The Icelandic Meteorological Office says the likelihood of an eruption is now significant following weeks of seismic activity in the Eldvörp-Svartsengi volcanic system that centred heavily on the Sundhnúkar crater row on November 10.
The geological unrest came to a head on Friday night, when the density and magnitude of earthquakes were such that numerous residents of Grindavík — a town of roughly 3,800 people on the south coast of the Reykjanes peninsula — began packing their belongings to move to less shaky ground. As the earthquakes continued and the met office’s measurements identified a lava intrusion had formed under the town, Grindavík was ordered to evacuate just ahead of midnight on Friday.
The met office has measured more than 800 earthquakes from midnight to noon on Nov. 11. “Most of the recent earthquakes have occurred close to Grindavík, where the southwest end of the magmatic dyke is estimated to be located,” reads a statement from the met office.
The magma intrusion is 1.5 km beneath the surface at its shallowest point just north of Grindavík.
According to the met office, “Joint interpretation of the ground and satellite measurements indicate that the size of the magma intrusion and the rate at which it is moving are several times larger than have been measured previously on the Reykjanes Peninsula. Our assessment is that an eruption, if it were to occur, will originate from the northern side of the magma intrusion. This means that there is a greater likelihood of an eruption beginning close to Sundhnjúkagígur.”
Quick developments Friday
Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson announced the evacuation of Grindavík during a televised press conference at 23:20 Friday. While he stressed that it was not an “emergency evacuation” (which would necessitate that residents vacate the area in 30 minutes), he mandated that residents leave within two to three hours of his announcement. They were instructed to cut the power to their homes, close their windows and post a note in a street-facing door or window indicating the home has been vacated.
All have now left Grindavík save for emergency responders.
The Department of Civil Protection simultaneously raised their alert level to an Emergency/Distress Phase (Neyðarstig). This alert level is “characterized by an event which has already begun and could lead, or already has led to, harm to people, communities, properties or the environment. At this stage, immediate measure are taken to ensure security, save lives and prevent casualties, damage and or loss.”
What is happening beneath the surface?
The dramatic uptick in activity around Grindavík came after the closure of popular tourist attraction The Blue Lagoon earlier in the week.
The Grapevine visited the area outside Grindavík on Nov. 8 with volcanologist Þorvaldur Þórðarson to get a better understanding of what it going on underground. Þorvaldur told the Grapevine at the time the worst case scenario in terms of damage to infrastructure would be for magma to reach the surface at Sundhnúkar — precisely where it now seems most likely to erupt.
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