under the lava and the main pipe was destroyed. Fortunately a new one was being constructed and has been connected so that part of the town has hot water, but not all of it. Around half the water transported to Grindavík leaks out of the system.”

The nearby Svartsengi geothermal plant is operating at capacity, but due to leakage of 40 to 40 litres per second, other nearby municipalities may have to resort to rationing their hot water. In addition, no cold water is available in town, as the pipes have not been repaired. Therefore, fire hydrants in the area are out of commission.

Crevasse risks remain

Temporary wiring is being used for electricity, but it was disconnected yesterday due to a possible lightning storm. Most roads have been temporarily repaired, but many streets remain closed due to crevasse risks. Due to bad weather and other conditions on site, it has not been determined whether the temporary repairs are robust enough to hold. The situation in Grindavík is not good, according to the department, but the goal is to increase safety to the point where living and working in town becomes possible again.

The Icelandic Red Cross has set up a page with donation options for those wishing to lend support. This includes both one-time donations and repeat subscriptions.

Safety Concerns, Poor Weather Halt Grindavík Property Visits

Grindavík residents are currently unable to visit their properties due to ongoing efforts to fill and assess dangerous crevasses, with work being hampered by recent bad weather. The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management is focusing on evaluating the town’s safety this weekend, with hopes to soon allow brief returns for residents.

Efforts being made to fill crevasses

Grindavík residents will not be able to visit their properties today, Víðir Reynisson, head of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, stated yesterday. Efforts are being made to fill the cracks and assess their danger with the help of ground-penetrating radars, but the work has been delayed due to bad weather in recent days. 

Víðir observed that the civil protection authorities intended to spend the weekend assessing the situation in town, which has been divided into areas east and west of Víkurbraut; the eastern area is much more dangerous. 

“The danger of earth collapse and the opening of new crevasses is still considered high. What we have been focused on in recent days is filling these cracks and scanning them with ground-penetrating radars. We have also been trying to assess which areas are safer than others so as to prepare to allow the people of Grindavík to come home and visit their properties,” Víðir stated in an interview in the evening news on Stöð 2 yesterday.

Inauspicious weather conditions

Víðir added that the weather had not been on the authorities’ side in recent days and the forecasts for the weekend don’t look especially heartening. Hopefully, however, work over the weekend could continue: “There is significant wind and precipitation forecasted, so we have to take into account whether this is actually feasible, but we will see it more clearly tomorrow,” Víðir noted yesterday.

Víðir stated that he understood that people were eager to return to their homes and that the lack of electricity and heating in the town was a further cause for concern for residents; many were hoping to move their belongings to new homes outside the town: “Hopefully, we can get everyone living west of Víkurbraut back home in a short time, and that means each person might get about four hours at home,” Víðir remarked.

A meeting will be held this morning to review the situation and assess what needs to be done to allow residents to enter the town. The authorities hope to allow residents to return home for a brief period, two to four at a time, in one or two cars.

Grindavík Evacuated Again Due to Crevasse Risks

Grindavík earthquakes crevasse

Grindavík, the Reykjanes peninsula town of 3,800 people that was evacuated due to seismic activity in November, will be evacuated again Monday evening. The reason is ongoing danger of crevasses opening up in the area without warning. No unauthorised personnel will be allowed within the town limits for three weeks.

Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson announced this in a press conference today and expressed his sympathies to the family of a man who fell into a crevasse in Grindavík Wednesday. Minister of Justice Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir also addressed attendees and promised government action to provide evacuated families with housing. She added that she hoped that the town would be safe and habitable again by this summer or fall.

Following seismic activity for months, a volcanic eruption began at Sundhnúkagígar, north of Grindavík, on December 18 and lasted for three days. By Christmas, the residents of Grindavík were permitted to go back to their homes and businesses were allowed to reopen. However, crustal uplift continues in the nearby Svartsengi area and the Icelandic Meteorological Office warns that a new eruption could begin at any time.

Search for man discontinued

Further search and rescue operations for the man who fell down a crevasse are not justifiable for safety reasons, the Suðurnes police commissioner announced today. Search was called off Friday on the third day of operations, due to concerns over hazard to the rescue group. “A man died there and there was a collapse in the crevasse,” commissioner Úlfar Lúðvíksson told Vísir. “This is an indication about the dangers at play. In my estimation, this is the correct decision. We can’t search under these circumstances, unfortunately.

