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11 Nov, 2023 15:48

Nordic country declares emergency over volcanic eruption threat

An entire town in Iceland has been evacuated due to a magma tunnel lying beneath it, and the risk of a fissure opening up
Nordic country declares emergency over volcanic eruption threat

Iceland has declared a state of emergency following strong seismic activity in the southwestern Reykjanes peninsula. The entire town of Grindavik has been evacuated, President Gudni Johannesson announced on Saturday.

Around 800 earthquakes have been recorded on the peninsula since midnight, the Icelandic Met Office (IMO) informed on Saturday. According to its statement, “the likelihood of a volcanic eruption in the near future is deemed considerable.”

 Overnight, the Ministry of Civil Protection and Emergency Management declared “an emergency/distress phase” and ordered all residents of Grindavik, a fishing town of about 3,300, to evacuate.

“In Iceland we know the forces of nature. We hope for the best, but are prepared for all eventualities,” the president later posted on X (formerly Twitter), adding that Grindavik had been “successfully evacuated.”

A magma corridor lies beneath the town, Icelandic national broadcaster RUV reported, citing local meteorologists. A fissure could reportedly open at any point along the tunnel and cause a lava eruption, including possibly in the town itself.

“The chance of an eruption has increased significantly,” a local volcanologist told RUV, noting that it could happen in “hours or a few days.”

In July, a volcanic eruption took place on the same Reykjanes peninsula. It was the third time in three years that a seismic event had occurred in the area, the first happening in 2021. Before that, Reykjanes hadn't seen an eruption for more than 800 years.

Volcanic eruptions in Iceland are regular but unpredictable events – they can occur in quick succession or at longer intervals. In total, there are around 130 active and inactive volcanoes throughout the country.

The largest seismic event in recent times occurred when the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted in 2010, spewing huge clouds of volcanic ash into the atmosphere. This led to mass closures of European airspace, with thousands of flights canceled.