Grindavík Exodus Heats Up Housing Market

grindavík evacuation

The housing market showed signs of heating up in February, according to a new report from the Housing and Construction Authority (HMS). The biggest change was in the vicinity of the capital area, which HMS attributes to the residents of Grindavík entering the market to buy new homes, RÚV reports.

Grindavík was evacuated in November due to seismic activity. The town has seen four volcanic eruptions just to the north, in the Sundhnúkagígar area, since December. Three houses were destroyed in the January eruption and the Government has since promised to buy homes from Grindavík residents if they choose.

Prices rise and activity increases

According to HMS, an uptick in the housing price index and data on real estate listings show increased activity in the market. More than 1,400 listings were removed in February, indicating completed sales, which is double compared to January. Reykjanesbær, a municipality near Grindavík, saw the number of completed real estate purchase agreements triple compared to January.

The housing price index rose by 1.9% between January and February and has risen by 5.7% in the last year. Outside of the capital area, the bump was 6.4% between January and February and 8.5% in the last year. HMS attributes this to activity from Grindavík residents in municipalities such as Reykjanesbær.

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.

Government to Buy Grindavík Homes

Grindavík

The Icelandic government is offering to buy all residential housing owned by individuals in Grindavík and take over the mortgages on the properties. The cost is estimated to be ISK 61 Billion [$443 Million, €411 Million], according to a press release from the ministries in charge of the programme.

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. The latest eruption on February 8 damaged a hot water pipeline, cutting off heating for Reykjanes homes.

Bill introduced this week

During a meeting of the cabinet of ministers Friday, a bill on the purchase was agreed upon. It was put into an online consultation process and will be introduced in Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament this week. Over 300 comments on the bill’s contents have already been submitted. The government has conferred with opposition party parliamentarians and introduced the bill to the municipal government of Grindavík.

A real estate company, Þórkatla, will be established to handle the purchase and management of the properties, which it will purchase for 95% of their official fire insurance value, with the relevant mortgages deducted. The company will be financed by the treasury and with loans from financial institutions. The state is expected to receive reimbursements from the Natural catastrophe insurance of Iceland for any properties rendered uninhabitable.

Grindavík residents will have until July 1 to apply to enter the programme and have their homes bought.

Eruption Near Grindavík Remains Likely

Grindavík seismic activity and potential eruption

A volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula remains a likely outcome, according to a notice from the Icelandic Met Office today. Crustal uplift continues in the Svartsengi area and is now at a higher level than in early November when a magma intrusion formed under the town of Grindavík. The town’s population of over 3,000 people was evacuated November 10 and remains displaced, after seismic activity and a magma dike opened crevasses and damaged roads, homes, and infrastructure.

Crustal uplift has slowed down over the weekend, but remains at a high level, the Met Office has confirmed. “As long as magma continues to accumulate by Svartsengi, there remains likelihood of a new magma propagation and also an eruption,” the notice states. If a magma propagation occurs, the most likely scenario is that the magma will propagate from Svartsengi into the previously formed dike that formed on November 10. The most likely place for an eruption would then be north of Grindavík, in the direction of Hagafell mountain and the Sundhjúksgígar area. Seismic activity has remained stable and low for the last few days and mostly contained near Hagafell.

Estimate of ISK 10 billion in Grindavík damages

The damage to homes and infrastructure in Grindavík could amount to ISK 10 billion [$71.4 million, €66.3 million], according to the director of the Natural Catastrophe Insurance of Iceland. Before paying out damages, authorities must reconsider the town’s zoning plan and whether some areas will be deemed no longer safe for residential housing. 230 properties have been reported damaged.

Blue Lagoon, the popular tourist destination on Reykjanes peninsula, announced Friday that its current closure will remain in effect until Thursday, at which point the situation will be reassessed. There remains no official estimate on if or when an eruption could occur. It is also not clear when it would be safe for Grindavík residents to return to their homes.

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.

Magma Likely Collecting Under Reykjanes Again

Increasing uplift (land rise) has been measured on the Reykjanes peninsula since the beginning of April, a sign that magma is collecting below the surface. There are no indications that an eruption is imminent, however. The peninsula has been the site of Iceland’s two most recent eruptions, in 2021 and 2022.

Magma far below the surface

Land on the Reykjanes peninsula has risen between 2 and 2.5 centimetres (around one inch) since the beginning of April, Hildur María Friðriksdóttir, a natural hazard specialist at the Icelandic Met Office told RÚV. “What we’ve been seeing now is steady uplift by Fagradalsfjall [the site of the 2021 and 2022 eruptions]. We aren’t seeing any recent changes or anything sudden. We are seeing uplift which is probably due to magma that is collecting again beneath the site. It’s at a significant depth. The situation is stable at the moment.”

First eruptions in nearly 800 years

An eruption began on the Reykjanes peninsula on March 19, 2021, the first in the area for nearly 800 years. It lasted around six months, until September 2021. It was followed by another, though shorter, eruption at the same location in 2022, lasting just over two weeks. Experts have stated that these eruptions likely mark the beginning of a more active volcanic period on the peninsula.

Familiar activity, but no indications eruption is imminent

Both the 2021 eruption and 2022 eruption were preceded by uplift as well as strong earthquakes felt across Southwest Iceland and the capital region. An M 3.2 earthquake occurred on the Reykjanes peninsula, by Kleifarvatn lake, on June 28. Hildur says, however, that earthquake activity has been fairly stable on Reykjanes recently and it is difficult to say whether there will be another eruption on the peninsula, or when. “There is nothing currently that indicates an [imminent] eruption. I don’t dare to promise anything but there’s nothing that indicates an eruption as it stands.”

