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Earthquake swarm prompts civil protection alert

16.05.2022 - 13:35
Mynd: Einar Rafnsson / Einar Rafnsson
The state police civil protection department last night declared an uncertainty phase—the lowest of Iceland’s three elevated alert levels—due to the earthquake swarm that began yesterday near Eldvörp, on the Reykjanes peninsula. The civil protection department met yesterday evening to discuss the situation.

Six earthquakes over Magnitude 3 have occurred, and smaller quakes numbering 580 yesterday and over 50 so far today. The biggest quake was Magnitude 4.7, at 17.40 yesterday afternoon. 

“Increased seismic activity has taken place in recent weeks and earthquakes over Magnitude 4 have been recorded over the weekend,” a statement from the civil protection agency says. 

“Residents are encouraged to think about loose items and furniture that could fall over in earthquakes, and make especially sure that loose items cannot fall on people as they sleep. The Met Office has also drawn attention to the fact that rockfalls and landslides could occur on steep slopes and that it is good to be cautious close to steep slopes.” 

It was confirmed this lunchtime that nearly 1.5 million cubic metres of magma have accumulated underground not far from the Blue Lagoon, and that the land surface has risen several centimetres. Kristín Jónsdóttir, Met Office natural hazards group leader, confirmed to RÚV that such accumulation and surface rise are necessary precursors to a volcanic eruption, but added that they do not always lead to an eruption. 

What is an uncertainty phase? 

The civil protection uncertainty phase means that there is increased monitoring of events that could lead to a threat to the health and safety of people, the environment, or infrastructure. 

Hjördís Guðmundsdóttir, civil protection press officer, says the uncertainty phase is issued to inform the public of the situation and to prepare emergency services and other stakeholders. “But as scientists have said, it is nearly impossible to predict a volcanic eruption in an active volcanic system. It could happen tomorrow or in a decade.” 

Within the civil protection community, the uncertainty phase ensures closer and more regular communication and cooperation among agencies as diverse as the met office, the police, the University of Iceland earth sciences school, search & rescue teams, and media, among others. 

Uncertainty phase also in effect in January 

An uncertainty phase was last declared over the earthquake swarm on the Reykjanes peninsula which began on 21st December last year. That alert was eventually cancelled on 8th January.

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