Iceland, the land of ice and fire, has struck again. A volcano near Iceland’s capital Reykjavik has erupted for the second time in 6,000 years. It’s the same volcano that erupted for 6 months in 2021, and while it’s not clear how long this eruption will be, it seems to pose no threat to aviation.
The volcanic eruption was foreshadowed by increased earthquake activity in the area. The lava stirred and rumbled on its way to the surface, warning geologists that an eruption was likely to come.
The Fagradalsfjall volcano is a so-called tuya volcano: a steep-sided volcano that erupts through the thick ice of a glacier or ice sheet. Tuya volcanoes are rare across the world, but Iceland, of course, can boast quite a few of them. Fagradalsfjall is located around 40 kilometers (25 mi) from Reykjavík and 32 km (20 miles) away from the country’s international airport (called Keflavik), in the southwest of the island.
Iceland itself lies on the continental rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates — it’s this setting that gives the country its distinctive volcanic activity. This rift creates all sorts of fissures through which lava can sneak through to the surface, and this is exactly the case with Fagradalsfjall. The mountain Fagradalsfjall is a volcano in a fissure swarm in an active part of the rift, but despite this, it lay dormant for 6,342 years until an eruption started in March 2021.
It was an effusive eruption — the “chill” type of magma-flowing eruption that you’d see in places like Hawaii. The other major type of volcanic eruption is the explosive eruption, and you can probably guess how that would be a much bigger problem. The 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull that disrupted thousands of flights were explosive, and in this ongoing eruption, researchers don’t expect any major aviation disruption.
Explosive eruptions spew rock and ash into the atmosphere, while effusive eruptions generally just create outflows of lava. While these can be dangerous if you get too close, the danger isn’t expected to be significant if you stay away. In fact, Icelandic television has even set up a livestream of the eruption, which you can check below.
The volcano erupted at 1:30 pm local time on Wednesday, and so far, only roads in the area have been closed, despite the over 10,000 small earthquakes recorded around the volcanoes. The international airport on the island remains open.
“Currently, there have been no disruptions to flights to and from Iceland and international flight corridors remain open,” the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
In fact, authorities seem more concerned about locals and tourists rushing to see the lava than anything else. Iceland President Gudni Johannesson urged people to “be careful and know more before they go there into the unknown.”
“If this eruption will be anything like the last one, there will be enough time, so there is no need to rush,” he told the English-language media Iceland Monitor.
Lava is outflowing out of a narrow fissure, not yet as spectacular as the 2021 eruption, but it’s unclear how the eruption will evolve, if it will get bigger, stay the same, or dwindle down. Einar Hjörleifsson, a specialist in Natural hazards with the Icelandic Met Office, confirmed that there had been a volcanic eruption in a 100 m crack. Professor of Volcanology Þorvaldur Þórðarson told state broadcaster RÚV that the eruption is low power and the magma plumes are probably not higher than 50 meters.
For now, this is just Iceland being Iceland, but researchers are keeping an eye on it.
Andrei's background is in geophysics, and he's been fascinated by it ever since he was a child. Feeling that there is a gap between scientists and the general audience, he started ZME Science -- and the results are what you see today.