© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Lava gushes and flows after a volcano erupts on Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula July 12, 2023, in this photo taken from a Coast Guard helicopter. Iceland Civil Protection/Handout via REUTERS
By Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen
COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Icelandic authorities said on Saturday they were preparing for a volcanic eruption in the island’s southwest in the coming days, after a series of earthquakes and evidence of rapid spread of magma beneath earth.
The Icelandic Meteorological Office said there was a “considerable” risk of an eruption on or just off the Reykjanes Peninsula due to the scale of the underground magma intrusion and the speed at which it was moving .
“The likelihood of an eruption has increased since this morning and an eruption could begin at any time in the coming days,” the ministry said in a statement.
Iceland’s civil protection agency ordered a complete evacuation of Grindavik, a fishing town of around 3,000 people, overnight.
The Reykjanes region has experienced several eruptions in sparsely populated areas in recent years. The latest is expected to begin on the seabed just southwest of Grindavik, the weather office said.
A tunnel of magma, or molten rock, which extends northeast through Grindavik and about 10 km further inland, was estimated Saturday evening to be less than 800 meters deep, down from 1 500 meters earlier in the day, the office said.
On Thursday, increased seismic activity led to the closure of the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, one of Iceland’s top tourist attractions.
Reykjanes is a volcanic and seismic hotspot southwest of the capital Reykjavik. In March 2021, lava fountains erupted spectacularly from a crack in the ground measuring between 500 and 750 meters long in the Fagradalsfjall volcanic system in the region.
Volcanic activity in the area continued for six months that year, prompting thousands of Icelanders and tourists to visit the area. In August 2022, a three-week eruption occurred in the same area, followed by another in July this year.
The Fagradalsfjall system, which is approximately 6 km wide and 19 km long, had been dormant for more than 6,000 years before the recent eruptions.