What is currently known about the Icelandic volcanic eruption

It was not surprising when a volcano in southwest Iceland erupted on Monday night since scientists had been expecting it for weeks. Thousands of little earthquakes have shaken the area in recent weeks, and the region has been active for more than two years.

It began on Monday night at about 10:20 p.m. local time north of Grindavik, a 3,400-person fishing village on the Reykjanes Peninsula. The village is located in a region often referred to as the Fagradalsfjall volcano, around 50 kilometers (31 miles) southwest of Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland.

Initially, there were many little earthquakes. After that, lava with a temperature of around 1,200 degrees Celsius (2,192 degrees Fahrenheit) started to flow from a fissure that was approximately 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) long. Though the activity had substantially decreased by Tuesday afternoon, the Icelandic Meteorological Office calculated that hundreds of cubic meters of lava per second streamed out in the first two hours of the eruption.

To put it briefly, no – scientists had been anticipating the eruption for a few weeks, and in November, hundreds of little earthquakes rocked the region for over two weeks, forcing officials to evacuate Grindavik. Magma, or semi-molten rock, is reportedly creeping toward the town and might soon reach the surface, according to scientists monitoring.

One of Iceland’s most popular tourist destinations, the adjacent Blue Lagoon geothermal resort, was forced to temporarily shut down due to safety measures after a magnitude 4.8 earthquake that struck the region last month.

After lying dormant for around 6,000 years, Fagradalsfjall erupted in March 2021, causing hundreds of visitors to travel to the Reykjanes Peninsula in order to see the breathtaking lava flows that persisted for months. From the outskirts of the city, the red light from the lava was visible.

In spite of the Reykjanes Peninsula’s close proximity to Iceland’s main airport, Keflavik, none of the recent eruptions there have resulted in any damage or interruptions to flights. Despite the fact that Monday’s eruption seems to be stronger and bigger than previous ones, experts and forecasts believe it won’t have an effect on air travel.

Many people still remember the severe interruptions to global aviation that occurred in 2010 when the Eyjafjallajokull, another volcano in Iceland, erupted and sent massive ash clouds high into the stratosphere over Europe. Because of worries that the fine ash may harm jet engines, around 100,000 aircraft were canceled, leaving millions of foreign travelers stranded, and forcing a days-long suspension of air traffic.

According to experts, this eruption’s characteristics and position indicate that it won’t create much ash or disturb the system to the same extent. The American weather forecasting company AccuWeather said on Tuesday that no ash cloud has yet been seen, according to preliminary data.

The eruption on Monday, according to University of Bristol volcanologist Sam Mitchell, is entirely distinct from the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajokull, when “a large explosive eruption under a glacier produced a very large cloud and very fine ash in the atmosphere when the wind direction was pointing towards mainland Europe.”

According to scientists, there is currently no danger that the lava will reach important buildings like the neighboring power stations or the town of Grindavik. The majority of the nearby roads are still blocked, and the locals have been evacuated.

However, the experts caution that things might change and that it’s too soon to predict when the eruption will end or when locals will be able to return to their houses.

“There is still concern that lavas may reach these important locations even though the lava did not erupt into the town of Grindavik or at the nearby power plant and popular tourist destination, the Blue Lagoon,” Mitchell said. “The lava flows are still only a few kilometers away.”

Because of the increased sulfur dioxide level in the air, the molten lava flowing above ground may further raise the danger of poor air quality in the area, according to AccuWeather. According to Iceland’s Met Office, there might be gas pollution in the Reykjavik region later on Tuesday or on Wednesday.

A volcanologist named Ármann Höskuldsson said to RUV, Iceland’s official broadcaster, that he anticipated the eruption would last anywhere between a week and ten days. He remarked, “If everything goes as planned, this will pass tomorrow afternoon.”

With 32 active volcanic sites, Iceland is one of the most volcanically active regions on Earth. The usual frequency of eruptions is four to five years, but since 2021, the frequency has grown to almost every twelve months.

The nation is situated on a volcanic hotspot and the massive ocean floor fissure known as the “mid-Atlantic ridge,” which was created by the breaking apart of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. Earthquakes and volcanic activity are caused by fresh magma that rises to fill the spaces left by the plates separating.

Katla, one of the most active volcanoes in the nation, is constantly monitored since it is buried behind a thick layer of glacial ice, making any eruption potentially disastrous in terms of melting the ice and causing extensive floods. When Katla erupted last, it did so for over a month, depriving crops of sunlight and killing some cattle. That eruption occurred in 1918.

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