In the southwestern region of Iceland, a volcanic eruption has captured the attention of spectators as the Earth puts on a mesmerizing display of its immense power. Illuminating the evening sky with a radiant flash of light, the eruption unleashed semi-molten rock into the air, creating a stunning spectacle in a region famed for its contrast of fire and ice.
The Icelandic Meteorological Office pinpointed the eruption on Monday night approximately four kilometres (2½ miles) from Grindavik. This town, near Iceland’s primary airport, had undergone evacuation in November due to heightened seismic activity that had caused property damage and raised concerns about an imminent eruption.
Iceland, situated above a volcanic hot spot in the North Atlantic, typically experiences eruptions every four to five years. Among the most disruptive in recent memory was the 2010 Eyjafjallajokull eruption, which blanketed the atmosphere with substantial ash clouds, leading to widespread airspace closures across Europe.
Unlike the disruptive 2010 eruption, the current volcanic activity on the Reykjanes Peninsula—around 50 kilometres (31 miles) southwest of Reykjavik—was not anticipated to release substantial amounts of ash into the atmosphere. Foreign Minister Bjarne Benediktsson confirmed via Twitter that flights to and from Iceland remained unaffected, with international flight paths remaining open.
By early Tuesday afternoon, the Icelandic Meteorological Office observed a reduction in the size of the eruption at Sundhnuksgígar. The lava flow, initially substantial at the eruption’s onset, was reported to have decreased to a quarter of its original volume. The previously towering lava “fountains,” reaching heights of up to 30 meters (yards), had also subsided.
Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir assured the public that critical infrastructure near the volcano remained out of harm’s way for the time being. However, precautions were being taken near the Svartsengi power plant in anticipation of potential changes in the landscape due to lava flow.
Acknowledging the unpredictability of lava flow and its impact on the surroundings, Jakobsdottir emphasized the need for vigilance: “We also know that the flow of lava can change the surrounding landscape, so this can change with short notice.”
Due to the prior evacuation of Grindavik in November, the vicinity of the eruption site had minimal human presence during the event, with authorities urging people to stay away. The renowned Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, a major tourist attraction, had temporarily closed last month amid seismic activity, signalling a possible volcanic eruption.
Despite the captivating visuals of orange flames against the dark sky, the emotions among the 3,400 residents of the evacuated fishing community remained mixed. Many, living in temporary accommodations a month after evacuation, expressed doubts about returning to their homes, considering the possibility of the town being engulfed by lava.
“Ael Kermarec, a French tour guide residing in Iceland, reflected, “The town involved might end up under the lava. It’s amazing to see but, there’s kind of a bittersweet feeling at the moment.”
Scientist Magnus Tumi Gudmundsson, who surveyed the site on a Coast Guard research flight Tuesday morning, estimated that twice the amount of lava had already erupted compared to the entire month-long eruption on the peninsula during the summer.
Gudmundsson anticipated a gradual decline in the eruption’s intensity, yet conceded that the duration of the event remained uncertain: “It can be over in a week, or it could take quite a bit longer.