Iceland on Eruption Alert

Johnny Wentzel
Courtesy of Yahoo Finance

A volcanic eruption is usually a geologist’s equivalent of the Super Bowl, but with an entire town in Iceland at stake, a pending eruption could look more like a scene from Dante’s Peak.

What’s happening: The Reykjanes Peninsula in southwestern Iceland has been experiencing increasingly intense seismic activity since late October. The earthquakes reached a crescendo over the weekend, prompting the evacuation of nearly 4,000 inhabitants from the region.

What’s at stake: Most of the volcanism in Iceland is concentrated in remote areas, but multiple cracks at the surface coupled with recent seismic activity suggests that the town of Grindavik, a nearby geothermal power plant, and the famous Blue Lagoon spa are at risk.

  • The Icelandic Meteorological Office reported magma at a depth of less than 800 meters below the surface of Grindavik on Saturday, compared to 1,500 meters less than a day earlier.

Geology 101

Situated atop a mid-ocean ridge – a subsea mountain range where the Earth’s crust is formed – Iceland is literally a hotbed of volcanic and seismic activity.

  • Significant eruptions in Iceland include Eyjafjallajokull in 2010, which caused the largest European airspace closure since World War II, and Laki in 1783 which caused two years of global cooling and a host of other global environmental effects.

Zoom out: A reduction in seismic activity on Monday, among other factors, has lead experts to believe that a possible eruption could be smaller and less volatile than first predicted. That would be great news for the global economy, which lost an estimated $2 billion due to the ash cloud created by the 2010 eruption.

But with Grindavik and nearby critical infrastructure still at risk, our fingers are crossed that the magma takes a scenic, rural route to the surface.