REYKJAVIK – A volcano in southwest Iceland, the country’s most populated region, began erupting Monday with fountains of lava rising high into the air and the glow lighting up the sky miles away in the center of the capital, Reykjavik.
The location of the fissure, which is about 2.5 miles long and growing rapidly, is not far from the Svartsengi power plant and the town of Grindavík, which was evacuated last month due to heightened seismic activity, raising fears that it was an eruption is probable.
In their initial assessment on Monday evening, volcanologists said the eruption had occurred in one of the worst possible locations, posing a significant and immediate threat to both the evacuated city and the geothermal power plant.
But after volcanologists had a chance to fly over the eruption site on the Reykjanes Peninsula, the immediate situation did not appear as dire as initially feared, even though the size of the eruption was larger than expected and the direction of the flow of lava still unpredictable. .
“This is bigger than previous eruptions on Reykjanes,” Magnus Gudmundsson, a volcanologist and among the first people to see the eruption from the air, told the New York Times.
The lava currently flows just 2.5 kilometers north of Grindavík, or 1.6 miles, according to Kristín Jonsdottir, head of the volcanic activity department at the Icelandic Meteorological Office.
However, the large eruption, with the town of Grindavík evacuated, currently poses no risk to people, a police officer, Ulfar Ludviksson, told reporters.
However, authorities warned people not to get too close. Hjordis Gudmundsdottir, spokesperson for the Department of Civil Protection, urged people to stay away from the area, stressing that it is not “a tourist volcano”.
“The size of the crack is expanding rapidly,” he said in an interview.
While the eruption had been predicted for weeks, following a series of earthquakes, Monday’s eruption occurred without any immediate warning. The Blue Lagoon, one of Iceland’s top tourist destinations and located nearby, reopened to guests on Sunday as concerns that an eruption was imminent had waned.
According to the Icelandic Meteorological Office, thousands of earthquakes have been detected in Iceland since the end of October. In November, with homes and roads damaged, authorities declared a state of emergency and evacuated Grindavik, a town of more than 3,000 near the volcano.
The country has already seen it, a lot of it.
In the last two years alone, four eruptions have occurred on the Reykjanes Peninsula, the most populated corner of Iceland and home to its capital. When the evacuation of Grindavik was ordered on November 11, authorities said in a statement that the country was “highly prepared for such events.”
“Iceland has one of the most effective volcanic preparedness measures in the world,” it says on its website.
Authorities have raised the air alert to orange because a volcanic eruption could pose a risk to planes flying in the North Atlantic if ash showers into the sky.
But as of Monday night, Iceland’s main airport, Keflavik, remained open, and this eruption did not produce flight-halting ash.
One of the most memorable eruptions of Iceland’s recent past involved the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010. Although the eruption was relatively small and caused no casualties, the impact was widespread because a resulting ash cloud blocked much of the European air travel for more than a week.
The Eyjafjallajokull (pronounced EYE-a-fyat-la-jo-kutl) volcano lay dormant for nearly two centuries before coming back to life more than 13 years ago.
Iceland has many volcanoes.
Volcanic eruptions are not uncommon in Iceland, which has fewer than 400,000 residents and about 130 volcanoes. Since the 19th century, not a decade has passed without one existing, the Icelandic tourist site tells interested visitors. The occurrence of eruptions remains “completely random”.
The country straddles two tectonic plates, which are in turn divided by an underwater mountain chain from which hot molten rock, or magma, escapes.
The current seismic activity has not affected one of Iceland’s most famous volcanoes, Katla, which some scientists fear may be erupting. Katla has erupted five times since 1721, at intervals ranging from 34 to 78 years. The last major event dates back to 1918.