Magma movements are likely the cause of the current surge on the Reykjanes Peninsula.
Over 18,000 earthquakes have shaken southwestern Iceland in the past two weeks, triggering concerns among scientists and officials that an eruption in the area is imminent.
The current earthquake swarm started on Feb. 24 with a 5.7-magnitude quake, the largest to date, and thousands of others have since followed. On Wednesday, more than 2,500 tremors were measured by the Icelandic Meteorological Office, followed by 800 more in the first hours of Thursday.
Geophysicists and volcanologists say the seismic activity on the island has intensified since December 2019. In October 2020, Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir had to briefly interrupt herself during a live interview as an earthquake was felt in the country. (“Well, this is Iceland,” Ms. Jakobsdottir said, before resuming.)
Similar tremors have been observed ahead of volcanic eruptions in the past, and the Icelandic Meteorological Office said that magma movements were a likely cause for the continuing activity. The agency has warned that an eruption could occur within days or weeks.
“The two tectonic plates are moving away from each other, and that movement has created the conditions for magma to come to the surface,” said Freysteinn Sigmundsson, a research professor of geophysics at the University of Iceland.
The aviation color code is at orange level, meaning there is “heightened unrest” and that there is an “increased likelihood of eruption.”
The good news is that if an eruption occurs, it is likely to be a relatively small fissure eruption in the area area between the volcanic peaks of Fagradalsfjall and Keilir.
The government said on its website that if there is an eruption, it’s expected to be a “relatively” small fissure eruption lasting up to a few weeks. These types of eruptions, the government said, entail a “slow flow” of lava rather than large explosions or significant ash.
The government has said there is “very low” risk to populated areas and critical infrastructure, and Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir said the country is “extremely well prepared.”
“Iceland has highly trained, educated and experienced professionals in this area,” Jakobsdóttir said in a statement. “Most important, the Icelandic public is used to dealing calmly with many different types of natural events related to the weather or geology.”
Let’s hope the experts are right on this subject. Iceland’s infamous Laki Eruption of 1783 lasted eight months, killed most of the island’s livestock, caused crop failure and famine, and led to a real, significant change in global temperatures. The consequences were historic.
In the months after the eruption, a strange haze covered the sky above Europe, making breathing difficult. As the ash and gases from the eruption entered the high layers of the atmosphere, they absorbed moisture and sunlight, changing the climate for years to come.
From 1783 to 1785 accounts from both Japan and America describe terrible droughts, exceptional cold winters, and disastrous floods. In Europe, the exceptionally hot summer of 1783 was followed by long and harsh winters. The resulting crop failures may have triggered one of the most famous insurrections of starving people in history, the French Revolution of 1789-1799.
Here is one of my favorite episodes of “How the Earth Was Made” for those of you who would like to explore this topic further.
As for myself, I am thrilled I was able to visit in 2019. Iceland is breathtaking in so many ways.DONATE
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