In what could be a precursor to a volcanic eruption, Iceland declared a state of emergency on Friday after a series of powerful earthquakes rocked the southwestern Reykjanes peninsula.
As a result of the intense earthquakes activity at Sundhnjukagigar, north of Grindavik, the National Police Chief has declared a state of emergency for civil defence in Iceland.
It warned that earthquakes could become larger than those that have already occurred and this series of events could lead to an eruption.
“Several days” could pass before an eruption occurs, according to the Icelandic Met Office (IMO).
Approximately 4,000 people live in Grindavik, located some three kilometres (1.86 miles) southwest of the location of Friday’s earthquake swarm.
An evacuation plan is in place in case of an eruption-riceland emergency earthquakes
At 1730 GMT, two strong earthquakes rattled windows and household items as far away as Reykjavik, some 40 kilometres away.
North of Grindavik, the biggest tremor had a magnitude of 5.2, according to preliminary IMO figures.
The tremors damaged a road leading north-south to Grindavik on Friday, which was closed by police.
The IMO reports 24,000 tremors on the peninsula since late October, including “a dense swarm” of nearly 800 quakes between midnight and 1400 GMT on Friday.
A possible volcanic eruption could be caused by magma accumulating underground at a depth of about five kilometres (3.1 miles).
It is more likely that magma will reach the surface over several days rather than hours.
Lava would flow to the southeast and to the west, but not towards Grindavik if a fissure appeared where seismic activity is at its highest.
A new era of active participation -iceland emergency earthquakes
In spite of this, the Department of Civil Protection announced that the patrol vessel Thor would be sent to Grindavik for “security reasons”.
For information purposes and to assist people on the move, emergency shelters and help centres will open in Grindavik as well as three other locations in southern Iceland later Friday.
Blue Lagoon, a popular tourist destination near Grindavik famed for its geothermal spas and luxury hotels, closed as a precaution on Thursday.
The Svartsengi geothermal plant is also nearby, providing electricity and water to 30,000 residents.
In the event of an eruption, the plant and its workers are protected by contingency plans.
On the Reykjanes peninsula, three eruptions have occurred since 2021, in March 2021, August 2022, and July 2023.
There was no infrastructure or population near any of those three sites.
There are 33 active volcanic systems in Iceland, the most in Europe.
Located between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, the North Atlantic Island straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
The Reykjanes volcanic system had been dormant for eight centuries prior to the March 2021 eruption around Mount Fagradalsfjall.
Scientists believe the new cycle of increased activity could last for several decades or centuries.
A massive eruption at another Iceland volcano, Eyjafjallajokull, in April 2010 forced the cancellation of more than 100,000 flights, stranding more than 10 million people.