As the last eruptions have shown us, despite the constant monitoring, scientific experts, and high-tech equipment, predicting volcanic eruptions in Iceland can be difficult. Here, we outline the general situation for travelers, but be aware that the situation can change and that you should keep yourself as informed as possible.
Please note that this possible eruption differs highly from the previous three eruptions on Reykjanes Peninsula, which were very “tourist-friendly”. This event could lead to the loss of property and homes for the citizens of Grindavík. The area is evacuated and locked down. The situation is very serious, do not attempt to go there.
This article was last updated on November 23.
The risk of a sudden eruption decreases
Seismic activity at the magma dyke on the Reykjanes Peninsula has decreased during the last few days. Since Monday, November 20, earthquakes above a magnitude of 2 have also regressed remarkably. The public safety level will be lowered from an emergency level to a danger level on November 23. A new assessment by the Icelandic Meteorological Office showed a decreased likelihood of a sudden eruption within the town limits of Grindavík. Nevertheless, many houses and properties in the town are damaged beyond repair and it remains unclear when residents can return.
The construction of a lava barrier around important infrastructure is underway. The barrier will surround the power plant Svartsengi, which provides the entire Reykjanes Peninsula with hot water and electricity, and the Blue Lagoon. The project involves 50 workers, operating continuously on 12-hour shifts. The barriers will be 6-8 metres [10-26 feet] high and are expected to take 30-40 days to complete.
The earth rift in Grindavík might be 2,000 years old
The situation in Grindavík remains pretty much unchanged.
Almost 500 earthquakes were recorded until Tuesday morning, with two quakes above a magnitude of 3. Companies and residents who were unable to visit the town yesterday, are allowed to collect their valuables today until 4 PM. The Icelandic Parliament passed a bill before midnight yesterday, allowing the construction of defence structures near the power plant Svartsengi.
An earth rift has opened up through Grindavík, damaging many roads and houses. Aerial photos from 1954 indicate that the rift may have originated from the eruption of Sundhnúkur over 2,000 years ago. The recent seismic activity on the peninsula reactivated these pre-existing faults, running from the Sundhnúkur craters to the western side of Grindavík. It is estimated that this rift continues to grow at a rate of about four centimetres [1.6 inches] a day.
Magma tunnel beneath town Grindavík - Town evacuated
Friday was quite eventful for Grindavík.
In the afternoon around 3 PM, the seismic activity on Reykjanes Peninsula picked up dramatically. At 5:30 PM an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.2 struck and citizens of Grindavík started to leave the town. The road Grindavíkurvegur, one of three roads into the town, was closed down due to damages. The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management raised its uncertainty phase to an emergency phase. The flight code has also been altered to orange, meaning the area shows increased seismic activity and that the chance of eruption is increased. Keflavík Airport is operating normally at the moment. If you are travelling to or from Iceland, keep updated and check out our sources below to stay informed.
Late during Friday night, official orders were given to evacuate Grindavík as news came forward that the magma tunnel had extended underneath the town. As fissures can open anywhere from the magma tunnel, evacuation was inevitable. Due to the strong earthquakes, many houses and infrastructure were severely damaged in Grindavík. The evacuation went smoothly and people found shelter with relatives or friends or in the mass aid centres that have opened in Selfoss, Reykjanesbær and Kópavogur.
Uncertain future for the citizens of Grindavík
On Sunday, citizens of Grindavík from one neighbourhood of the town “Þórkötlustaðahverfi” were allowed to enter with responders and had five minutes to gather essentials and pets. Today, all people of Grindavík are allowed to enter to gather their necessities and pick up animals. Most animals have been rescued.
The magma tunnel stretches over 15 kilometres (9.3 miles) and according to last reports, measures 800 metres at the shallowest depth. Since Friday night the seismic activity decreased significantly. The tunnel stretches from Kálffellsheiði straight through the west of Grindavík and reaches the ocean. The likelihood of an undersea eruption, which could create ash fall, has diminished. A drone ban for Grindavík has been announced is in place until November 29.
A new assessment from the Icelandic Meteorological Office is awaited and expected to be published later today. 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.
This video outlines the locations of things quite well.
Calm before the storm?
The night into Friday, November 10, was quite calm with no earthquakes above a magnitude of 2. In an interview with local news outlet Vísir, Minney Sigurðardóttir, natural disaster specialist, says that it is not possible to read into these changes in seismic activity. According to her, it is usual that the activity goes up and down in waves.
M 5.0 Earthquake trembling Grindavík early on Thursday
During the night from Wednesday to Thursday, a swarm of earthquakes struck the Reykjanes Peninsula. The biggest earthquake of the night, with a magnitude of 5.0, occurred at 00:46 last night. It originated about 4.6 kilometres north-northwest of Grindavík and was measured at a depth of three kilometres. The earthquake could be felt in Reykjavík and even up to Borgarnes, according to reports. As a consequence, the Blue Lagoon has decided to close its facilities immediately until November 30. Guests will be reimbursed.
The Next Reykjanes Eruption?
Unlike previous eruptions in the area that were deemed “tourist-friendly,” the latest seismic activity on Reykjanes has raised some concern.
Data from the movement of magma indicates that this next eruption may be the largest we have yet to see in this phase of seismic activity in Iceland. The possible location of the fissure, which Icelandic geologists will be several kilometres northwest of Mt. Þorbjörn, is especially unfortunate. An eruption there could disrupt operations at the Svartsengi power plant, the largest supplier of power and water for the Reykjanes peninsula. Contingency plans are in place to keep the facility and its workers safe, in addition to possibly rerouting power from other stations in a worst-case scenario.
The possible eruption site is also especially unfortunate for travelers, as it is quite near the Blue Lagoon, a popular geothermal spa in Iceland. As of November 7, the Blue Lagoon is still open for business, though some tour operators have stopped running buses there. The Blue Lagoon’s website currently has the following information for visitors.
Though there’s no reason to be afraid, authorities are treating this eruption more seriously than the previous ones. Unnecessary travel to the region should be avoided. Because the eruption is also thought to be larger than what we have seen, the eruption site will be dangerous in its early stages. That means that influencers hoping to capture the early moments of the eruptions should stay away from the site! For context, an Icelandic geologist recently stated that lava flows could reach up to 20 km/h in the early stages, and that the Blue Lagoon and Grindavík may have a response time of only minutes.