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Volcano Erupts in Southwest Iceland After Weeks of Earthquakes

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December 19, 2023

A volcano on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula has erupted, unleashing spectacular geysers of molten lava into the night sky. The eruption, which commenced at 10:17 pm on Monday after a series of seismic activities, had the region southwest of the capital on high alert, following weeks of anticipation and evacuations.

The Reykjanes peninsula, located just north of the fishing town Grindavik, has experienced heightened earthquake activity since October. The Icelandic Meteorological Office confirmed the eruption, estimating that a four-kilometer-long fissure had opened up, with the southern end just three kilometers from Grindavik.

Live-streamed footage captured the awe-inspiring scenes of glowing orange lava jets and billowing red smoke emanating from the volcanic eruption. Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir expressed cautious optimism on Facebook, stating, “We hope for the best, but it is clear this is a considerable eruption.”

The meteorological office reported that, by 3:00 am, the eruption’s intensity had stabilized, though the duration remained uncertain. President Gudni Thorlacius Johannesson emphasized the priority of protecting lives and infrastructure, urging residents to exercise caution.

Vidir Reynisson, head of the Department of Civil Protection, warned against approaching the area, stating, “This is no tourist eruption.” The public utility company Landsnet closely monitored the situation, emphasizing the need for caution.

Despite concerns about potential disruptions to global travel, Reykjavik’s international airport, Keflavik, remained operational. ISAVIA, the airport operator, reassured the public, stating, “For the time being, no disruptions to arrivals or departures at Keflavik airport.”

The Reykjanes peninsula had been a hotspot of seismic activity, prompting the evacuation of approximately 4,000 residents from Grindavik on November 11. The tunnelling movement of magma beneath the town necessitated the precautionary measure. Residents reported damages to roads and buildings caused by the continuous small earthquakes, occurring sometimes in the hundreds per day.

Volcanic eruptions are not unusual in Iceland, home to 33 active volcano systems, the highest number in Europe. The Reykjanes peninsula, however, had not witnessed an eruption for eight centuries until 2021. Since then, three eruptions have occurred, with experts suggesting a possible new era of volcanic activity in the region.

In 2010, the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano disrupted air travel globally, resulting in the cancellation of around 100,000 flights and leaving over 10 million travellers stranded. While the current eruption poses concerns, authorities remain vigilant, acknowledging the unpredictable nature of volcanic activity in this geologically dynamic region.

The situation continues to unfold, and residents and authorities alike remain on high alert, navigating the challenges posed by nature’s powerful forces.

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