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Lava tops barriers as small earthquake draws attention

25.05.2021 - 13:50
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 Mynd: skjáskot af Facebook - RÚV
There have been very few noticeable earthquakes since the Fagradalsfjall volcanic eruption started, but a Magnitude 3.4 quake was felt in the capital region at 21.30 last night. Its epicentre was 4.7 km north-east of Brennisteinsfjöll, in the area scientists have predicted a possible larger earthquake. That possibility still exists, they say. In other news, lava has breached both protective earth barriers and could cover Suðurstrandarvegur road within a few weeks.

Engineers are considering the options available.

Natural hazards specialist Einar Bessi Gestsson told RÚV that last night’s small earthquake might be a precursor a quake of Magnitude 6 to 6.5. Such a large quake in the Brennisteinsfjöll area has been flagged as a possibility by experts since early this year, though it is not possible to predict with certainty when or if it will happen. 

“There has been talk of the possibility of bigger quakes in this area and we see examples of that in history, when there are such active periods as we are seeing now on the Reykjanes peninsula. Larger quakes have accompanied such periods,” Einar Bessi said. 

Such a large shake would not be expected to cause any significant structural damage, but loose items, such as ornaments on shelves, would be at risk. Many people had secured loose items during the earthquake swarm before the volcano erupted, but some may have moved loose items back again now. 

The last Magnitude 6 quakes in the Bláfjöll/Brennisteinsfjöll area occurred in 1968 and 1929. 

Lava threat to road 

All possible ways to protect Suðurstrandarvegur road, and the fibre optic cable that runs along it, are currently being examined after lava breached both earth walls and started flowing into Nátthagi this weekend. If nothing is done, part of the road could be destroyed within the coming several weeks. Sacrificing the road is one of the options under investigation, as engineers investigate both the practicality and the cost of all options available to them. It is possible the cable could even be better insulated and allowed to be covered by the advancing lava field. 

The engineer in charge points out that to stop the lava completely, a whole new mountain would be required. Her job is to help work out what it is possible to save for a cost that is acceptable. She notes with some optimism that although lava has flowed over the barriers erected last week, they remain structurally intact. 

The footage below, shared on social media, shows the impressive scene when lava topped the barrier and started flowing from the nameless valley in Meradalir and down into Nátthagi. 

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