Úlfar warned that the situation of crevasses opening up within town limits was unprecedented. “Like we’ve repeatedly stated, I advise people to stay out of town,” he said earlier today before evacuation was announced. “There are crevasses all over and they’re treacherous. They are opening up. During this operation, this horrible event, we could see how deep they are. How life-threatening they are.”

Explained: An Update on the Geological Activity in Reykjanes

svartsengi power plant reykjanes

Magma accumulation under Svartsengi on the Reykjanes Peninsula since the December 18 eruption has increased the risk of another eruption. The head of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management warns that residents and businesses near Grindavík and Svartsengi should be prepared for possible short-notice evacuation.

What’s going on in Reykjanes?

Ever since the brief but powerful eruption in Sundhnúksgígar on the Reykjanes peninsula on December 18, magma has been steadily accumulating in the area once again. 

As noted on the MET Office’s website, there is still relatively low seismic activity in the area, mainly concentrated between Hagafell and Stóra Skógfell, where the centre of the magma dyke is located. Continuous seismic activity in Fagradalsfjall has persisted since December 18.

Land uplift is still ongoing in the Svartsengi area, which has been quite stable since the eruption on December 18. The ground has risen about 5 mm per day recently and is now about 5 cm higher than before the magma intrusion on November 10 and December 18 last year.

Model calculations, derived from deformation data (GPS and satellite imagery), indicate that the volume of magma accumulated in the horizontal magma dyke under Svartsengi since December 18 is now similar to the volume that previously flowed from the same area, forming the magma dyke that triggered the December 18 eruption.

This means there is an increased risk of a magma intrusion in the coming days. The MET Office notes that it is important to emphasise that magma intrusion can lead to a volcanic eruption and that the last eruption began with very short notice.

The MET Office issued an updated hazard map on January 5 and will reassess the map on Friday, January 12. 

Volcanic eruption on Reykjanes peninsula
Golli. The largest eruption in Reykjanes since activity began in 2019.

What’s the latest news from the Department of Civil Protection?

In an interview with Vísir yesterday, Víðir Reynisson, Director of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, stated that reports that the volume of magma that had accumulated near the Svartsengi area on the Reykjanes Peninsula had reached a similar volume as before the last eruption had altered the situation from a civil protection point of view. 

“We are always approaching the time when a magma intrusion could begin, possibly leading to an eruption. We have received all the warnings we are going to get. The next thing that happens is that a geological event will start,” Víðir observed yesterday. 

Víðir stated that if the MET Office gets indications that this geological event is beginning, evacuations will be initiated. “The entire area will be evacuated as soon as that happens. Therefore, residents of Grindavík and those working or staying near the Svartsengi area will need to be prepared to evacuate on short notice. Such decisions could be made very quickly,” Víðir explained. “It’s not time to evacuate yet, but that could change rapidly, in the next few days or even sooner.”

Asked about the advisability of resuming business operations in Grindavík, Víðir remarked that if companies are capable of initiating a speedy evacuation, they have been given permission to resume work. 

Is an eruption in Grindavík a possibility?

Yes, although it is not the most likely scenario.

Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson, a professor of geophysics at the University of Iceland, told Vísir yesterday that an eruption near Grindavík, or even in the town itself, could not be ruled out. 

Asked to comment on the likelihood of an eruption in Grindavík, Víðir stated that such a thing would be considered the most serious scenario. “It’s not the most likely scenario, but it’s not impossible. Therefore, we cannot take any chances and will not do so. We will evacuate the area entirely if this gets underway.” 

Víðir’s message to those in Grindavík is to be prepared to leave on short notice.

Rescue workers assist Grindavík residents
Rescue workers assist Grindavík residents during evacuations in November (Golli)

Will this affect travellers coming to Iceland?

No, it is highly unlikely. 

Throughout the previous four eruptions in Reykjanes, the Keflavík International Airport has remained open and so have the roads leading from the airport and into the capital area (with a few rare and very brief exceptions). 

Although there is reason for Grindavík residents and businesses, and those employed near the Svartsengi area, to be prepared for speedy evacuations, travellers visiting Iceland need not be concerned.

