A series of powerful earthquakes on the Reykjanes Peninsula were felt throughout the capital region and as far as Snæfellsnes this weekend, leaving many wondering if another eruption could be imminent.
The largest in the series was a magnitude 5.5 earthquake that occurred 3.3 kilometers northeast of Grindavík at 15:47 on Sunday. Another large quake of magnitude 5.0 occurred at 02:27 last night. This was closely follow by a magnitude 4.5 earthquake a few kilometers away, and it was powerful enough to ring the bells at Hallgrímskirkja during the night.
There have been over 3,000 earthquakes since Sunday, according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office. About half of the measured earthquakes were less than magnitude 1, but another 101 were magnitude 3 or higher.
Specialists from the Icelandic Meteorological Office say seismicity increased on the Reykjanes Peninsula around 23:00 last night, indicating the earthquakes are likely not over. Activity is centered west of Lake Kleifarvatn.
Eruption could occur soon
The events of this weekend are reminiscent of those leading up to last year’s eruption at Fagradalsfjall and indicate that another eruption could occur soon.
Volcanologist Þorvaldur Þórðarson told Fréttablaðið the earthquakes are a likely indicator that a new eruption will occur in the region. He says an eruption is most likely at Fagradalsfjall, though it could occur at Svartsengi, Krýsuvík, Móhálsadal, or Vigdísarvelli.
“It must be noted that none of these eruptions are life-threatening. They are not going to blow everything up,” Þorvaldur says. “These will be lava eruptions and people will have time to escape. But if the lava flows are close to infrastructure, there is a risk that they will be damaged or even destroyed. We have entered an eruption season and must do everything we can to reduce the impact of the eruptions that will occur in the near future.
Sigurlaug Hjaltadottir, a geophysicist at the Icelandic Meteorological Office, told Vísir that earthquakes do not always happen where magma is; rather, they occur where there is the most tension below the surface. A temporary reduction in seismic activity could forewarn of an eruption, though this is not always the case, she says.
Grindavík residents are waiting to see how the seismic activity will unfold. Many returned home from the holiday weekend to broken household items or burst water pipes, reports Fréttablaðið.
“On the whole, there wasn’t much damage to valuables or real estate, it was mainly smaller household items, statues, pictures and things like that that fell over and broke. Only occasional cracks in houses have been affected,” Grindavík Mayor Fannar Jónasson told Fréttablaðið.
Fannar says there is currently no plan to close the old eruption area. Scientists are monitoring activity and will take action as needed.
As a result of the seismic activity, there is an increased risk of rockfalls on the peninsula. The Icelandic Meteorological Office encourages visitors and residents to exercise caution, especially on steep slopes, near sea cliffs, and around other areas where rocks are likely to fall.
“If this intrusion and landslide activity continues, we may expect more large earthquakes, so people should continue to be careful near slopes due to the risk of rockfall,” says Sigurlaug. She told RÚV she is prepared for larger earthquakes to occur in these areas. “It’s quite possible to get a quake this far east on the peninsula up to magnitude 6.”
A large rock collapsed yesterday from the Gálga cliffs in Sundhnúk, north of Grindavík and a little east of the mountain Þorbjörn, according to Vísir.
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