Eruption Surpasses Previous Lava Flow Rates Skip to content
Lava and plumes from the May 2024 eruption in Reykjanes
Photo: Art Bicnick.

Eruption Surpasses Previous Lava Flow Rates

Increased seismic activity near the Sundhnúkar craters led to an eruption northeast of Sýlingafell on the Reykjanes peninsula just before 1 PM today. The eruption – believed to be the largest of recent eruptions with lava flows reaching 1,500 to 2,000 cubic metres per second – has covered over 5 square kilometres and crossed Grindavíkurvegur road.

Signs of an imminent eruption

As reported by IR this morning, increased seismic activity earlier today near the Sundhnúkar craters, north of the town of Grindavík on the Reykjanes peninsula, indicated a possible imminent volcanic eruption.

Evacuations were subsequently initiated in Grindavík, with police and emergency responders assisting residents, primarily workers in the harbour area, to leave safely. The Blue Lagoon and the Svartsengi Power Station were also evacuated.

An eruption begins

At just before 1 PM today, an eruption finally began northeast of Sýlingafell, north of Grindavík. The National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police, in consultation with the Chief of Police in Suðurnes, subsequently declared a state of emergency.

The eruption plumes were initially believed to reach at least 50 metres in height, and the length of the fissure was estimated at over 1 kilometre. The fissure is currently estimated to be approximately 4 kilometres in length.

Surpassing previous lava flow rates

Speak to Vísir this afternoon, Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson, a professor of geophysics, observed that the lava from the eruption was flowing at a rate of about 1,500 to 2,000 cubic metres per second, the highest rate in the Reykjanes Peninsula eruptions to date.

Geophysicist Benedikt Ófeigsson told RÚV that the eruption had been very powerful and produced greater lava flow than previously seen in the eruption series beginning in December of 2023, given that there was more magma in the magma chamber beneath Svartstengi (approximately 20 million cubic metres) compared to previous eruptions.

“This is reflected in the enormous lava flow. The lava has reached the protective barriers west of Grindavík,” Benedikt stated.

Mayor of Grindavík concerned

Speaking to RÚV this afternoon, Fannar Jónasson, the mayor of Grindavík, expressed his concern over the magnitude of the eruption. “There is a much larger volume of lava heading towards the town now, and the protective barriers are directing it westwards and eastwards.”

Having monitored previous eruptions closely, Fannar noted that the current eruption appeared much more extensive compared to previous eruptions.

When asked if he was worried that the protective barriers around Grindavík would fail, Fannar responded thusly: “We must expect that if the eruption continues in this manner, something has to give,” Fannar stated, adding that the speed of the lava flow seemed “incredible.”

Fannar told RÚV that he hoped that the volcanic activity would either cease or move away from structures and populated areas. “We can’t do anything but hope and prepare for this to continue, but only time will tell how it will progress,” Fannar concluded by stating.

Strength of the eruption expected to abate

Speaking to RÚV, Magnús Tumi added that he expected that the eruption would start to abate soon. “Because already more than half of the magma that had accumulated there, over 20 million cubic meters, has been expelled,” Magnús told RÚV.

As noted by Vísir, the lava had covered approximately 5 to 5.5 square kilometres in the approximately hour and a half since the eruption began, having also crossed the road that leads to the town of Grindavík.

No electricity in Grindavík

The energy company HS Orka cut electricity to the town of Grindavík at just past 3 PM today given that lava was flowing towards a high-voltage transmission line.

An hour later, power poles supporting the overhead line that connects electricity from the Svartsengi Power Plant to Grindavík were in flames, RÚV reports. Representatives of the utility company HS Veitur are not optimistic that the line will survive.

As noted by RÚV, the Svartsengi line is the only main power line into the town of Grindavík. “There were hopes that by elevating the line, it would remain intact if the lava flowed over Grindavíkurvegur road, but this does not seem likely,” RÚV reports.

Additional information on tourist safety

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!’”

You can watch a video of our visit to the eruption area here.

This article was updated at 4:28 PM.

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