Iceland Volcano Eruption Destroys Homes, May Signal a New Era of Frequent Activity

Fissures near Grindavík ejected lava for the second time in one month and engulfed three homes in the coastal fishing town

glowing lava erupting from a fissure and spreading across the ground
Lava flows from a fissure on the Reykjanes Peninsula in southwestern Iceland on January 14. Handout photo by the Icelandic Coast Guard via Getty Images

A volcano eruption has rocked the Icelandic town of Grindavík for the second time in less than a month. Residents were forced to evacuate beforehand, as earthquakes shook the region. Then, molten rock erupted from new fissures in the nation’s Reykjanes Peninsula. The lava flow seeped into the small fishing community, setting three nearby homes ablaze. 

Grindavik’s approximately 4,000-person population remains safe but disheartened, reports Reuters.

“This is serious, it’s basically as bad as it can possibly get. Although it might get even worse, who knows?” evacuated resident Jon Gauti Dagbjartsson tells the publication. “I actually live in the house that I was born in, and it’s a tough thought to think that this town might be over, and I would have to start all over somewhere else.”

The town was previously evacuated in November after tens of thousands of earthquakes signaled an eruption was coming and opened large cracks in the earth between Grindavík and the small mountain of Sýlingarfell to its north. The volcano eventually erupted on December 18, and residents were allowed to return to their homes four days later, writes Marco di Marco of the Associated Press (AP). 

Following the December eruption, emergency workers sprang into action to build defensive barriers around the community. Those walls curbed much of the lava flow of the new eruption and minimized extensive damage to the town. However, one of the new fissures opened entirely within the barricaded area, according to Icelandic broadcaster RUV

“We continue to hope for as good an outcome as possible, in the face of these tremendous forces of nature,” Iceland’s president, Gudni Th. Johannesson, said in a televised address on Sunday.

Iceland rests atop the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the divergent boundary separating the Eurasian and North American Plates in the North Atlantic. Encompassing some 32 active volcano systems, the island sees at least one eruption every four to five years. This most recent eruption, however, could signal the onset of an alarming trend. 

Volcanologist Evgenia Ilyinskaya tells BBC Breakfast that a period of persistent volcanic eruption, labeled the “New Reykjanes Fires,” may be beginning. The Reykjanes Fires, an extended series of intense volcanic activity, occurred on the peninsula in the early 13th century. 

Now, eruptions could plague Reykjanes “every few months or once a year, for several decades or several centuries,” Ilyinskaya tells the BBC. 

The latest eruption is the fifth on the peninsula since 2021. Seismicity and ground deformation data have revealed a sheet of magma moving beneath Grindavík, potentially reactivating existing fissures and introducing new ones, per a statement by the Icelandic Met Office (IMO).

“A daunting period of upheaval has begun on the Reykjanes Peninsula,” Johannesson said in his address.

Nevertheless, Iceland remains optimistic in the face of tragedy. And, in a turn of luck, the latest eruption is not predicted to spread ash into the air—unlike the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption, which launched massive ash plumes into the atmosphere, disrupting air travel across Europe. Flights in and out of Iceland have not been interrupted, and operations at the nearby Keflavík Airport are set to function as normal, says Gudjon Helgason, spokesperson for airport operator Isavia, to the AP. 

The eruption was a “black day for all of Iceland,” said the country’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, per BBC News’ Ruth Comerford. But “the sun will rise again.”

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.