Icelandic authorities warn of possible eruption as thousands of earthquakes shake the country

Police close the road on March 03, 2021 to all traffic approaching an area where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet, near the town of Grindavik on the Reykjanes peninsula, Iceland, some 50 kilometres west of the capital Reykjavik. (Halldor Kolbeins/AFP via Getty Images)
Authorities in Iceland are warning of a possible eruption as the Icelandic Meteorological Office has registered a strong tremor pulse in the south-west of the country, a form of seismic activity often linked to volcanic eruptions.

A so-called earthquake swarm began on Feb. 24 on the Reykjanes peninsula south-west of the capital, Reykjavik. According to the Icelandic Met Office there have been about 17,000 earthquakes in the area over the last week, with 2,655 tremors registered just in the last 48 hours.

The most powerful so far happened on Wednesday and had a 5.7-magnitude.

Speaking at a joint press conference, Kristin Jonsdottir, coordinator for natural hazards at the Met Office, Vidir Reynisson, the head of the country’s civil protection, and Freysteinn Sigmundsson, geophysicist and president of the University of Iceland’s earth sciences department, told reporters that an eruption could occur within the course of the next few hours or days.

Aerial view taken on Feb. 28, 2021 shows the lighthouse and the geothermal energy plant near the town of Grindavik on the Reykjanes peninsula, Iceland, some 50 kilometres west of the capital Reykjavik, atop the Mid- Atlantic Ridge, one of the three most seismically active areas on the planet. (Halldor Kolbeins/AFP via Getty Images)

Experts say there is no great danger for the population. No towns appear to be at risk from lava flows in the event of a volcanic eruption, according to the latest modeling by the University of Iceland’s Volcanology and Natural Hazard Group, which released maps of potential flows on Wednesday.

Around 3,500 people live in Grindavik, a town likely to be most affected by a possible eruption. However, it is currently considered unlikely that it will be necessary to evacuate the fishing town best known for the turquoise waters of the Blue Lagoon hot spring.

Still, authorities are urging residents in the south-west of the country to remain vigilant and avoid steep terrain in the Reykjanes peninsula due to risk of falling rocks and boulders as well as landslides.

Wednesday’s strong tremor pulse was centred between the mountains of Litli Hrutur and Keilir. Experts have surveyed the area by helicopter.

A helicopter carrying scientists flies on March 3, 2021 near the town of Grindavik on the Reykjanes peninsula, Iceland, some 50 kilometres west of the capital Reykjavik. (Halldor Kolbeins/AFP via Getty Images)

A 2010 eruption of a volcano under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier disrupted air travel for several weeks. However, experts do not expect the new volcanic activity to cause such disruptions to air travel.

Iceland is located on a tectonic plate boundary that continually splits apart, pushing North America and Eurasia away from each other along the line of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: What ancient earthquakes along the Denali fault in Yukon can tell us about what could come in Canada, CBC News

Denmark/Greenland: Ice-Blog: Greenland earthquake and tsunami – hazards of melting ice? Irene Quaile

Sweden: Sweden’s Arctic : Earthquake rattles workers inside Arctic iron mine, Radio Sweden

United States: Powerful 7.8 earthquake hits Alaska isles; tsunami threat over, The Associated Press

Levon Sevunts, Radio Canada International

Born and raised in Armenia, Levon started his journalistic career in 1990, covering wars and civil strife in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In 1992, after the government in Armenia shut down the TV program he was working for, Levon immigrated to Canada. He learned English and eventually went back to journalism, working first in print and then in broadcasting. Levon’s journalistic assignments have taken him from the High Arctic to Sahara and the killing fields of Darfur, from the streets of Montreal to the snow-capped mountaintops of Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. He says, “But best of all, I’ve been privileged to tell the stories of hundreds of people who’ve generously opened up their homes, refugee tents and their hearts to me.”

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