Volcano Erupts on Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula

The eruption began on December 18 near Grindavík, about 30 miles southwest of Reykjavík and just south of the Blue Lagoon—the famed geothermal baths are consequently closed for the time being.

A volcano with lava flowing in Iceland

Volcanoes are numerous in Iceland.

Courtesy of Getty Images/Unsplash

Iceland has been on high alert since October 24, when an initial seismic swarm of more than 4,000 earthquakes in the span of a few days first hit, according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office, the country’s national weather service. Nearly two months and tens of thousands of earthquakes later, the volcanic eruption local authorities had feared has come to fruition.

On December 18, an eruption started near the town Grindavík, which is just south of the famed Blue Lagoon geothermal baths and about 30 miles southwest of Reykjavík. The eruption, which started at 10:17 p.m. local time, was preceded by another swarm of earthquakes that started at 9 p.m. local time, on Monday, December 18.

“The eruption is located close to Sundhnúkagígar, about four kilometers northeast of Grindavík, and it can be seen on nearby web cameras,” stated the Icelandic Meteorological Office. The eruptive fissure is about 2.5 miles long.

Monday’s eruption turned the sky orange and prompted the civil defense to be put on high alert, the Associated Press reported.

In the wake of the increased risk of a nearby eruption, the famed Blue Lagoon geothermal baths closed on November 9. It had just announced that it would be reopening on Sunday, December 17. Now, the Blue Lagoon is closed once again.

“A volcanic eruption commenced in Sundhnúkagígar on the evening of December 18. As a result, we have temporarily closed our facilities in Svartsengi,” the Blue Lagoon said in a statement on its website. The Blue Lagoon will be closed through December 27, at which point the company will reassess the situation. It is contacting all guests with confirmed bookings.

According to a December 19 report from the Icelandic Meteorological Office, the size of the volcanic eruption is already diminishing. “The lava flow is estimated to be about one-quarter of what it was at the beginning of the eruption on December 18, and a third of the original fissure is active,” the agency stated.

In the meantime, construction of a protective barrier around the Blue Lagoon has been underway. “These barriers are intended to shield crucial infrastructure from potential lava flows,” the Blue Lagoon stated. “The initiative considers different scenarios that might occur if a volcanic eruption happens, as per expert evaluations.”

The increase in seismic activity is due to an accumulation of magma several miles under the Earth’s crust.

In the weeks since the initial swarm, thousands of earthquakes continued to jolt the area, “an example of this episodic seismic activity that can be expected while magma accumulation is in progress,” stated the Icelandic Meteorological Office.

As officials continue to monitor the seismic activity, flights have been operating as normal to and from Keflavík Airport (KEF).

Known as the land of fire and ice, the remote Nordic country is one of the most volcanically active areas on Earth thanks to its position atop the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a roughly 25-mile ridge along the ocean floor separating the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Iceland is home to about 130 volcanoes; the most recent eruption occurred in July at the Fagradalsfjall volcano, located in the same region of the Reykjanes Peninsula, though in an uninhabited area. It was the third consecutive year the volcano was active—it was also active in August 2022 and in March through December in 2021.

Prior to the 2021 activity, the volcanic system hadn’t erupted since the 12th century. None of these eruptions impacted Keflavík, the country’s largest airport located about 15 miles from the Blue Lagoon and about an hour’s drive from Reykjavík. (The last time the airport was temporarily shuttered because of volcanic activity was in 2011, when the Grimsvotn volcano erupted and spewed a plume of smoke and ash 12 miles into the air, impacting transatlantic flights and grounding planes in some European destinations, including Scotland and Germany.)

The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s biggest tourist attractions, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to a country with a population that numbers below 400,000. The striking icy blue water is surrounded by black lava formations and is one of hundreds of geothermal pools and natural hot springs in a country where a year-round outdoor bathing culture is a hallmark.

Regan Stephens contributed reporting.

Michelle Baran is a deputy editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
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