A 6,000-year-dormant Icelandic volcano just erupted — and it’s awesome

Vox – by Anya van Wagtendonk

After months of earthquakes, a long-dormant volcano in the southwest of Iceland erupted on Friday night, leading to dramatic videos and splendid red skies near the country’s capital city.

According to the Icelandic Meteorological Office, the eruption near Mount Fagradalsfjall, about 20 miles southwest of Reykjavik, took place at 8:45 pm. Though considered small, the eruption created a fissure about 1,640 feet long, and spewed more than 10 million square feet of lava, sometimes in fountains reaching heights of more than 300 feet.

It was the first volcanic eruption in this part of Iceland — the Reykjanes Peninsula, home to Reykjavik, where most of the country’s residents live — in 781 years. And it was the first time this particular volcano had gone off in about 6,000 years.

The eruption, in the Geldinga Valley, was remote enough that evacuations were not necessary, and no structures were endangered.

“As of now it is not considered a threat to surrounding towns,” said Iceland’s prime minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, on Twitter on Friday night. “We ask people to keep away from the immediate area and stay safe.”

Experts warned residents to beware emissions of dangerous gases, including carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, and there were some resulting traffic jams. Drones were temporarily prohibited from flying over the area, to allow scientists first access, but flights in and out of the international Keflavik Airport have not been affected.

The head of emergency management in the country told people to close their windows and stay inside to avoid volcanic gas pollution, which could spread as far as Thorlákshöfn, a city about 30 miles south of Reykjavik.

But on Saturday, the meteorological office said, “Currently, gas pollution is not expected to cause much discomfort for people except close up to the source of the eruption.”

The eruption is ongoing, and could last for “a day or a month,” Magnús Tumi Gudmundsson, a geophysicist at the University of Iceland, told RÚV, the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service.

That makes this latest Icelandic geologic event starkly different from the large-scale earthquake at the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010, which caused more than 100,000 flights across Europe to be canceled for weeks afterward as ash spread across northern Europe and Great Britain. That was described as the largest shutdown of airspace since WWII.

“The more we see, the smaller this eruption gets,” Páll Einarsson, a geophysicist at the University of Iceland, told the Associated Press on Saturday.

Despite the relatively small size, the eruption provided residents with unique views — and people across the region shared photos of the skies, as scientists set up a livestream of the flowing lava.


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