In Iceland, the Grindavik fault begins to spew lava again

In Iceland, the Grindavik fault begins to spew lava again
In Iceland, the Grindavik fault begins to spew lava again

A huge cloud of white smoke stood out against the blue sky, and incandescent orange lava gushed abundantly from the ground, through a fault located north of the port city.

A new volcanic eruption broke out on Wednesday on the Reykjanes peninsula in southwest Iceland, with orange-red lava surging from a fault near the town of Grindavik, which had to be evacuated. This is the fifth eruption in this area since December.

Two hours after the eruption began, lava was flowing less than a kilometer from a dam protecting the town of Grindavik.

Lava is escaping from a fault near the town of Grindavik, whose inhabitants have been evacuated.

AFP

Most of the town’s 4,000 residents were already evacuated in November, shortly before the first volcanic eruption in the region. Those who were in Grindavik on Wednesday – for work or for visits – left immediately, except for a few diehards who refused, the country’s civil protection said on its Facebook page.

“Despite recommendations from response teams to leave the city, three residents remain in Grindavik. Such actions are not recommended,” she wrote.

In January, during a second eruption, three houses in Grindavik were engulfed in flames.

Three weeks of respite

Wednesday’s eruption comes just three weeks after the end of the fourth, which lasted since March 16. “The volcanic plume reached an altitude of approximately 3.5 km at the start of the eruption and the length of the fault was estimated at more than 1 km,” wrote the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) on its website .

An hour and a half later, civil protection said the fault had widened to 3.4 km. According to the IMO, the lava flows are significant: between 1500 and 2000 cubic meters per second.

The popular geothermal baths of the Blue Lagoon, a major tourist attraction in the country, hastily evacuated all their facilities on Wednesday, a few hours before the start of the eruption.

State of emergency in the country

The IMO had reported “intense seismic activity” before the eruption on Wednesday. But this should not disrupt air traffic. Keflavik Airport, Iceland’s largest, remained open and operating “as usual” on Wednesday, Icelandic airport operator ISAVIA said on its website.

Civil protection nevertheless declared a state of emergency in the country.

In the days before the eruption, around 20 million cubic meters of magma had accumulated in the magma chamber beneath Svartsengi. This place is home to a geothermal power plant which supplies electricity and hot water to 30,000 people on the Reykjanes peninsula.

As a precaution, it has been operating largely remotely since the first eruption in the region. Earthen dikes were erected around the power station to protect it.

On Monday, the IMO announced that around 400 earthquakes had been measured over the past seven days near the fault where the eruption occurred.

Awakening after 800 years

Iceland is home to 33 active volcanic systems, the highest number in Europe. It is located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a fault in the ocean floor that separates the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates and causes earthquakes and eruptions.

The activity recorded since 2021 in the Reykjanes peninsula testifies to the awakening, after eight hundred years, of a long fault allowing the rise of magma, volcanologists agree.

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