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Analysis: how big is the volcano threat?

02.03.2021 - 13:14
Mynd: Freyr Arnarson / Freyr Arnarson
The last volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula was around 800 years ago and, if geological records are any guide, another one is overdue. New satellite imagery yesterday, reviewed and analysed by the civil protection science council, shows more surface movement than measurements on the ground had picked up in recent days.
  • The video above is from RÚV’s Kveikur programme just over one year ago when Grindavík was at the centre of a major earthquake swarm. Many of the details have changed, but the documentary remains interesting and relevant today. It is subtitled in English. 

The outlook changed yesterday afternoon 

Earth scientists had believed an eruption was an unlikely consequence of the current earthquake swarm on the Reykjanes peninsula, but opinions changed yesterday afternoon. Now, the scientific council believes the likeliest explanation for the surface movement is magma flow below the surface where the majority of earthquakes have been taking place over the past six days. As a result, one scenario is now that magma intrusion will continue close to Fagradalsfjall and that the future will see either a slowing and cooling of the intrusion, or a possible lava eruption that would likely not endanger any buildings or infrastructure. 

Infrastructure not at risk 

The volcano and natural disasters research group at the University of Iceland has prepared a map of likely lava flow areas if an eruption were to take place—though there are no signs of an eruption at this time. Professor Þorvaldur Þórðarson told RÚV yesterday that although Reykjanes is ‘overdue’ an eruption, that could mean one happens in the next year, the next decade, or a century from now. 

He says the predicted lava flow would be far from inhabited areas and infrastructure, apart from possibly a section of Reykjanesbraut—the main road between the capital and Keflavík/Reykjanesbær. 

Important to stay informed 

Þorvaldur also discussed the need to balance the flow of information from scientists and authorities carefully against public anxiety and the possibility of exposing differences or rivalry between any of the branches of the earth sciences. The conversation must remain matter-of-fact, he says.

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