sábado, junio 15

Icelandic volcano erupts near Grindavik after weeks of earthquakes

A volcano in southwest Iceland, the country’s most populous region, began erupting Monday with fountains of lava rising into the air and a glow illuminating the sky miles away in center of the capital, Reykjavik.

The location of the crack, which is about 4 km long and spreading rapidly, is not far from the Svartsengi power station and the town of Grindavík, which was evacuated last month due to a increased seismic activity, raising fears of a probable eruption.

In an initial assessment Monday evening, volcanologists said the eruption occurred in one of the worst possible locations, posing a significant and immediate threat to both the evacuated town and the geothermal power plant.

But after volcanologists had the chance to fly over the site of the eruption on the Reykjanes Peninsula, the immediate situation does not appear as dire as initially feared, even though the scale of the eruption was greater than expected and the direction of the lava flow still unpredictable. .

“It’s bigger than previous eruptions in Reykjanes,” Magnus Gudmundsson, a volcanologist and one of the first to observe the eruption from the air, told the New York Times.

Lava is currently flowing just 2.5 kilometers north of Grindavík, or 1.6 miles, according to Kristín Jonsdottir, head of the Icelandic Weather Bureau’s volcanic activity department.

Whatever the scale of the eruption, the town of Grindavík having been evacuated, it currently poses no risk to the population, police official Ulfar Ludviksson told the press.

Authorities nevertheless warned people not to get too close. Hjordis Gudmundsdottir, a spokesperson for the Department of Civil Protection, urged people to stay away from the area, stressing that it was «not a tourist volcano.»

“The size of the cracks is increasing rapidly,” she said in an interview.

While an eruption had been expected for weeks, following a series of earthquakes, Monday’s eruption occurred without any immediate warning. The nearby Blue Lagoon, one of Iceland’s top tourist destinations, reopened to visitors on Sunday as fears of an imminent eruption eased.

Thousands of earthquakes have been detected in Iceland since the end of October, according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office. In November, after homes and roads were damaged, authorities declared a state of emergency and evacuated Grindavik, a town of more than 3,000 residents near the volcano.

In the past two years alone, four eruptions have occurred on the Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland’s most populated region and home to its capital. When Grindavik was ordered to be evacuated on November 11, authorities said in a statement that the country was «highly prepared for such events.»

“Iceland has one of the most effective volcano preparedness measures in the world,” it said on its website.

Authorities raised the air alert to orange because a volcanic eruption could pose a risk to planes flying in the North Atlantic if ash was thrown into the sky.

But on Monday evening, Iceland’s main airport, Keflavik, remained open, and that eruption did not produce ash that could stop flights.

One of the most memorable eruptions in Iceland’s recent past involved the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010. Although this eruption was relatively small and caused no deaths, the impact was widespread as the ash cloud which grounded much of European air travel for more than a week.

The Eyjafjallajokull volcano (pronounced EYE-a-fyat-la-jo-kutl) was dormant for almost two centuries before coming back to life more than 13 years ago.

Volcanic eruptions are not uncommon in Iceland, which has fewer than 400,000 people and about 130 volcanoes. Since the 19th century, not a decade has gone by without such a site, the Icelandic tourism website tells interested visitors. The occurrence of eruptions remains “entirely random”.

The country straddles two tectonic plates, which in turn are divided by an underwater mountain range that oozes hot, molten rock, or magma.

The current seismic activity has not affected one of Iceland’s best-known volcanoes, Katla, which some scientists fear was due to an eruption. Katla has erupted five times since 1721, at intervals ranging from 34 to 78 years. The last major event dates back to 1918.