Sunday, June 16

Iceland Volcano Erupts Near Grindavik After Weeks of Earthquakes

A volcano in southwestern Iceland began erupting Monday with lava fountains reaching up to 330 feet and the glow visible from central Reykjavik. The location of the fissure poses a risk to the nearby Svartsengi Power Plant and the town of Grindavík that was evacuated in November following heightened seismic activity.

“We are looking at a worst-case scenario,” said Thorvaldur Thordarson, a volcanologist in Iceland. “The eruption appears big and only about 2 kilometers from major infrastructure.”

Thousands of earthquakes had been detected in Iceland since late October, according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office, the country’s weather service. As a result, the authorities had declared a state of emergency and evacuated Grindavik, a town near the volcano of more than 3,000 people on Nov. 11. Homes and roads in the town had been damaged by the earthquakes.

For the past days, the Meteorological Office had been warning of a “significant likelihood of a volcanic eruption in coming days.”

The weather service had said there was a “considerable” risk of an eruption because the underground magma moving to the surface.

There have been three eruptions on the Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland’s most populated corner and home to its capital, in the last two years, and the authorities and the public were “highly prepared for such events,” the government said in a statement on Nov 11. “Iceland has one of the world’s most effective volcanic preparedness measures,” it said on its website.

The authorities had also raised the aviation alert to orange, because a volcanic eruption could pose a risk to the aircraft flying in the North Atlantic if ash spewed into the sky.

One of the most memorable volcanic eruptions in Iceland’s recent past was the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, one of the country’s largest, which erupted in 2010. While that eruption was relatively small and caused no fatalities, the impact was widespread because a resulting ash cloud grounded much of Europe’s air travel for more than a week.

The Eyjafjallajokull (pronounced EYE-a-fyat-la-jo-kutl) volcano had been dormant for nearly two centuries before it sprang back to life more than 13 years ago.

Volcanic eruptions are not uncommon in Iceland, which has fewer than 400,000 residents and about 130 volcanoes. Since the 19th century, not a decade has gone by without one, Iceland’s tourist website tells interested visitors. But the frequency of eruptions remains “entirely random.”

The country straddles two tectonic plates, which are themselves divided by an undersea mountain chain that oozes molten hot rock, or magma.

The current seismic activity hasn’t impacted one of Iceland’s most notorious volcanoes, Katla, which some scientists worry is due for an eruption. Katla has erupted five times since 1721, at intervals ranging from 34 to 78 years. The last major one was in 1918.

Egill Bjarnason contributed reporting from Reykjavík, Iceland.