The Blue Lagoon remains open. For more information click here.

Too Soon to Discuss Protective Barriers for Hafnarfjörður

Protective barrriers in Reykjanes

An earthquake near Trölladyngja has led to a discussion of the possibility of erecting protective barriers in Hafnarfjörður. The director of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management has stated that such discussions are premature.

No observable change in Svartsengi

On Wednesday, a large earthquake occurred near Mt. Trölladyngja, a volcano located on the Reykjanes peninsula, between Grindavík and the capital area. Speaking to Vísir yesterday, a geologist on duty at the Icelandic Meteorological Office stated that there had been about 640 tremors since the earthquake. Their frequency had rapidly decreased, however. The geologist also stated that there had beeen no signs of geological unrest in Svartsengi, where a volcanic eruption occurred in December, after the earthquake.

Speaking to Stöð 2’s evening news on Wednesday, volcanologist Ármann Höskuldsson discussed the earthquake and its potential implications. He expressed interest in exploring the construction of protective barriers in the westernmost part of Hafnarfjörður given that the tremor might indicate possible eruptions near the town in the coming years.

Discussion of protective barriers premature

Víðir Reynisson, Director of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, told Vísir yesterday that any discussion of protective barriers for the capital area was premature while a comprehensive hazard assessment for volcanic activity in the area was still underway.

“This work on hazard assessment for Iceland’s volcanoes started in 2012 and has been ongoing since. Some locations have been addressed, and the assessment for the capital area began over a year ago. We are working as quickly as possible. Many scientists are involved,” Víðir stated.

Several volcanologists have called for such a risk assessment, and Víðir was surprised that they were not aware that this work had long been in progress: “We know to some extent where eruptions can occur and are familiar with these areas. It’s possible to simulate lava flows from these locations, but the hazard assessment is the foundation of everything we do. It’s being actively worked on,” Víðir noted.

As noted by Vísir, land uplift near the Svartsengi Power Station has continued, although the rate has significantly slowed in recent days. A similar pattern occurred before the eruption in Sundhnúkagígar in mid-December.

Grindavík Begins Barrier Construction Amid Eruption Fears

Reykjanes peninsula

The construction of a protective barrier north of the town of Grindavík began yesterday. Once finished, the barrier will stretch an estimated two kilometres. Contractors will work around the clock and coordinate with the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management to ensure safety.

Permits in, work begins

On December 29, the authorities announced plans to construct a protective barrier north of Grindavík, located on the southern coast of the Reykjanes Peninsula, as a precaution against potential volcanic eruptions. As reported by RÚV, as soon as the Ministry of Justice had received all necessary permits by noon yesterday, construction of the barrier began.

Drawing on lessons from a previous barrier project around the Svartsengi Geothermal Plant, which has yet to be completed, contractors are utilising large excavators that have proven highly effective in digging up material to be used for the project. Materials will also be sourced from a nearby quarry.

The entire protective barrier is expected to be two kilometres in length, and the first section of the barrier is estimated to take about three weeks to complete. The project will cost an estimated ISK 6 billion [$44 million / €40 million].

Working around the clock

Víðir Reynisson, Head of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, told RÚV yesterday that numerous contractors would be involved in the project and that they would work around the clock.

He explained that while contractors would use their personal vehicles to access the site, they’ll maintain direct communication with the DCPEM’s control centre to ensure that they can be promptly directed to evacuate if necessary. “People are prepared for an eruption at any moment,” Víðir stated. 

As noted by RÚV, the land uplift near the Svartsengi Geothermal Power Plant has slowed down, which could be a sign that another volcanic eruption is imminent (which also was the case before the last eruption in December).

Víðir also noted that the authorities had advised the people of Grindavik not to stay overnight in town, although they were within their rights to do so; acknowledging that some residents had no other place to stay, Víðir asked these individuals to remain alert to the possibility of an eruption in or near Grindavík. To ensure residents are alerted promptly, especially at night, a text-message system and two police cars are on standby to notify people if another eruption occurs.

60 earthquakes since midnight

As reported by RÚV this morning, there have been no changes in the activity on the Reykjanes Peninsula since yesterday. According to the Icelandic Meteorological Office, about 60 earthquakes have been detected since midnight, with no observed changes in land uplift.

