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Analysing success of ‘tourist eruption’

19.10.2021 - 13:28
Úr umfjöllun Kveiks um eldfjöll á Íslandi sem eru í stöðugri vöktun.
 Mynd: Kveikur
The volcano at Geldingadalir/Fagradalsfjall has not produced lava for four weeks and there are many indications the eruption may be over. Around 400,000 people have visited it so far and the accident prevention project manager at the national search & rescue agency says it will remain a big attraction for years to come. Organisation at the volcano has gone well, it can be claimed.

Despite the extended absence of new lava flow, more time must pass before the eruption is declared over, according to information from the Met Office. Either way, live webcams still show a steady stream of visitors to the brand-new lava field, and access to the site has never been better. 

“We have to view it as a tourist attraction. That is to say, if the eruption is accessible and we are going to let visitors access it. In the eruption on Reykjanes, we did that for the most part very well. The decision was taken right away: ‘okay, people want to see this, we are going to let them watch it and we are going to build up some sort of infrastructure to help them see it'. And that was in many ways different to what we did during the eruptions at Holuhraun and Fimmvörðuháls,” explains ICE-SAR project manager Jónas Guðmundsson. 

Within a few days of the start of the eruption, work was already underway to peg out a hiking route. Jónas says it was a question of muddling through and getting on with the work first, and waiting for the funding second.  

“Overall, it has gone well. We can see that there have been 350,000-400,000 people visiting, and 350 accidents, which is just 0.1 percent, which is not a high number given the conditions that were there: winter, mountainous terrain, a volcano.” 

Asked what could have gone better to prepare, Jónas says: “We should perhaps have sat down and established phases or stages, as is done in New Zealand and doubtless elsewhere, saying if earth movements are at this stage, then we should implement this or that process. There will be more eruptions. We don’t know where or when. But it is clear that people will once again flock to the eruption, wherever it will be. Domestic tourists and foreign. So we just need to have our plan of action ready.” 

Iceland has 30 active volcanic systems, which means eruptions are possible in many locations around the country. Current scientific monitoring is most intense around Keilir, Askja, and Grímsvötn. There is also monitoring at Hekla and Katla, which are, along with Grímsvötn, the country’s most active volcanoes. 

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