Iceland – a small island sandwiched between Greenland and the European continent, famous for hot springs, vikings, and volcanoes.
By Fern D/ 8.04.2021
130 of them, to be exact. And the reason behind such a large number of volcanoes in Iceland is the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which separates the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates underneath the country. As these plates diverge, magma rises to fill the new empty spaces and causes volcanic activity.
The most famous example of such recent activity in Iceland was the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010, which caused major disruptions to international air travel when large volumes of volcanic ash were ejected into the air and threatened damage to aircraft engines.
Luckily on the ground, however, volcanic eruptions in Iceland rarely cause any damage to people or their homes. This is largely thanks to the early settlers in Iceland, who sensed danger from these menacing mountains and mostly avoided founding towns and villages in their close vicinity.
However, due to their unpredictable nature, fatalities and damage caused by these volcanoes cannot be completely avoided. In 1973, Heimaey, in the Westman islands, suddenly erupted in the middle of one cold winter night. Despite the residents evacuating as quickly as possible and using nearby sea water to divert the magma’s flow, nearly 400 homes were destroyed and one person lost their life.
More recently, threats of another volcanic eruption have gripped the attention of Iceland. Since February 2021, to the time of writing in March the same year, there have been over 40,000 earthquakes in the country. The small town of Grindavík in the Reykjanes peninsula has been bearing the brunt of the seismic activity due to its close proximity to Fagradalsfjall mountain, a volcano which the Icelandic Met Office (IMO) has declared could erupt at any moment (Update: Fagradalsfjall erupted at around 10pm (GMT) on 19th March).
Thankfully, most of the quakes have been unobtrusive to people outside the Reykjanes area, perhaps at most causing lampshades to shake or loose items to fall off shelves. However, there have also been several reaching a magnitude of 5.7 on the seismic scale. These stronger earthquakes are more troublesome, for example causing disturbances to Grindavík inhabitants’ sleep. The Icelandic government is now asking people to avoid visiting the mountain in case monitoring of the IMO is impeded, and to stay away from steep terrain where loose boulders and rocks could cause harm.
The impact of the eruption is expected to be minimal. Nevertheless, there is a swift and efficient evacuation plan in place for the people of Grindavík, which includes plans to keep boats at the ready in case roads should be cut off by magma flow. There are also no predictions that the eruption will disrupt international air travel: it will surely come as reassuring news to everyone that this is no Eyjafjallajökull – Part Two!
Update: Fagradalsfjall erupted at around 10pm (GMT) on 19th March. You can see the magma flow from the mountain here: https://www.ruv.is/frett/2021/03/20/