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Iceland volcano erupts, spewing lava and hitting roads

Iceland volcano erupts, spewing lava and hitting roads
The previous volcanic eruption in Iceland started on Jan 14 and lasted roughly two days.
PHOTO: Reuters

OSLO - A volcano in south-western Iceland erupted on Feb 8, for the third time since December 2023, pumping lava up to 80m into the air and disrupting life in the Reykjanes peninsula.

Fountains of bright-orange molten rock spewed from cracks in the ground and lava crossed a road near the Blue Lagoon - a luxury geothermal spa - which had closed its doors on Feb 8 due to the volcanic outbreak.

The lava flow also hit thermal-based water pipes in the region just south of the capital, Reykjavik, disrupting the supply of hot water to more than 20,000 people and leading the Civil Protection Agency to raise its alert level to emergency status.

The agency asked households and businesses to conserve electricity. Restoring hot water via an emergency pipeline that was already under construction could take days, it said.

Volcanic outbreaks in the Reykjanes peninsula are so-called fissure eruptions, which do not usually cause large explosions or significant dispersal of ash into the stratosphere.

However, scientists fear they could continue for years, and Icelandic authorities have started building dykes to divert burning lava flows away from homes and critical infrastructure.

The lava stream was now only about 1km from the peninsula's Svartsengi geothermal power plant, said Dr Rikke Pedersen, who heads the Nordic Volcanological Centre research group based in Reykjavik.

Protective dykes have been built in the area, and workers were trying to fill in small gaps along the road as the lava flowed.

"So they are really doing all they can to prevent lava reaching the power plant," she said.

The latest eruptive fissure, the sixth outbreak since 2021, was roughly 3km long, Iceland's meteorological office said.

Intense earthquake activity began at around 5.30am, with the eruption itself starting 30 minutes later, it added.

A plume of smoke rose 3km into the air, according to the Met Office.

Still, Reykjavik's international airport, around 20km north-west of the fissure, was operating as normal, airport operator Isavia said.

The previous eruption in the area started on Jan 14 and lasted roughly two days, with lava flows reaching the outskirts of the Grindavik fishing town, whose nearly 4,000 inhabitants had been evacuated, setting some houses alight.

The Feb 8 eruption took place some way from Grindavik and was unlikely to pose a direct threat to the town, Icelandic geophysicist Ari Trausti Gudmundsson told Reuters.

Iceland's President Gudni Johannesson posted an image of flames and smoke in the distance on social media, saying that was the view from his residence.


"As before, our thoughts are with the people of Grindavik who cannot reside in their beautiful town. This too shall pass," he wrote.

Despite downgrading the volcanic system's threat level, the local authorities have warned of further eruptions as land continued to rise in the area due to magma accumulating underground.

The Reykjanes peninsula alone has six active volcanic systems and could see eruptions on-and-off for decades or potentially even centuries, Dr Gudmundsson said.

Other parts of the country have more powerful volcanoes.

In 2010, ash clouds from eruptions at Eyafjallajokull in the south of Iceland spread over large parts of Europe, grounding some 100,000 flights and forcing hundreds of Icelanders to evacuate their homes.

But unlike Eyafjallajokull, the Reykjanes volcano systems are not trapped under glaciers and are thus not expected to cause similar-sized ash clouds.

Iceland, which is roughly the size of the US state of Kentucky, boasts more than 30 active volcanoes, making the north European island a prime destination for volcano tourism - a niche segment that attracts thousands of thrill seekers.

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