TechMagma intrusion threatens Icelandic town as a volcano prepares to erupt

Magma intrusion threatens Icelandic town as a volcano prepares to erupt

Lava flowing into the Nátthagi valley during the eruption of the Fagradalsfjall volcano.
Lava flowing into the Nátthagi valley during the eruption of the Fagradalsfjall volcano.
Images source: © Icelandic Meteorological Office | Björn Oddsson

5:58 PM EST, November 11, 2023

The Icelandic Meteorological Office has declared that the town of Grindavik is under threat due to a magma intrusion. The Fagradalsfjall volcano is to blame, and authorities have made a rapid decision to evacuate local residents.

In Iceland, volcanic eruptions are quite common due to the island's location at the convergence of the significant North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The material from the Earth's mantle often surfaces here, leading to recurring seismic activities and volcanic eruptions. Presently, these natural occurrences pose a threat to the population.

A closer look at Fagradalsfjall, the threatening Icelandic volcano

Situated south of Reykjavík, the Fagradalsfjall volcano is one of six volcanic systems on the Reykjanes Peninsula. It last erupted in March 2021, marking its first major activity in 800 years. The eruption lasted for six months, covering an area of nearly two square miles with lava. The volcano erupted once again in 2022, continuing for three months and covering half a square mile with additional layers of magma.

The Icelandic Meteorological Office suggests that the current situation strikingly resembles the eruption activity from 2021. Approximately 2,400 earthquakes have been recorded within the country's southwest region since October. The undulating peninsula dotted with volcanoes represents the epicenter of the seismic activity, with conditions becoming increasingly hazardous.

Since November 10, earthquakes have been noticeable as deep as 10 to 11 feet, brought on by shifting magma that could reach the surface within a matter of days. The seismic activity has been shifting southwards towards the town of Grindavik, home to roughly 4000 inhabitants.

The town at risk of magma intrusion

Magma is continuing its approach to the town, prompting authorities to order an evacuation. The roads leading to Grindavik are currently closed, with inhabitants of the southwest portions being the first to leave. The Icelandic Civil Defense Agency emphasizes that this evacuation is purely precautionary.

Recent reports indicate that the magma tunnel has reached the town and crossed the coastline. It is now expanding under the sea. The Icelandic Meteorological Office predicts an eruption near Sundhnjúkagígar, north of Grindavik, could occur soon.

Still, an intrusion of magma implies that citizens should also be wary of more than just the flowing lava. The phenomenon, often likened to a "hot burrow," can be hazardous even if it doesn't erupt. As the magma moves towards the Earth's crust's shallow regions, it may push between rocks, heating and fracturing them. Consequently, the town could sustain extensive damage, even if it isn't at the eruption's epicenter.

Related content