Iceland Volcano erupts on Reykjanes peninsula

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 on Monday, December 18, 2023. 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. 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 do not 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. There was some panic on Monday night, but that things had largely returned to normal on Tuesday. 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.

Residents are used to volcanoes erupting, but this was crazy.

The jets of lava are quite high, so it appears to be a powerful eruption at the beginning. The eruption could be seen dozens of kilometers away in Reykjavik, and the view was quite spectacular. The Icelandic Meteorological 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 meters per second, this was many times more than recent eruptions on the Reykjanes peninsula.

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).

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. 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 the local people. 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. 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.

Lava from a large volcanic eruption in Iceland appeared to be flowing away from the only town in the area, offering hope that homes and lives would be spared even though the seismic activity could last months.