In recent weeks, the town of Grindavík in south-west Iceland has experienced a series of earthquakes, leading to concerns about a possible volcanic eruption. As seismic activity continues to cause alarm, it is important to understand the key questions surrounding this situation. Let’s explore the latest information and shed light on what a potential eruption might entail.
What is Happening and Why?
Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula has been plagued by hundreds of earthquakes each day since late October. These earthquake swarms are a result of magma movement beneath the Earth’s crust, causing the land to bulge. Although the frequency of earthquakes has decreased recently, the Icelandic Met Office maintains that the probability of an eruption remains high.
On November 10th, a deep magma-filled crack spanning 14.4km unexpectedly formed beneath the peninsular. It extends from south-west to north-east, accompanied by a new cluster of earthquakes. This development significantly raises concerns about the potential for eruption.
Precautions Taken to Safeguard Communities
As a precautionary measure, the population of Grindavík was evacuated last Friday due to the intense seismic activity. The town has already suffered significant damage, with cracks appearing throughout and even portions of land sinking suddenly by over a meter. Burst hot water pipes have also caused steam to escape.
Recognizing the threat to infrastructure, the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa closed its doors prior to the formation of the magma-filled crack. Additionally, a defensive wall is currently under construction around the Svartsengi geothermal power plant to protect it from potential lava flows.
What to Expect from an Eruption
An eruption would likely manifest as a crack opening up on the Earth’s surface, propelling magma several hundred meters into the sky, forming a fiery fountain. According to Professor Saskia Goes from Imperial College London, this eruption would be ‘effusive,’ primarily creating lava flows. The affected area would be concentrated around the eruption site. Toxic gases may be released along with the lava, posing additional risks.
The most vulnerable area lies in and around Grindavík, as the fissure passes beneath it. Volcanologist Dr. Dave McGarvie warns of potential destruction to parts of the town if the magma reaches the surface in the western region.
Unlikely Repeat of Air Travel Chaos
Contrary to the 2010 eruption at Eyjafjallajökull in southern Iceland, which caused widespread air travel disruptions, a similar scenario is unlikely this time. The magma observed in recent eruptions on the Reykjanes peninsula is highly fluid, allowing trapped gas bubbles to escape without breaking the magma apart to form ash. The ash clouds from the Eyjafjallajökull eruption plagued air travel, leading to the cancellation of over 100,000 flights and stranding millions of travelers.
Understanding Iceland’s Volcanic Activity
Iceland, situated in the North Atlantic, straddles the Mid-Atlantic ridge, where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates separate. The movement of these massive rock slabs, at a rate of a few centimeters per year, results in frequent seismic and volcanic events.
Volcanologist Dr. McGarvie explains that the spreading of these plates is not uniform across the entire country. Some areas may remain stagnant for centuries, followed by rapid spreading within a few years. While the Reykjanes peninsula showed no volcanic activity for centuries preceding 2021, eruptions have become a regular occurrence since then.
A study conducted in 2020 revealed that volcanic activity on the peninsula experienced an 800-year hiatus before resurfacing for approximately a century with sporadic eruptions. Dr. McGarvie suggests that this pattern might continue elsewhere on the peninsula, potentially endangering other coastal communities in the future.
Q: What is causing the recent seismic activity in Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula?
A: The seismic activity is a result of underground magma movement, causing frequent earthquakes and land bulges.
Q: Has any precautionary action been taken to protect the affected areas?
A: Yes, the population of Grindavík has been evacuated, and measures are being taken to safeguard critical infrastructure, such as the construction of a defensive wall around the Svartsengi geothermal power plant.
Q: What would an eruption look like?
A: An eruption would involve the opening of a crack on the Earth’s surface, propelling magma into the sky and creating lava flows around the eruption site. Toxic gases may also be released.
Q: Is there a risk of air travel disruptions similar to the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption?
A: Unlike the previous eruption, the recent magma observed on the Reykjanes peninsula is of a highly fluid nature, making widespread ash clouds and air travel disruptions unlikely.
Q: Why is Iceland prone to volcanic activity?
A: Iceland is situated on the Mid-Atlantic ridge, where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates diverge, resulting in frequent seismic and volcanic events.
– [Icelandic Met Office](https://www.vedur.is/en/)
– [Imperial College London – Department of Earth Science and Engineering](https://www.imperial.ac.uk/earth-science)