Another Volcanic Eruption Hits Iceland, Launching Lava More Than 160 Feet Into the Air

It’s the fifth eruption near the town of Grindavik since December, signaling a new era of volcanic activity for the region

Aerial photo of lava and spurting from the ground and smoke rising above it
A helicopter photographs lava and ash from the May 29 eruption in Iceland. The surrounding area has been evacuated. BIRN ODDSON / ALMANNAVARNADEILD (ICELAND PUBLIC DEFENSE) / HANDOUT via Getty Images

For the fifth time since December, a volcanic eruption has occurred on Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula. The surrounding area has been evacuated once again, and people are being advised to stay away.

The eruption expelled a “substantial lava flow” and released gas pollution that was blown to the area of Reykjavik, the country’s capital, located 25 miles away. It started at 12:46 p.m. local time on Wednesday, according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office. As of 2:15 that afternoon, lava had flowed more than half a mile to the west, and the volcanic plume reached more than two miles into the air. Lava fountains reached nearly 165 feet above the ground.

“It is totally surreal to be here today,” Benjamin Hardman, a natural history cinematographer who was near the volcano when it erupted, told BBC News’ Thomas Mackintosh and Kathryn Armstrong on Wednesday. “This is a strange time on the Reykjanes peninsula.”

As of Thursday afternoon local time, volcanic activity had dropped significantly, per RUV, the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service. Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson, a geophysicist at the University of Iceland, tells the publication that this eruption is the biggest of the series so far.

LIVE 30.05.24 , Day 2 New volcano eruption in Iceland drone live stream (part 1)

The area’s previous eruption started March 16 and lasted 54 days, until May 8. Since then, magma was accumulating beneath the surface, and experts suspected another eruption was coming as hundreds of earthquakes shook the region in the last week.

Officials evacuated the nearby town of Grindavik and surrounding areas, as well as 700 to 800 people at the nearby Blue Lagoon spa, per RUV. Before the first eruption started last year, most of Grindavik’s 4,000 residents were permanently evacuated.

Defensive barriers have been constructed around Grindavik, the Blue Lagoon and the Svartsengi power plant, which is a source of electricity and water for thousands of residents. Officials cut off electricity to Grindavik as a precautionary measure, since lava flow over a live line could damage the power plant.

In the late afternoon on Wednesday, magma came into contact with groundwater, leading to explosive releases of steam and ash. In an evening update, the meteorological office said “there is still considerable lava fountaining on the main part of the fissure,” and that lava was flowing “vigorously” from the southern end of the fissure. Lava now blocks most routes to Grindavik and has reached defense walls around the town.

All flights to and from Iceland are operating normally. Officials strongly discourage people from going to the site of the eruption.

Before 2021, the Reykjanes Peninsula volcanoes had been quiet for about 800 years, Smithsonian magazine’s Maya Wei-Haas reported in February. But now, these frequent eruptions are signaling the region has entered a new era of volcanic activity that could last for as long as centuries. This eruption is the eighth on the peninsula since 2021.

The Reykjanes Peninsula experiences a 1,000-year cycle of volcanic activity as the two tectonic plates beneath it get pulled apart, Live Science’s Hannah Osborne reported in November. That periodic activity appears to be ramping up.

“Each eruption releases just a bit more of the stored-up strain, and eventually, when all of that strain has been released, then the eruptions will stop,” David Pyle, a volcanologist at the University of Oxford in England, told Live Science at the time.

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