Iceland Volcano Erupts for Third Time, Prompting Evacuations and Temporary Blue Lagoon Closure

Here’s what travelers heading to Iceland need to know.

A big plume of pink-tinged smoke from a volcanic eruption in Iceland with a flat snowy landscape in the foreground

On February 8, a volcano again erupted on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula.

Photo by Shutterstock

For the third time since December, a volcano erupted on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula, prompting evacuations and cutting off heat and hot water for thousands of residents. Also temporarily closed: the Blue Lagoon, one of Iceland’s top tourist destinations. While the famed geothermal spa remained unscathed, a main road leading to the lagoon and its adjacent hotels and restaurants was obstructed by lava.

The Blue Lagoon evacuated its facilities and will remain closed through at least Tuesday, February 13, as a precautionary measure, according to a statement on the company’s website, which added: “We will continue to closely follow the guidelines and recommendations of the authorities, working collaboratively with them to monitor the progression of events. This commitment aligns with our unwavering dedication to ensuring the safety and well-being of our valued guests and staff.”

The eruption started around 6 a.m. local time on Thursday, February 8, after about 30 minutes of “intense seismic activity,” in the area northeast of Mount Sýlingarfell, according to the Iceland Met Office (IMO), the country’s national weather service.

A fissure in the Earth nearly two miles wide opened, shooting fountains of lava upwards of 250 feet into the air, along with a volcanic plume (a column of volcanic particles and gases) that sprayed nearly two miles high. Within the first seven hours of the eruption, the volcano spewed an estimated 15 million cubic meters of lava.

Situated in southwest Iceland, the Reyksjanes peninsula is one of the country’s most densely populated areas, home to roughly 30,000 residents in a country of only about 375,000. Lava destroyed part of a pipeline that runs from the Svartsengi geothermal power plant to nearby towns as well as Keflavík Airport, leaving some 20,000 people without hot water and heat while winter temperatures have hovered around a frigid 21 degrees Fahrenheit.

A short footbridge over the icy blue water of the Blue Lagoon, surrounded by black rocks

The Blue Lagoon remained temporarily closed until at least February 13.

Courtesy of Chris Lawton/Unsplash

While officials are working to fix the pipe, Iceland’s Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management declared a state of emergency, prompting schools, museums, and other public institutions to close temporarily on Friday.

Just a few miles from the Blue Lagoon, Grindavík, a fishing town of about 3,800 residents, has been uninhabited since it was evacuated in November. The eruption in January caused cracks in the roads surrounding the town, and some homes were leveled by molten lava flow.

Keflavík Airport, the international airport and largest in Iceland, which is located on the Reykjanes peninsula, remains open for now. (The past three eruptions haven’t impacted air travel, unlike the Eyjafjallajokull volcano eruption in 2010 that spewed ash and smoke, grounding flights for more than a week.)

The U.S. Embassy in Reykjavík has issued another volcano alert, noting in a February 8 statement, “U.S. citizens are advised to monitor local news and government websites for detailed information and to follow Iceland Civil Protection instructions.”

As of Friday, the seismic activity had decreased, but the eruption continues to impact the region.

By Friday afternoon, the volcanic activity continued to diminish, with “no signs of eruptive activity,” according to the IMO. But there’s no telling how long the break could last. Before the eruption in 2021—which occurred in Geldingadalir valley, part of the Fagradalsfjall fissure system, about 10 miles east of the current seismic activity—the previous eruption on the Reyksjanes peninsula happened in 1240 C.E.

“The fact the peninsula returned to activity following 781 years of quiescence is very typical of what’s been observed in the geological record, and the expectation is that we’ll be witnessing frequent eruptions on the peninsula for years and years—perhaps centuries—to come,” says Loÿc Vanderkluysen, a volcanologist and associate professor of biodiversity, earth, and environmental science at Drexel University in Philadelphia. The previous active phase lasted roughly 400 years, he notes, from about 800 to 1240 C.E.

Facing the potential of years or centuries of volcanic activity on the peninsula, after the eruption in November, authorities in Iceland started building protective barriers upwards of three stories tall around the Svartsengi power plant in hopes of diverting lava flow from future eruptions. They also began building barriers around Grindavík, though these ultimately didn’t stop the lava from destroying several homes.

“It’s possible that Grindavik could be reoccupied or rebuilt if activity migrates to fissure systems further to the east, but I think the odds are that the town will remain threatened for years or decades to come,” says Vanderkluysen.

Luckily, though, Keflavík airport is far north enough, “away from the fissure systems that they may remain safe during this flare up on the Reykjanes peninsula,” he says. But he cautions, “Frequent eruptions may cause the airport to close periodically, due to the presence of volcanic particles in the atmosphere, which are bad for airplane engines.”

Regan Stephens
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