Grindavik (western Iceland): Locals watch smoke billow as lava from a volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula colours the night sky orange. The eruption began on Monday night, following a swarm of earthquakes, according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office.—AFP
Grindavik (western Iceland): Locals watch smoke billow as lava from a volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula colours the night sky orange. The eruption began on Monday night, following a swarm of earthquakes, according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office.—AFP

REYKJAVIK: A volcano erupting close to an Iceland power plant shot geysers of molten lava into the dark winter sky Tuesday after weeks of intense seismic activity southwest of Reykjavik.

The eruption only three kilometres from the evacuated fishing port of Grindavik on the Reykjanes peninsula began Monday at around 10:17pm GMT after an earthquake “swarm” of small tremors, the Ice­landic Meteorological Office said.

After weeks of warnings from scientists, the authorities built reinforcements around the Svartsengi geothermal plant, which is just two kilometres from the eruption.

It supplies electricity and water to 30,000 people on the peninsula.

Unlike 2010 eruption that grounded flights across the globe, this one did not create an ash plume

Live-streamed footage of the eruption showed glowing orange jets of lava spewing from a gash in the ground, surrounded by billowing clouds of red smoke against the dark morning sky. The December sun only rises at around 11 am in the area just south of the Arctic Circle.

“We hope for the best but it is clear this is a considerable eruption,” Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir wrote on Facebook.

For weeks, the Nordic country had been anticipating an eruption in the area some 40 kilometres from the capital, prompting the authorities to evacuate thousands of people and close the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa famed for its turquoise waters.

The meteorological office estimated that the volcano had opened a fissure about four kilometres long, with the southern end just three kilometres away from the fishing port of Grindavik.

By 3am, the meteorological office said the intensity of the eruption had stabilised and “the activity is decreasing”, although it was unable to estimate how long it would last.

“We now wait to see what the forces of nature have in store,” Iceland President Gudni Johan­nesson wrote on X, formerly Twitter. He added that protecting lives and infrastructure was the priority.

Vidir Reynisson, head of the Department of Civil Protection, urged people to stay away from the area, telling a local television station: “This is no tourist eruption.” The volcano, which has yet to be given a name, was located near the Sundhnukagigar crater row.

Unlike another major Icelandic eruption in 2010 that grounded thousands of flights across Europe and North America, this one did not create an ash plume.

Reykjavik’s international airport remained open on Tuesday.

“Right now there is no immediate risk of infrastructure being threatened,” Grindavik mayor Fan­nar Jonasson told the daily Morg­unbladid, amid reports on Tuesday morning that the southern end of the lava flow was petering out.

Roughly 4,000 people were evacuated from Grindavik on November 11 after scientists said a tunnel of magma was shifting beneath them.

The series of small earthquakes - sometimes hundreds per day - had damaged roads and buildings, an AFP reporter in Grindavik said.

Authorities have organised occasional trips into the village since, escorting those with homes in the most perilous parts as they rescued everything from cherished pets to photo albums, furniture and clothing. Volcanic eruptions are not uncommon in Iceland, which is home to 33 active volcano systems, the highest number in Europe.

Published in Dawn, December 20th, 2023

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