The Blue Lagoon spa, a popular tourist destination in Iceland, was evacuated on Thursday as a volcano in the southwestern region of the country erupted for the third time since December. Lava spewed into the air, creating a spectacular sight.
The Icelandic Meteorological Office reported that the eruption started at approximately 0600 GMT (1 a.m. EST) on a three-kilometer (nearly two-mile) crack located northeast of Mount Sundhnukur. The site is situated about 4 kilometers (2½ miles) northeast of Grindavik, a town of 3,800 residents, who were evacuated prior to a previous eruption on December 18.
According to the Meteorological Office, lava is currently moving westward and poses no immediate danger to Grindavik or a nearby power plant. Officials from civil defense have stated that there were no individuals present in the town during the eruption.
Víðir Reynisson, the director of Iceland’s Civil Defense, informed Icelandic national broadcaster RUV that there is no information about any intended connection between them.
According to RUV, the Blue Lagoon thermal spa, which was in close proximity, had to shut down due to the eruption. All visitors were successfully removed from the area. Following the eruption, a flow of hot lava covered a nearby road next to the spa.
Earlier this week, the Icelandic Met Office issued a warning about a potential eruption based on their observations of an accumulation of magma, which is partially melted rock, beneath the surface over the course of the past three weeks. In the days leading up to the eruption, the area had experienced hundreds of minor earthquakes, followed by a surge of strong seismic activity just 30 minutes before the eruption began.
A stunning recording captured by Iceland’s coast guard displays streams of molten rock shooting upwards of 50 meters (165 feet) into the dimly lit atmosphere. A column of steam reached heights of about 3 kilometers (1½ miles) above the volcanic eruption.
Iceland, located above a volcanic hotspot in the North Atlantic, experiences an eruption approximately every four to five years. The most significant eruption in recent history was in 2010 when the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted, releasing massive amounts of ash into the air and causing widespread airspace closures across Europe.
There has been a recent volcanic activity on the Reykjanes Peninsula, where Keflavik (Iceland’s main airport) and several large towns are located. This is the third eruption since December. However, there were no disruptions reported at the airport on Thursday.
According to Dave McGarvie, a volcanologist with experience in Iceland, it is highly improbable that the mild and slow eruption will cause any problems for air travel as it releases a minimal quantity of volcanic ash.
The town of Grindavik, located approximately 50 kilometers (30 miles) southwest of Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, was forced to evacuate in November due to the reactivation of the Svartsengi volcanic system. This event, which occurred after a dormant period of almost 800 years, was accompanied by a series of earthquakes that caused significant fissures to form in the ground north of the town.
On December 18th, the volcano erupted and caused lava to flow away from Grindavik. On January 14th, a second eruption occurred, causing lava to head towards the town. Though defensive walls had been strengthened since the first eruption, some of the lava still managed to destroy several buildings.
There have been no confirmed fatalities, however, a laborer is unaccounted for after tumbling into a crevice caused by the eruption.
The previous volcanic eruptions were short-lived, but they are a sign of significant changes in the Reykjanes Peninsula, which is heavily populated according to Icelandic President Gudni Th. Johannesson.
McGarvie stated that it is uncertain if the Grindavik residents will ever have the opportunity to permanently come back.
He stated that currently, there is a sense of resignation and stoicism towards the fact that the town will likely remain uninhabitable for the foreseeable future.
He stated that following centuries of tranquility, individuals believed this region to be relatively secure.
“It was quite surprising that it suddenly became active again,” he said. “New evidence suggests that eruptions can occur intermittently in this specific peninsula for decades or even centuries.”
This story was contributed to by Danica Kirka and Jill Lawless, writers for the Associated Press in London.