Volcanic eruption resumes in Iceland, with lava spewing out near town

REYKJAVIK – A volcanic eruption has restarted in south-western Iceland, with lava flows emerging for a fifth time since the area awakened from about 800 years of dormancy in 2020.

Magma rose to the surface at 7.57am on Jan 14 morning (3.57pm Singapore time) on the Reykjanes peninsula close to where a three-day eruption took place in December, about 40km from the country’s capital.

Lava is erupting on both sides of a barrier being built to protect the nearby fishing town of Grindavik, the Meteorological Office said in a statement, citing images from a coast guard surveillance flight.

While the events pose a risk to infrastructure in Grindavik, the town was emptied on Jan 14y before the eruption of all inhabitants who had moved back since an earlier evacuation in November, according to Ms Hjordis Gudmundsdottir, spokeswoman at Iceland’s Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management.

No lives are in danger, she said.

“Lava could flow over part of Grindavik,” Ms Gudmundsdottir said. “We don’t expect it to go over the whole town, but at least a part of it is at risk.”

As in previous eruptions recently, flights in and out of the country are expected to continue without interruption.

“The rift that opened is still expanding,” Ms Kristin Jonsdottir, a geophysicist at the Met Office, said by phone on Jan 14.

Magma is emerging on the same rift that opened in December, but south from that site, she said.

The direction of lava movement “is toward Grindavik, but we don’t know how far it will go,” she said.

By 8.47am lava was less than half a kilometre from the edge of the town, the Met Office said.

A rampart had been under construction to shield Grindavik after a similar barrier was completed to protect Iceland’s top tourist attraction, the Blue Lagoon spa, as well as HS Orka hf’s Svartsengi power plant, which provides heat to about 30,000 inhabitants of peninsula.

The power plant is operating, spokeswoman Birna Larusdottir said by phone.

Some construction crew are at the rampart near the lava flows with the aim of protecting heavy machinery at the site, broadcaster RUV said.

The area had lain dormant for almost 800 years until early 2020, when intense seismic activity started on the peninsula, with magma emerging in 2021. The current eruption is the fifth since then.

The island nation, which calls itself the land of fire and ice, has about 30 volcanic systems and more than 600 hot springs.

It is one of the most geologically active places on earth due to its position between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates on the mid-Atlantic ridge.

Though Iceland is used to eruptions, residents have not experienced an event threatening inhabited areas at such a scale since 1973, when part of a town of some 5,000 people was buried under lava in the Westman Islands. Fatalities from eruptions are rare.

One of the most disruptive volcanic events in the Nordic country’s recent history occurred in 2010, when Eyjafjallajokull erupted in an explosion that released a plume of ash so vast that it grounded air traffic across Europe for weeks, resulting in the cancellation of 100,000 flights and affecting over 10 million people. BLOOMBERG

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