Iceland volcanic eruption looms as tremors rip roads open
Icelandic authorities have warned that a major volcanic eruption could occur with just 30 minutes’ warning as earthquakes continue to rattle an area near a coastal town that was evacuated earlier this month.
An eruption is still considered “imminent,” but the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) said on Wednesday that it now appears less likely the molten lava will burst from a magma tunnel directly under Grindavik, the town from which about 4,000 residents were forced to flee nearly two weeks ago. The latest seismic data suggests that the eruption will most likely occur between Sylingarfell, a few miles north of Grindavik, and Hagafell, further to the northeast.
“The probability of a sudden eruption within the town limits of Grindavik has been decreasing every day and is today considered low,” the IMO said. “It can be assumed that the magma in the tunnel under Grindavik is partially solidified, which also reduces the likelihood that the magma will suddenly break its way to the surface within the town limits.”
However, scientists have warned that the slowing pace of earthquakes in the area may signal that magma is getting closer to the Earth’s surface, making the expected eruption more likely. The IMO reported that about 100 earthquakes were recorded between midnight and 6 p.m. on Wednesday, compared with thousands of daily tremors earlier this month. Stormy weather and strong waves have hindered efforts to monitor the seismic activity.
In recent days, emergency officials have allowed small groups of Grindavik residents to go back into town for a few minutes at a time to retrieve some of their belongings. A BBC correspondent accompanied evacuees on one such trip last week, only to be ordered to leave Grindavik immediately after high levels of sulfur dioxide were detected.
Iceland’s Ministry of Civil Protection and Emergency Management allowed residents to go back into town between 9am and 4pm on Thursday, citing the diminished threat of an eruption within the city limits, but it warned that they may need to flee again on “very short notice.”
Grindavik is located on the Reykjanes peninsula, about 55 kilometers southwest of Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik. It’s near a famous tourist attraction known as the Blue Lagoon, which has been shut down due to the volcano threat. Some homes in the town have already been destroyed by earthquakes in recent weeks, while giant cracks have ruptured the roads.
The town of Grindavik in Iceland was evacuated a week ago due to volcanic activity, rumbling under the ground. Local authorities have shared images showing the resulting destruction of roads and buildings. pic.twitter.com/j4tSPhvi7f— RT (@RT_com) November 19, 2023
“Everything just seems so unreal,” Grindavik resident Andrea Evarsdottir told the UK’s Independent newspaper after being allowed to return to her home for 10 minutes on Monday. “I feel like I’m in a dystopian movie. I’m just waiting to wake up from this nightmare.”
A 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in southern Iceland spewed huge clouds of volcanic ash into the atmosphere, causing the largest disruption to European airline flights since World War II.