Iceland has a high risk of volcanic eruptions

Copenhagen, Nov. 13 (Reuters) – Seismic activity in southwest Iceland eased in magnitude and intensity on Monday, but the risk of a volcanic eruption remained significant, officials said after tremors in recent weeks and evidence of magma spreading underground.

Nearly 4,000 people were evacuated over the weekend as authorities feared molten rock would rise to the surface and hit a coastal town and geothermal power plant.

Located between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, one of the largest on the planet, Iceland is a seismic and volcanic hot spot because the two plates move in opposite directions.

The Icelandic Meteorological Office said on Monday there was a “significant chance” of an eruption in the coming days on or beyond the Reykjanes peninsula near the capital Reykjavík, even as the magnitude and intensity of the quakes decreased.

“We believe this intrusion is sitting at equilibrium just below the Earth’s surface,” said Matthew James Roberts, director of the Met Office’s service and research division.

“We have this huge uncertainty right now. Will there be an explosion and, if so, what kind of damage?” he said.

Thorvaldur Thordarson, professor of volcanology at the University of Iceland, said recent reports suggest there is little risk of an eruption in the area around Grindavik.

People in Grindavik described their homes being washed away, roads cracked and buildings damaged in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Belgian-born Hans Vera, 56, who has lived in Iceland since 1999, said his family’s home was constantly shaken.

“You’re never steady, it was always shaking, so there was no way to sleep,” said Vera, who is now staying at her sister-in-law’s house on the outskirts of Reykjavík.

“Not only the people of Grindavik, but the whole of Iceland are shocked about this situation.”

Almost all of the town’s 3,800 residents have found shelter with family members or friends, and only 50 to 70 are staying in evacuation centers, a rescue official said.

Some evacuees were allowed back into the city on Sunday to collect belongings such as documents, medicine or pets, but were not allowed to drive themselves.

“You have to park your car five kilometers from the city, there are 20 cars, big rescue team cars, 20 policemen, flashing lights, it’s unreal, it’s like a war zone, it’s very strange,” Vera said.

The Reykjanes Peninsula is a volcanic and seismic hotspot southwest of the capital. In March 2021, lava fountains spectacularly erupted from a 500-750 meter-long fissure in the region’s Fakradalsfjal volcanic system.

Volcanic activity continued in the area for six months that year, prompting thousands of Icelanders and tourists to visit the site. In August 2022, a three-week eruption occurred in the same area, followed by another eruption in July this year.

(Reporting by Louis Rasmussen, Tom Little, Jacob Kronholdt-Pedersen and Johannes Birkback in Copenhagen, Ilse Filks in Stockholm and Essie Lehto in Helsinki Editing by Alex Richardson

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