On Sunday, November 12th, Iceland confronted a significant volcanic threat, leading the government to declare a state of emergency and begin evacuations in the southwestern town of Grindavik. The Icelandic Met Office (IMO) reported a “significant likelihood” of a volcanic eruption in the wake of thousands of earthquakes shaking the Reykjanes Peninsula.
The seismic activity, concentrated near Grindavik, has been attributed to a magmatic dike extending 9.3 miles long, with the most recent earthquakes occurring close to the town. Over 3,200 earthquakes have been recorded in Iceland the last 72 hours, with the largest measuring a magnitude of 5.2. The continuous seismic activity has led to significant damage to structures, including the cracking of the local golf course.
Iceland’s President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson expressed gratitude that there have been no casualties but acknowledged the extensive damage to houses and infrastructure. The town of Grindavik, with a population of 3,669, was evacuated as a precaution, with Foreign Affairs Minister Bjarni Benediktsson highlighting the strength and resilience of the residents.
Volcanologist Thorvaldur Thordarson from the University of Iceland warned that an eruption could be imminent, possibly within hours or a few days. The likelihood of a submarine eruption has also increased, raising concerns about explosive activity. The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, one of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions, has temporarily closed due to the threat.
The IMO has observed significant changes in seismic activity, suggesting that magma could have extended under Grindavik. The Reykjanes Peninsula, which includes a volcanic system that has erupted three times since 2021 after being dormant for 800 years, is being closely monitored by scientists.
Iceland’s civil protection agency has ordered residents to evacuate but emphasized that there is no immediate danger. The evacuation is primarily preventive, allowing residents to prepare and leave the area calmly.
The situation in Iceland highlights the country’s unique geological position, sitting above a volcanic hotspot in the North Atlantic. Iceland averages an eruption every four to five years, with the most disruptive in recent times being the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano.
As the world watches, Iceland prepares for the potential eruption, balancing the need for safety with the unpredictability of natural forces. The country’s response to this geological challenge reflects its long history of living with and adapting to volcanic activity.