Read more about the geology of the Reykjanes peninsula.

Lava Could Reach Reykjanes Roadway If It Rises Any Higher

Meradalir eruption, August 2022

It’s possible that lava from the ongoing eruption in Meradalir could flow eastward in the next 24 hours, RÚV reports. Professor of Geophysics Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson says that if this were to happen, the lava would have a direct path to Rte. 427. Also called Suðurstrandavegur, this road runs along the south coast of the Reykjanes peninsula between the municipalities of Grindavík and Ölfus.

Magnús Tumi notes that the lava hasn’t yet started flowing out of Meradalir. “However, in the last two days, the lava by the mountain pass, which is the lowest point out of the valley to the east, has risen seven to eight metres [23-26 feet]. And it will only take maybe a metre or so for it to overflow. So if the situation continues like this, the lava will overflow the valley soon.”

It’s difficult to say if the lava would actually reach Suðurstrandavegur, says Magnús Tumi. “But in order to be able to estimate any sort of timeline, it’s vital that we be able to take new measurements of the lava volume and thereby the flow.” Unfortunately, ongoing weather conditions since Thursday have prevented scientists from taking these critical measurements.

Uncertainty Phase Declared as Earthquakes Rock Reykjanes Peninsula

An Uncertainty Phase was declared on Reykjanes after earthquakes started rocking the peninsula around noon on Saturday, RÚV reports. As of 3:00 PM, the earthquakes were still underway. The most significant seismic activity is concentrated to the northeast of Mt. Fagradalsfjall.

At time of writing, small quakes were happening on a more or less constant basis; nearly 700 had been measured as of 5:30 PM. However, a much larger quake, measuring 4.0, occurred earlier in the day, around 2:00 PM, and that one was felt not only around Reykjanes, but also throughout the capital area as well as the villages of Akranes (roughly 95 km [59 mi] to the northwest) and Hvolsvöllur (about 120 km [75 mi] to the southeast). An even bigger earthquake occurred  3 km northeast of Fagradalsfjall at 4:00 PM, this time at a magnitude of 4.4.

Einar Hjörleifsson, an expert in natural hazards at the Met, said that the first large earthquake occurred at a depth of 5-7 km [3-4 mi]. He said the increasing magnitude of the eruptions may indicate that some significant seismic event is afoot; the activity may be a precursor to another volcanic eruption. Einar noted that the seismic activity currently underway on Reykjanes is reminiscent of that which occurred in the area around the end of last year. But in that instance, there was no eruption, as the lava did not rise to the surface.

Later in the day, Sigríður Kristjánsdóttir, who is also a natural hazards expert, said the Met believed there was lateral magma movement occurring at a depth of 5-7 km. The Met was paying close attention to any change in depth of the seismic activity, particularly if it were to get any more shallow, “as that would be an indication that the magma is pushing its way a bit higher.”

See Also: 50% Chance of Another Reykjanes Eruption this Year, Expert Says

An Uncertainty Phase means that there will be additional monitoring of the Reykjanes peninsula and any developments in seismic activity there. An Uncertainty Phase is not indicative of a current state of emergency, but signifies that if conditions continue to progress, there could be danger to the safety of people, inhabited areas, or the environment. During an Uncertainty Phase, first responders and emergency services such as the Department of Civil Defense and Emergency Management review their preparedness plans and get ready to put them into action if needed.

The Met has also issued a yellow aviation weather alert and noted that falling rocks and landslides could easily begin on steep terrain. Travellers are advised to be careful on mountain roadways and in areas surrounded by sheer hills.

Peninsula residents were directed to take precautions with furniture and household items that can fall during an earthquake and take special care to ensure that no loose objects can fall on people who are sleeping.

This article was updated to reflect ongoing developments.

Magma Intrusions Could Cause Serious Infrastructural Damage in Capital Area

Dike intrusions on the Reykjanes peninsula could potentially damage important infrastructure, both on the peninsula and in the capital area, RÚV reports. This per a Morgunblaðið interview with geoscientist Páll Einarson, who explained that regardless of whether they lead to a volcanic eruption or not, such intrusions could impact the geothermal systems that feed water and heating utilities, as well as geothermal power plants.

A dike (also spelled dyke) is a kind of igneous, or magma intrusion, a “vertical or steeply-dipping sheets of igneous rock” that forms “as magma pushes up towards the surface through cracks in the rock.”

A dike forced its way through a fine-grained, layered volcanic rock that was eroded by wind, snow and rain at the eastern part of Dyngjufjöll in Iceland. Image by Eva P. S. Eibl, CC.

Páll told interviewers that there have been magma intrusions in three or four places on Reykjanes that haven’t caused any serious problems, but one in the wrong place could do permanent infrastructural damage. Currently, there’s no sign that such an event is imminent but Páll explained the recent eruption of Fagradalsfjall in Geldingadalur valley is part of a complex chain of events on the peninsula.

See Also: Odds of Eruption Decrease As New Data Suggests that Magma is Solidifying Underground

A variety of scenarios are possible in the future, Páll continued, including volcanic activity on land or at sea, or intrusion activity around the Krýsuvík and Svartsengi geothermal areas, the Heiðmörk conservation area on the outskirts of Reykjavík, or the Bláfjöll mountains.

Páll noted that eruptions on Reykjanes tend to be small to medium fissure eruptions, and added that the capital may yet experience intense earthquakes as part of this ongoing activity on the peninsula, but there’s no way to say when these might occur.