Grindavík Awaits End of Land Uplift for Return Home

Grindavík

Grindavík residents cannot return home until the ongoing land uplift ceases. Despite geological challenges, including a newly formed 25.7-meter-deep hole, Grindavík’s business sector is showing signs of revival.

Waiting on zero

Earlier this week, Víðir Reynisson, Head of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, fielded questions from Grindavík residents on the news programme Torgið. When asked about the prospect of a homecoming, Víðir remarked that Grindavík residents would be unable to return home until land uplift — the geological process where the Earth’s surface rises due to tectonic activities like magma intrusion — in town ceases.

Víðir noted that the land was currently rising faster near the Svartsengi Geothermal Power Plant than before November 10, when the magma intrusion extended into Grindavík, necessitating the evacuation of the town. “This geological event is far from over,” Víðir observed.

According to Víðir, only when the land uplift had reached a zero point could any discussion of homecoming commence. “Only then can we possibly start counting some days until it can be declared safe to return home.”

A deep hole

Examples of how the ongoing land uplift is affecting Grindavík have been noticeable over the past few days. On Wednesday, a deep hole was discovered in one of the neighbourhoods in Grindavík. When RÚV arrived on the scene, Ármann Höskuldsson, a professor of volcanology at the University of Iceland, was conducting measurements:

“This hole exemplifies the cracks emerging in the area as the land shifts apart. Unlike solid rock, the soil doesn’t move in unison when it fractures, causing it to fill the cracks. The crack we’re examining is approximately 25.7 metres deep, reaching the water’s surface, which means it’s even deeper below the water,” Ármann explained. “Remarkably, the groundwater level here is at 25.7 metres depth, a significant depth for such cracks.”

The hole is part of an extensive fissure bisecting the town into eastern and western sections. Regarding the type of water at the bottom of the hole, Ármann was uncertain: “I haven’t tested it, but it’s likely just groundwater.”

Ármann expressed no alarm over the presence of groundwater in the hole. “Groundwater is a common feature beneath us, no matter where we are in this area … it’s not a cause for concern.”

Awaken, industry

Despite the challenges posed by holes, cracks, and other damages, Grindavík’s business sector is showing signs of revival. Fannar Jónasson, the town’s mayor, expressed optimism in a recent interview with Vísir.

“We’re seeing a variety of businesses expressing interest in reopening. With available housing and machinery for production and services, people are returning and taking advantage of these opportunities to keep their businesses afloat,” he stated.

Fannar emphasised the growing sense of community and mutual support in Grindavík.

“It’s great to see how supportive everyone is. Those working need access to food and services. There are also machine shops and wood workshops , among other businesses, which are reopening. So it is all interconnected, and life here is in its infancy, once again, ushering in what we hope marks the start of a positive era.”

 

Hundreds of Minor Earthquakes Registered Since Midnight

Grindavík - Þorbjörn

Around 500 earthquakes, most of which were relatively minor, have been registered near Mount Hagafell on the Reykjanes peninsula since midnight, Vísir reports. A service centre offering support and counselling for Grindavík residents will open in Reykjavík’s Customs House today.

Largest of magnitude 2.6

Bjarki Kaldalóns Friis, a natural hazards specialist, was on duty at the Icelandic MET Office last night. Speaking to Vísir this morning, Bjarki described the seismic activity on the Reykjanes peninsula as having followed a familiar pattern. “There have been around 500 earthquakes since midnight. The largest was of magnitude 2.6, occurring 3.12 AM,” Bjarki remarked.

Bjarki noted that the epicentre was near Mount Hagafell, east of Mount Þorbjörn, where most of the seismic activity was concentrated last night. This is consistent with the pattern over the past few days. “This is right in the middle of the volcanic fissure, more or less.”

According to the Icelandic MET Office, the gradual decrease in the intensity of seismic activity over the past few days owes to the significant stress release due to earthquakes in the area and the deposition due to the magma intrusion. As a result of this stress release, it is likely that the magma has an easy path to the surface.

Seismologist Kristín Jónsdóttir told Vísir yesterday that volcanic tremors and shallow earthquakes will be measured hours before an eruption begins. Geophysicist Freysteinn Sigmundsson added that the warning for an eruption would be at least half an hour.

