After Weeks of Warnings, Iceland Volcano Erupts in Plumes of Fire

A volcano in southwestern Iceland, the country’s most populated region, began erupting Monday with lava fountains reaching high in the air and the glow lighting up the sky miles away in the center of the capital, Reykjavik.


Volcano Erupts Near Evacuated Town and Power Plant

The eruption of a volcano in southwestern Iceland on Monday was larger than expected and occurred near a town and a power plant that had been evacuated due to heightened seismic activity. The location of the fissure, which is expanding rapidly, posed an immediate threat to both the town of Grindavík and the Svartsengi Power Plant. However, after a flyover of the eruption site, the authorities determined that the immediate situation was not as dire as first feared, although the flow of lava is still unpredictable.

The head of the volcanic activity department at the Icelandic Meteorological Office, Kristín Jonsdottir, confirmed that the lava is currently flowing around 2.5 kilometers north of Grindavík. Despite the larger-than-anticipated eruption, the town is currently evacuated and therefore does not pose a risk to residents. Authorities, however, are cautioning people to stay away from the area, emphasizing that this is not a tourist attraction.

Anticipation and Preparations

The eruption on Monday was not immediately anticipated, despite a series of earthquakes that occurred in the region. Previously, the Blue Lagoon, a popular tourist destination located nearby, had reopened due to a decrease in concerns of an imminent eruption. Since late October, thousands of earthquakes had been detected in Iceland, leading to a state of emergency declaration in November and the evacuation of the town of Grindavik. Although the country is prepared for volcanic events, the authorities raised the aviation alert due to the possibility of ash spewing into the sky and posing a risk to aircraft.

Fortunately, as of Monday night, the eruption did not produce flight-stopping ash, and the main airport, Keflavik, remains open. Iceland had experienced the impact of an eruption in 2010 when the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted, causing widespread disruption to air travel in Europe. However, that eruption was relatively small and did not result in any fatalities.

Iceland's Volcanic History

Volcanic eruptions are not uncommon in Iceland, a country with a large number of volcanoes. With a population of fewer than 400,000 people, Iceland has experienced volcanic eruptions regularly throughout history. The occurrence of eruptions is random, and the country straddles two tectonic plates, resulting in the continuous movement of molten rock beneath the surface.

Despite the current seismic activity, which has not affected the Katla volcano, scientists are concerned about its potential for an eruption. Katla has erupted multiple times in the past, with the last major eruption occurring in 1918. The frequency of eruptions from Katla varies, but it is closely monitored due to the potential impact it could have.