Icelandic volcanic region “could disrupt for centuries” | News from the world

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Volcanic activity is intensifying in an area of ​​Iceland that has not erupted in 800 years, scientists warn that it could disrupt the centuries to come.

Since January 21, the Reykjanes Peninsula, southwest of the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik, has experienced more than 8,000 earthquakes and about 10 cm of earth uprising due to magma intrusions underground.

“It appears that after being relatively inactive for several centuries, this region is waking up,” said Dave McGarvie, volcanologist at the University of Lancaster.

Located near the town of Grindavík and the popular tourist attraction Blue Lagoon, and only nine miles (15 km) from Iceland International Airport, the region last exploded about 800 years ago (although there have been more recent eruptions offshore). Geological evidence shows that the region is fed by five volcanic systems, which appear to come to life in a coordinated fashion approximately every 1000 years.

Reykjanes Map

The last period of volcanic activity on the peninsula began in the 10th century and continued until the 13th century. Unlike typical Icelandic volcanoes, which tend to wake up for a few years and then die out, when this region turns on, it seems to activate and die out for up to 300 years, producing eruptive episodes ( locally called “fires”) which last a few years. decades. Long thin cracks known as cracks extend up to five miles (8 km), producing lava fountains, usually without large amounts of ash or explosive activity.

The most recent “fires” occurred between 12:10 p.m. and 12:40 p.m. and covered approximately 50 km2 of land in lava. At least six separate eruptions have occurred, each lasting weeks or months, interspersed with gaps of up to 12 years without activity. Fragments and particles of volcanic rock were carried tens of kilometers by wind and written sources report that rockfall has caused problems for livestock in the region.

If a similar series of eruptions occurred today, Iceland GeoSurvey calculates that the runways at Keflavík Airport could be covered with 2 cm of ash, temporarily stopping all flights.

“Wind direction during periods of ash production is critical – anything with a slight northern aspect will cause problems at the international airport and the Reykjavík metropolitan area,” said McGarvie.

“The worst case is that lava flows to the city of Grindavík,” said Kristín Jónsdóttir of the Icelandic Meteorological Bureau. “There are also other important infrastructure in the area, including a geothermal power plant. The supply of hot and cold water can be at risk, as can the roads, including the road between Reykjavík and Keflavík Airport. “

Icelanders are rarely baffled by volcanic activity, but will keep a very close eye on the Reykjanes Peninsula. Because eruptions are likely to be relatively small and occasional, they will be easier to manage than massive, sudden lava spills like the Laki eruption of 1783-84, but if the model is indeed on the verge of repeat, it will present a new type of challenge for Icelanders.

“The people of Reykjanes Peninsula and their descendants for several generations will need to be on their guard and ready to evacuate from time to time,” said McGarvie.

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