On a Monday night, 18 December 2023, a volcano on the Reykjanes Peninsula in southwest Iceland erupted after weeks of intense earthquakes. As the eruption spread over extensive areas in the region, the volcano emitted luminous orange streams of lava in swirling clouds of red smoke and the magma spewed along the ridge of a hill.
The meteorological office’s announcement after the eruption, stating, “Warning: eruption has started north of Grindavík by Hagafell,” the people were officially informed about the explosion. Nevertheless, Grindavík, the town with a population of 4,000, was evacuated in November due to seismic activity involving over 1,000 small earthquakes occurring within a 24-hour period in the area.
The severity of the eruption
On Tuesday, December 19th, the government assured that the eruption didn’t pose any threat to life and stated that the flights including both to and from Iceland weren’t disrupted by international flight corridors being open. Matthew Watson, a professor specializing in volcanoes and climate at the University of Bristol, depicted the eruption style with his words, “amongst the most spectacular ever seen”. He further emphasized how Reykjavik is a strong attraction for tourists by cautioning them that they must adhere closely to official guidance due to notable hazards, including the rapid emergence of new breakouts that can pose immediate risks to people.
Iceland’s prime minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, on the other hand, expressed her concerns and asserted her solidarity with the residents of Grindavík as they faced the reality of the “Earth opening up”. To make the citizens feel more relieved, she further emphasized the importance of allowing emergency responders the essential space to carry out their duties and urged the public to adhere to traffic instructions during this serious eruption.
A helicopter flying over the volcano
According to the Iceland Meteorological Office, the volcanic eruption began initially with the magma shifting towards the southwest, leading to a potential dissemination of the eruption in the direction of Grindavík. At that point, the scientists measured the fissure in the Earth's surface as approximately 2.1 miles in length, which suggests the rapid expansion of the lava caused by the eruption. Furthermore, the eruption was determined to be between 100 and 200 cubic meters (3,530 and 7,060 cubic ft) of lava per second, a rate several times higher than observed in previous eruptions in the region.
After the notable volcanic disaster, by Tuesday afternoon, the negative effects of the eruption showed a decrease as lava from the volcano seemed to be diverting away from the town. This offered a glimmer of hope that the houses in Grindavík, which had endured weeks of earthquakes, might be avoided from the immediate impacts of the lava flow. In recent years, even though numerous eruptions have occurred in the uninhabited regions on the Reykjanes Peninsula, the latest eruption happened in Grindavik where many people were located was a huge threat to the country. As a result, following the evacuation order in November, residents have been permitted to return to their homes between 7 am and 9 pm daily, with the reopening of some businesses but being restricted to staying overnight or wandering around the town.
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