Iceland volcano erupts on Reykjanes peninsula

December 19, 2023  –A volcano has erupted on the Reykjanes peninsula of south-west Iceland after weeks of intense earthquake activity.

About 4,000 people were evacuated from the fishing town of Grindavik last month.

The eruption started north of the town at 22:17 local time (22:17 GMT) on Monday, the Icelandic Met Office said.

A resident living near Grindavik described “crazy” and “scary” scenes that night, and said she could still see the volcano exploding on Tuesday.

Iceland has been braced for volcanic activity for weeks. Since late October, the region around the capital Reykjavik has been experiencing an increase in earthquake activity.

The eruption can be seen from Reykjavik, which is about 42km (26 miles) north-east of Grindavik.

An eyewitness there told the BBC that half of the sky in the direction of the town was “lit up in red” from the eruption, and smoke could be seen billowing into the air.

Experts say they don’t expect the eruption to bring the same level of disruption as one that took place elsewhere in Iceland in 2010, which halted European air travel.

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Aoalheiour Halldorsdottir, who lives in Sandgeroi – about 20km from Grindavik – said she had seen the explosion from her home.

“It was crazy to see it with my own eyes. We have had volcano explosions before, but this was the first time I got really scared,” she told BBC News.

“We’re used to volcanoes [erupting], but this was crazy.”

She said there was some “panic” on Monday night, and that she had bought extra supplies of water, but that things had largely returned to normal on Tuesday.

“I’m at work now, and I can still see it. I can see the lights in the sky,” she said.

Hans Vera was evacuated from Grindavik last month, but hoped before Monday’s eruption to return home for Christmas.

But he said: “I don’t see that in the future they will let people get close to Grindavik – so we are back in the waiting game.”

Iceland’s foreign minister, Bjarni Benediktsson said on X, formerly Twitter, that “there are no disruptions to flights to and from Iceland, and international flight corridors remain open”.

“The jets [of lava] are quite high, so it appears to be a powerful eruption at the beginning,” he said.

Hallgrimur Indrioason, a reporter for the state-owned Icelandic National Broadcasting Service (RUV), said the eruption could be seen dozens of kilometres away in Reykjavik, and described the view was “quite spectacular”.

An Icelandic volcano spews lava and smoke as it erupts
The region around the capital Reykjavik has been experiencing an increase in earthquake activity since late October

The Icelandic Met Office said the eruption took place about 4km north-east of Grindavik, on the south-west coast, and that it was monitoring the situation. There were some concerns the lava flow could hit Grindavik.

Images and videos posted on social media showed lava bursting from the volcano just an hour after an earthquake swarm, a series of seismic events, was detected.

Police have warned people to stay away from the area.

The length of the crack in the volcano is about 3.5km, with the lava flowing at a rate of around 100 to 200 cubic metres per second, the Met Office said, adding that this was many times more than recent eruptions on the Reykjanes peninsula.

A detailed map of the 3.5km fissure - revealing its length, and how close it is to Grindavik

Grindavik evacuated

Iceland has been on high alert for a potential volcano eruption for several weeks, and last month authorities ordered people to leave Grindavik as a precaution.

There have been no reports of injuries.

In April 2010, an ash cloud from the Eyjafjallajokull volcanic eruption caused the largest closure of European airspace since World War Two, with losses estimated at €1.5-2.5bn (£1.3-2.2bn; $1.6-2.7bn).

Volcanologist Dr Evgenia Ilyinskaya told the BBC that there would not be the same level of disruption as 2010, as these volcanoes in south-west Iceland were “physically not able to generate the same ash clouds”.

The Eyjafjallajokul volcano, in southern Iceland, is about 140km from the volcano on the Reykjanes peninsula which erupted on Monday.

Speaking from Iceland, Dr Ilyinskaya, associate professor of volcanology at Leeds University, said local people had been both “fearing and waiting for” the volcano to erupt.

“There was a lot of uncertainty. It was a difficult period of time for local people,” she said.

She added that authorities were preparing for potential lava flows that could destroy homes and infrastructure, including the Blue Lagoon, a popular tourist destination.

“At the moment it seems not to be threatening, although it remains to be seen,” she said.

Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir said defences recently constructed would have a positive effect.

She said her thoughts were with the local community and she was hoping for the best despite the “significant event”.

President Gudni Johannesson said safeguarding lives was the main priority but that every effort would be made to protect structures too.

An aerial view of a volcano spewing lava and smoke as it erupts
Images showed lava bursting from the volcano
Houses in the village of Hafnarfjordur are seen with smoke billowing in the distance, and lava colours the night sky orange - following an volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula, western Iceland

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