Customs House to become makeshift service centre

The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management announced last night that a service centre for the residents of Grindvík would open in the Customs House (i.e. Tollhúsið) in Reykjavík. The service centre, which will offer community gatherings, support, counselling, and information, will be open between 10 AM and 6 PM on weekdays.

In an interview on the radio programme Bítið this morning, Víðir Reynisson, Head of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, discussed, among other things, the role of the service centre. “It will afford the people of Grindvík a place to meet, but equally important, we plan to gather experts who can answer questions, including those related to damage claims. We will also provide psychological support and help people to come together.”

The press has been requested to avoid the service centre area, with the municipal authorities in Grindavík aiming to invite the media for a visit later today. Víðir also stated that the authorities had drawn up plans to allow select Grindavík residents brief visits to their homes to retrieve valuables today. “There are a few residents who have been unable to do so, and we aim to resolve this today.”

Grindavík Homecoming Unlikely in the Near Term

Photo from the mandatory evacuation of Grindavík in Reykajnes

The town of Grindavík has suffered significant earthquake damage, impacting homes and infrastructure. The Head of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management told reporters yesterday that the ongoing uncertainty regarding a possible eruption means that it is unlikely that Grindavík residents will be able to return to their homes in the near future.

More damage than expected

The town of Grindavík, on the Reykjanes peninsula, was succesfully evacuated during the early hours of Saturday, November 12, amid concerns that the intrusion of magma, believed to extend beneath the town, would reach the surface. An emergency phase was declared, and the Red Cross set up three emergency relief centres.

The quakes continued into Saturday. By Sunday, it was clear that major damage being inflicted on the the town, affecting houses, roads, and infrastructure. “The town has suffered extensive damage,” Úlfar Lúðvíksson, Chief of Police in Suðurnes, told RÚV during the evening news yesterday.

Parts of the town have been without hot water and electricity owing to damage to the distribution system of the HS Veitur utility company. Large parts of Grindavík have been too hazardous to enter, and HS Veitur has not allowed its employees to venture into those areas for repairs.

New assessment expected tomorrow

A new assessment from the Icelandic Meteorological Office is awaited and expected to be published tomorrow. The new assessment will provide a clearer picture of the situation, including whether the magma is still rising and how close it has risen to the surface.

Seismic activity has, however, significantly decreased since Friday and Saturday. “There is nothing to suggest that there will be a significant eruption,” Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson, a professor of geophysics, told reporters yesterday, noting that he believes the likelihood of an undersea eruption has diminished.

Unlikely that residents can return soon

Despite a decrease in seismic activity, it is unlikely that Grindavík residents will be able to return to their homes in the near future – even if a volcanic eruption does not occur in the next few days.

Víðir Reynisson, Department Manager of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, told RÚV yesterday that events were still unfolding, and even if seismic activity continued over the two weeks without an eruption, the evacuation would remain in effect: “Even if the activity completely stops, and scientists believe that this event is over, it will take some time before we can be certain that this activity will not pick up again. Only then will residents be allowed to return home,” Víðir explained.

Víðir also noted that if an eruption occurs that is far from Grindavík, the evacuation would continue to be in place; such an eruption could last for some time.

Admitted into the safest neighbourhood

Residents of the Þórkötlustaðahverfi neighbourhood in Grindavík, in the easternmost part of town, were afforded a brief window (ca. 5 minutes) to retrieve their belongings and pets yesterday. One resident, having received help from two Keflavík residents, managed to retrieve 66 animals: 35 sheep, 20 hens, and a cat.

The organisation Dýrfinna has collected information about animals left behind in Grindavík, which include 58 cats, 2 rabbits, 2 hamsters, 49 horses, 50 chickens, 13 parrots, 130 pigeons, 204 sheep, and 15,000 chickens. Despite hoping that they would be allowed to enter Grindavík to rescue pets, the authorities refused to admit anyone into the town, aside from residents of the Þórkötlustaðahverfi neighbourhood.

Decisions made tomorrow morning

Once a new risk assessment is available tomorrow morning, a decision will be made regarding the next steps. “We are doing what we can to accommodate the people of Grindavík, allowing them to access essential items in their homes,” Úlfar Lúðvíksson told RÚV yesterday.