Iceland is facing a “daunting period” after lava from a volcano erupted in the outskirts of the fishing village of Grindavik, setting at least three homes ablaze and forcing evacuations, the country’s president said Sunday.
Lava Flows from the Grindavik Volcano
The eruption in Meradalir, just outside of Grindavik, came after days of thousands of small earthquakes rattled the area on the Reykjanes Peninsula in southwestern Iceland. Icelanders have been anxiously watching the volcano since it began erupting in 2021 after 900 years of dormancy.
Live footage on local broadcaster Stod 2 showed lava fountains gushing close to 100 feet (30 meters) into the air. A second fissure also opened nearby on Sunday.
According to Iceland President Gudni Th. Jóhannesson:
We are monitoring the situation closely and as of now it is not considered a threat to surrounding towns. We face a long term clean-up operation as the lava cools over the next weeks.
Approximately 800 residents from over 400 homes have so far been evacuated. The lava flowed from Meradalir over an area of about one square kilometer (a third of a square mile).
Three Homes Burn in Lava
At least three houses were seen burning after the fissure opened only a few hundred meters from the nearest homes. The Icelandic Meteorological Office said the fissure appeared to be several hundred meters long, running almost in parallel with another long crack that opened after the volcano began erupting in 2021.
The lava temperature was estimated to be around 1,100 degrees Celsius (2,000 degrees Fahrenheit).
Dramatic video footage showed lava approaching and slowly engulfing one house in the town of Grindavik as emergency crews were powerless to intervene. Plumes of white steam and smoke were seen rising from houses as the lava flow passed through.
Evacuations Underway, No Casualties Reported Yet
Police ordered residents living along a road on the edges of Grindavik to immediately evacuate after the eruption began around 2:15 p.m. local time. Emergency workers knocked on doors to ensure residents were leaving immediately.
There have not been any reports of injuries or deaths so far, but some pets were left behind in the rush to evacuate. “Pets have been left behind in the area that is considered in danger. We are making every effort to rescue them,” Iceland’s Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management said in a statement.
Will Lava Flows Impact Power Lines or Geothermal Wells?
Iceland’s power company Landsvirkjun said it didn’t expect the fissure eruption to create any hazards for its operations. One of Landsvirkjun’s power stations is located a few miles from the site, but the company said its assets weren’t under any imminent threat.
Many of Iceland’s geothermal wells that provide energy for Iceland’s population could also be threatened if extensive lava flows cut power lines, block roads or damage pumping stations in the area.
So far, the eruption has not affected the island’s renowned geothermal wells that provide hot water for heating homes and buildings across the country. The volcanic system produces an estimated 1,000 cubic meters of lava per second — enough to fill five Olympic-sized swimming pools every hour.
Background on the Grindavik Volcano
The volcano is located on the Reykjanes Peninsula, a tongue of land extending into the Atlantic Ocean southwest of Reykjavík. For nearly a year, thousands of small earthquakes had rattled the area before lava finally broke the surface in March 2021. The volcano is part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a massive crack in Earth’s crust where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly pulling away from each other.
Sunday’s eruption at Meradalir was the second this year and appeared to be larger. In early January, lava flowed from another fissure only 500 meters from the current eruption site, continuing for around 10 days before halting.
What Happens Next?
Volcanologists said Sunday’s eruption could be the start of a prolonged period of volcanic activity in the area that might go on for centuries with some intervals of quiet.
According to volcanologist Magnús Tumi Gudmundsson:
“We expect the eruption to continue in the coming weeks, as magma pressure seems to be substantial. We cannot say with certainty when or if the eruption will end.”
Authorities urged people not to go near the lava zone, asking residents to stay informed via official updates as scientists keep monitoring seismic activity in the area. The Environment Agency warned people not to go near the eruption site as the area is “extremely dangerous”.
As the lava continues to flow, Iceland will face weeks and possibly months of volcanic activity. The area near Reyjkavik remains hazardous, and those living nearby must stay alert. But Icelanders are accustomed to eruptions like this one and seem to be taking its destructive power in stride even as they face the daunting clean-up task ahead.
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