A state of emergency has been declared in a town in Iceland as residents face the imminent threat of a volcanic eruption. The small fishing town of Grindavik, home to approximately 3,600 people, was evacuated over the weekend in response to a sharp rise in seismic activity that has shaken the region.
The Icelandic Meteorological Office has stated that the likelihood of an eruption in the Reykjanes Peninsula, where Grindavik is located, “remains high.” The area has witnessed an astonishing number of earthquakes and tremors since November 10. In a span of just 12 hours, from midnight to midday on a recent Tuesday, over 700 earthquakes were recorded in the affected area. While the largest quake measured 3.8 in magnitude, the majority were classified as micro-earthquakes.
Authorities in Iceland have taken proactive measures to protect vital infrastructure. They have initiated the construction of defense walls around a geothermal power plant located in the region, as this facility provides electricity for the entire country.
Residents were briefly allowed to return to Grindavik on Tuesday to retrieve essential items and salvage their belongings. This evacuation is one of the largest in Iceland’s history, and it has had a profound impact on the entire Icelandic community.
Days of continuous earthquakes have taken a toll on homes and roads, causing them to split and crack, some on the verge of collapse. Local residents have described the tremors as unprecedented, with Pedrag, a local, stating that long-time Icelandic residents had never experienced anything like it.
Dave McGarvie, a volcanologist conducting research on volcano-ice interactions at Lancaster University in England, noted, “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.”
The Civil Protection Agency in Iceland acknowledged that the situation was unlike anything experienced in the past, with the clear potential for a significant eruption. Despite the challenges, they called upon the resilience of the community, stating, “We will face this together and we will not lose heart.”
In terms of potential danger, experts have expressed concern about the possibility of an eruption occurring in the western parts of Grindavik, where an underground magma-filled crack exists. If the magma were to reach the surface and erupt in this area, it could lead to the destruction and damage of several houses and buildings. However, this is considered a worst-case scenario, and experts believe other areas are more likely to be affected.
As a precautionary measure, three major roads connecting Grindavik to other areas have been temporarily closed (roads 42, 43, and 425). So far, no flight disruptions have been reported, but Grindavik is located in proximity to Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, and the country’s only international airport, Keflavik. The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, a popular tourist attraction in the region, has also been temporarily closed.
While the Reykjanes Peninsula has experienced smaller eruptions in recent years, none have posed a significant threat to populated areas. The last major volcanic eruption in Iceland with international repercussions occurred in 2010 when Eyjafjallajökull erupted, causing widespread flight cancellations across Europe due to a massive ash cloud.