(Reykjavik) – The town of Grindavik in southwestern Iceland, with a population of about 4,000 people, was evacuated overnight from Friday to Saturday due to fears of a volcanic eruption near homes, civil protection authorities said on Saturday.
Iceland declared a state of emergency on Friday after a series of strong earthquakes shook the southwest of the Reykjanes Peninsula, which could be a precursor to a volcanic eruption near Sundhingjokajijar, about three kilometers north of Grindavik.
Iceland’s meteorological service initially said the eruption was likely “days, not hours” away after observing magma accumulating underground at a depth of about five kilometres, over several days.
But late Friday, meteorological services noted that seismic activity was approaching the surface and that magma was beginning to rise vertically toward the crust between Sundhnjokajijar and Grindavík, indicating the possibility of an eruption sooner.
The authorities decided to evacuate Grindavik after the meteorological services said that “it is possible that magma has spread under Grindavik.”
“At this stage, it is not possible to determine exactly whether and where magma may reach the surface,” they said.
However, the weather service noted that “the amount of magma present is much greater than observed during the larger magma intrusions associated with Vagradalsfjall eruptions.”
There have been three eruptions near Fagradalsfjall on the Reykjanes Peninsula, in March 2021, August 2022, and July 2023.
However, these three explosions occurred far from any infrastructure or populated areas. Grindavik, about 40 kilometers southwest of the capital Reykjavik, is located near the Blue Lagoon geothermal resort, a popular tourist destination that was temporarily closed earlier this week as a precaution.
The city is also located close to the Svartsinji geothermal power plant, which is the main supplier of electricity and water for 30,000 residents of the Reykjanes Peninsula.
The International Maritime Organization said 500 earthquakes were recorded in the region between 1 p.m. Friday and 1 a.m. Saturday, including 14 with a magnitude greater than 4.
Iceland has 33 active volcanic systems, the highest number in Europe.
This North Atlantic island lies on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a fissure in the ocean floor that separates the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.