Land of Fire and Ice: Will the Grindavik eruption in Iceland be another Eyjafjallajokull?

For now, the eruption does not present a threat to life, according to the Icelandic government  

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Tuesday 19 December 2023
A photo of the eruption near Grindvaik. Credit: @Vedurstofan / X

The Government of Iceland has assured that a volcanic eruption that began not far from the country’s capital on the night of December 18 local time, “does not present a threat to life”, The Guardian reported.

The eruption began at 10.17 pm local time between Sýlingarfell and Hagafell, just north of the fishing town of Grindavik. The town is located on the Reykjanes Peninsula in the southwest of the country.

At the end of the peninsula and towards the mainland, lies the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik. Greater Reykjavik, which consists of the capital city and a number of other municipalities, was home to 63 per cent of the Icelandic population as of January 1, 2023, according to Statistics Iceland, the main institute providing information about the North Atlantic country.

The 3,800 residents of Grindavik were evacuated on November 10, amid rising and severe seismic activity.

“An eruption has begun near the evacuated town of Grindavík. Our priorities remain to protect lives and infrastructure. Civil Defence has closed off the affected area. We now wait to see what the forces of nature have in store. We are prepared and remain vigilant,” Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson, the president of Iceland, posted on X (formerly Twitter).

The Guardian also quoted the Icelandic Met Office as saying that “the eruptive fissure is about 4 km long” and that the “distance from the southern end to the edge of Grindavík is almost 3 km”.

‘Land of Fire and Ice’

Iceland has long been influenced by forces of geography and geology. The country is located just south of the Arctic Circle in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Iceland is located on the Mid Atlantic Ridge. The Ridge is actually the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. It is mostly submarine, running along the length of the Atlantic from north to south. However, in the North Atlantic, it rises over the ocean surface in the form of the island of Iceland.

This feature of its geology has given rise to Iceland’s unique landscape made up of geysers (hot springs), glaciers, mountains, volcanoes and lava fields. Iceland is home to 33 active volcanoes, the highest in Europe, the AFP news agency reported.

This unique landscape has given Iceland the epithet, ‘Land of Fire and Ice’. The country was only settled by humans in 874, when the first Norsemen (Vikings) arrived from Scandinavia (mostly Norway, but also Sweden and Denmark) and founded Reykjavik.

However, the Reykjanes Peninsula has not seen volcanic eruptions for the last 800 years, AFP added. The current eruption is the fourth it has experienced in less than three years, it added. These eruptions could be a new era of volcanic activity on the peninsula, it quoted experts as saying.

The last time a volcanic eruption in Iceland captured the eyes of the world was in 2010, when Eyjafjallajokull, a volcano on the island’s south coast, erupted.

The volcano erupted briefly first on March 20. It then erupted a second time on April 14. The resultant ash cloud spread from western Siberia to the eastern seaboard of North America.

Air traffic, especially on the busy North Atlantic route, was disrupted for six days from April 15-21. This was the longest time air traffic in Europe was disrupted since World War II, according to the journal Science.

The Guardian quoted Matthew Watson, professor of volcanoes and climate at the University of Bristol, as saying: “It is unlikely, but not impossible that there may be some impact on air travel.”

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