A volcano near Reykjavik, Iceland is expected to erupt within hours or days, putting the town of Grindavik at risk of heavy damage.
The town, home to about 4,000 people, was evacuated in the early hours of Saturday after experts observed that magma shifting under the Earth’s crust had caused hundreds of earthquakes in the area, believed to be a precursor to an eruption.
Vidir Reynisson, head of Iceland’s Civil Protection and Emergency Management, expressed deep concern about the potential impact of the eruption on the town’s infrastructure and houses.
Grindavik, located about 40 kilometres (25 miles) southwest of Reykjavik, is situated near the Svartsengi geothermal plant, which supplies electricity and water to 30,000 residents on the Reykjanes peninsula, as well as a freshwater reservoir.
The town is also in close proximity to the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa resort, a popular tourist destination, which closed as a precaution earlier in the week.
READ MORE: Iceland shuts down iconic Blue Lagoon
Reynisson stated that the magma is currently at a very shallow depth, indicating an imminent eruption within a couple of hours at the shortest, but at least within a couple of days. The most likely scenario would be a fissure opening in the ground near Grindavik, which is approximately 15 kilometres long.
However, Reynisson did not rule out the possibility of an eruption on the ocean floor, which could potentially cause a large ash cloud.
The quakes and ground lift caused by the magma intrusion have already resulted in damage to roads and buildings in Grindavik and its surroundings. A large crack also tore up the greens on the Grindavik golf course, an image that was widely shared on social media networks.
Iceland has declared a state of emergency and ordered the mandatory evacuation of Grindavik. Emergency shelters and help centres have opened in several nearby towns, but most Grindavik residents were reported to be staying with friends or relatives.
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The Icelandic Met Office (IMO) had been observing magma accumulating under the Earth’s surface at a depth of about 5km for several days. Late Friday, the IMO reported that the magma had begun rising vertically in a dyke, with the top depth assessed to be 800 meters under the surface.
Sara Barsotti, IMO’s volcanic hazards coordinator, stated that experts were surprised by the amount of lava and the speed at which it was accumulating, calling the ongoing events an unprecedented event. She mentioned that the velocities and volumes of the inflow rates were much higher than what had been seen on the peninsula so far.
The Reykjanes peninsula has experienced three eruptions in recent years near the Fagradalsfjall volcano, occurring in March 2021, August 2022, and July 2023. However, these eruptions took place far from any infrastructure or populated areas.
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