A volcano that spat out brilliant red lava near the Icelandic capital Reykjavik after awakening for the first time in 900 years appeared to subside on Saturday, posing no danger to people, experts said.
Streams of red lava bubbled and flowed from a fissure in a valley in Geldingadalur, near Mount Fagradalsfjall on the Reykjanes Peninsula in southwest Iceland.
As the lava flow slowed in the rain showers on Saturday, a plume of blue gas and a cloud of vapor rose from the site, just 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the capital and close to a popular tourist destination. , the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa.
The eruption occurred around 8:45 p.m. GMT on Friday, lighting the night sky with a crimson glow as hundreds of small earthquakes rocked the region.
While Icelandic Keflavik International Airport and the small fishing port of Grindavik are only a few kilometers away, the area is uninhabited and the eruption presented no danger to the public.
“The eruption is considered small at this point and volcanic activity has subsided somewhat since last night,” the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO), which monitors seismic activity, said on Saturday.
He said the “eruptive fissure” measured about 500 to 700 meters (1,640 to 2,300 feet).
The lava area, he added, was less than one square kilometer (0.4 square mile), with small lava fountains.
Speaking to reporters, University of Iceland geophysicist Magnus Tumi Gudmundsson described the valley as an “ideal” location for the eruption, comparing it to “a tub that lava can slowly seep into.”
IMO Seismic Risk Coordinator Kristin Jonsdottir said it was “very likely that the eruption will last for the next few days.”
Friday’s eruption took place in the Krysuvik volcanic system, which lacks a central volcano, about three miles inland from the south coast.
Sigurdur Kristmundsson, a 54-year-old port official in Grindavik, told AFP residents were elated by the eruption.
“No one is in danger or anything like that. So I think people are excited and not afraid of it. ”
Sleeping for 900 years
Access to the area was initially blocked but then opened to the public, although the Icelandic Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management stressed that the several-hour hike from the nearest road was not recommended only for those “used to being outdoors in difficult conditions”.
Gases from a volcanic eruption – especially sulfur dioxide – can be high in the immediate vicinity and can pose a health hazard and even be fatal.
Gaseous pollution can also be carried by the wind.
“Currently, gas pollution is not expected to cause much discomfort to people except near the source of the eruption. Gas emissions will be closely monitored, ”IMO said.
The Krysuvik system has been inactive for 900 years, according to IMO, while the last eruption on the Reykjanes Peninsula dates back almost 800 years and lasted around 30 years, from 1210 to 1240.
But the region had been under heightened surveillance for several weeks after a magnitude 5.7 earthquake was recorded on February 24 near Mount Keilir, on the outskirts of Reykjavik.
Since then, more than 50,000 small tremors have been recorded and magma has been detected just one kilometer below the Earth’s surface in recent days near Fagradalsfjall.
Geophysicist Gudmundsson said the eruption signaled a new period “that could last for centuries with eruptions, perhaps 10 to 100 years apart.”
Land of fire and ice
Iceland has 32 volcanic systems currently considered active, the highest number in Europe. The country has had an eruption every five years on average.
The vast island near the Arctic Circle straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a fissure in the ocean floor separating the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.
The displacement of these plates is partly responsible for the intense volcanic activity of Iceland.
The most recent eruption took place in Holuhraun, starting in August 2014 and ending in February 2015, in the Bardarbunga volcanic system in an uninhabited area in the center of the island.
This eruption did not cause major disturbances outside the immediate vicinity.
But in 2010, an eruption at Eyjafjallajokull volcano sent huge clouds of smoke and ash into the atmosphere, disrupting air traffic for more than a week and canceling more than 100,000 flights worldwide, which left some 10 million passengers stranded.
© Agence France-Presse