It has been a harrowing two weeks for residents of an Icelandic fishing village as they continue to grapple with the aftermath of extreme seismic activity. Since November 10, the Reykjanes Peninsula has been shaken by tens of thousands of earthquakes and tremors, resulting in roads splitting apart and houses buckling under the strain. The most anxious concern now looming over Iceland is the imminent eruption of the Fagradalsfjall volcano.
What’s the latest from Iceland’s Meteorological Office?
In the early hours of Monday morning, the Icelandic Meteorological Office reported the most potent earthquake to strike the affected area in the past 48 hours. Among the swarm of 300 earthquakes recorded between 7 p.m. ET and 6 a.m. ET, the most substantial measured at a magnitude of 3.0. Approximately 170 of these documented earthquakes occurred at depths of 3-5 kilometers below the surface. Since 6 a.m. ET, an additional 200 earthquakes have been registered, elevating the daily count to a staggering 500 earthquakes per day.
Last Friday, the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management downgraded the public safety level from emergency to dangerous. The “Alert Phase” currently in effect signifies an increased risk in the area, with the likelihood of restrictions, closures, and evacuation procedures being implemented.
Assessments from the Meteorological Office indicate that the probability of a sudden eruption near Grindavik has been steadily diminishing and is now considered low. However, while the town of Grindavik maintains relative safety, the possibility of an eruption remains above the magma tunnel that lies between Sylingafell and Hagafell.
Residents of Grindavik, numbering more than 3,600, have been granted temporary access to their homes for a limited time to check on livestock and retrieve personal belongings. Nevertheless, until scientists can confirm that there is no imminent danger, the residents cannot return permanently.
Due to significant damage to essential infrastructure, including the sewage system, it is likely to be several months before Grindavik residents can safely return home. Those who have been displaced to temporary accommodations are receiving financial assistance from the government to cover rent. Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir has stated that Parliament will discuss housing support for evacuees during the week, with expectations of a bill on financial assistance being passed.
“The last time that an evacuation of an entire sizable settlement took place was 50 years ago, in 1973, when a volcano unexpectedly erupted on the island of Heimaey off the south coast of Iceland,” remarked Dave McGarvie, a volcanologist at Lancaster University in England, in an interview with Yahoo News.
What travel warnings have been issued?
As a precautionary measure, three major roads linking Grindavik to other regions have been temporarily closed.
As of Monday, no flights have been impacted. However, Grindavik is situated approximately 40 miles from Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, and less than 20 miles from Keflavik International Airport.
A beloved tourist attraction, the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa, will remain closed until November 30.
The last major volcanic eruption
“The last time eruptions like this occurred in this area was circa 800 years ago when the area was sparsely populated,” mentioned McGarvie. The Reykjanes Peninsula has experienced relatively minor eruptions annually for the past three years, all of which occurred far from residential areas. The last Icelandic volcano to disrupt international travel was Eyjafjallajökull, which erupted in 2010, grounding flights across Europe due to a massive ash cloud that soared five miles into the sky, resulting in airspace closures.