Natural Disasters

What do we know about the thousands of tectonic quakes in Iceland?

The country witnessed 800 earthquakes in 14 hours; over 2,000 earthquakes in the last few days

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 17 November 2023

With more than 800 earthquakes in 14 hours and over 2,000 earthquakes in the last few days, the country of Iceland has declared a state of emergency.

Iceland, home to hundreds of volcanoes, has already begun evacuations over a potential volcanic eruption following the earthquakes.

The official statement from Iceland’s Meteorological Office noted that the “likelihood of a volcanic eruption occurring in the near future is deemed considerable.”

So, what do we know about the thousands of tectonic quakes?

Many of the quakes, exceeding magnitude 5.0 on the Richter scale, have occurred on the Reykjanes Peninsula on Iceland’s southwestern coast. The peninsula is home to the fishing town of Grindavik, with a population of  3,400 people. The Reykjanes peninsula is also a  volcanic and seismic hot spot.

Hundreds of small earthquakes have been shaking the Reykjanes Peninsula area around Mount Thorbjorn every day for more than two weeks, according to reports. This is deemed due to a buildup of volcanic magma some 5 kilometres underground. Since October 27, land in the region has risen by 9 centimetres, according to the Icelandic Met Office (IMO). 

The IMO said it is concerned that large amounts of magma are spreading underground and could surface there. Iceland, which sits above a volcanic hotspot in the North Atlantic, averages an eruption every four to five years. The Reykjanes Peninsula includes a volcanic system that has erupted three times since 2021, after being dormant for 800 years. 

According to officials, the residents of Grindavik were successfully evacuated into safety zones following the quakes. Some evacuees were also briefly allowed back into the town to collect belongings. Following the volcanic alert, authorities have closed down Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, a world-renowned geothermal pool. 

The Aviation Color Code was also elevated to orange on November 10, indicating an increased likelihood of eruption that could result in engine loss and navigational failure for aircraft.

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