Icelandic Volcano Erupts After 6,000 Years of Dormancy

It was the first eruption in southwestern Iceland in nearly 800 years

Iceland currently has 30 active volcanoes and is known for its frequent seismic and volcanic activity. (Vilhelm Gunnarsson/Getty Images)
smithsonianmag.com

A volcano in southwestern Iceland exploded with radiating waves of molten lava last Friday, reports the Associated Press.

The sight was met with much anticipation and excitement after seismic activity in the area increased within the past few weeks. The Reykjanes peninsula, not far from the country's capital Reykjavik, hasn't witnessed a volcanic eruption in 800 years, reports Alyse Stanley for Gizmodo. The volcano Mount Fagradalsfjall has been dormant for 6,000 years, AP reports.

The Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) first spotted the eruption through a webcam and later confirmed the eruption using thermal satellite imaging, Gizmodo reports. After the initial eruption spewed a fountain of lava nearly 100 yards into the air, the flow slowed, heading southwest and west. The explosion is considered small, with lava leeching from a 546-yard-long fissure vent. Below the surface, its magma area covered about 0.4 square miles, reports Gizmodo. Since its eruption on Friday, the volcanic activity has decreased and poses no threat to humans because the flare-up was minor and did not spew out much ash, the BBC reports.

Iceland is known for its frequent seismic and volcanic activity, with 30 currently active volcanoes. The country sits along two tectonic plates separated by an underwater mountain-range that flows with molten rock, reports Mike Ives and Elian Peltier for the New York Times. Judging by the geologic history of the area, researchers expect to see more eruptions in the coming decades, possibly for up to the next 200 years, the New York Times reports.

Before an eruption takes place, earthquakes may occur when magma pushes through the plates. Increases in seismic activity rocked Iceland after an initial 5.7-magnitude earthquake occurred on February 24. The initial quake kicked off various tremors, alerting scientists that an eruption might occur, the New York Times reports. Just before the volcanic eruption, IMO said there were 400 earthquakes within a seven hour span, reports Li Cohen for CBS.

“It confirms the nature of the activity we monitored in the past few weeks,” says Páll Einarsson, a professor emeritus of geophysics at the University of Iceland, to the New York Times. “Increased seismic activity can mean magma movement and can augur eruptions.”

The eruption site is open to the public and can be accessed through a several-hour-long hike from the nearest road, reports the BBC. But, the IMO still warns people to take caution.

“The area of the eruption is considered very dangerous,” the IMO said in a statement. “The eruption site can change without notice and put people at risk unexpectedly.”

The hike did not stop adventurers wanting to see the rich flowing magma for themselves. Social media platforms are filled with mesmerizing photos, video and drone footage of the lava flow. Those curious to see the volcano spew magma for themselves can tune into a live stream supported by Iceland’s national broadcasting platform RUV, reports Matt Novak for Gizmodo.

About Elizabeth Gamillo
Elizabeth Gamillo

Elizabeth Gamillo is a science journalist based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She has written for Science magazine as their 2018 AAAS Diverse Voices in Science Journalism Intern.

Read more from this author |
Tags

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus