Icelandic volcano erupts for first time in 6,000 years

A helicopter near the volcanic eruption in Fagradalsfjall, near Iceland’s capital of Reykjavik, on March 20, 2021. (Vilhelm Gunnarsson/Getty Images)
Fagradalsfjall, a mountain on the Reykjanes Peninsula in southwest Iceleand, erupted on Saturday for the first time in 6,000 years. 

Dramatic images of the eruption have been circulating all weekend. Authorities stress the eruption is considered small and, as it’s far from populated areas and important infrastructure, it’s not considered a concern.  

The event has been classified by authorities as a fissure eruption, meaning large explosions are not expected. Large-scale ash pollution and projection is also not typically associated with this kind of eruption.

On Saturday, the Government of Iceland closed roads in the area and told people to stay away from places near the eruption including places like valleys where toxic gases can accumulate.

RUV - Volcano Livefeed

RUV, Iceland’s public broadcaster, has a live feed from the eruption site:

Escalating seismic activity

The eruption comes on the heels of escalating seismic activity in Iceland over the last month, starting with a 5.7 magnitude earthquake on February 24.

“This type of eruption in a location like this does not cause worry in Iceland,” said Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir in a news release on Saturday.

“We have been expecting the ongoing seismic activity to result in a volcanic event such as this. Due to the fortunate location of the fissure, the eruption presents a respite from ongoing seismic activities, which have been highly uncomfortable for the people living close to the event. We will continue to monitor the eruption and ensure the safety of the people living in the area.”

As a precaution, air traffic was temporarily halted at Keflavik International Airport when the eruption began but resumed later on the same day.

Gas pollution no danger in capital area
Sunday hikers look at the lava flowing from the erupting Fagradalsfjall volcano some 40 km west of the Icelandic capital Reykjavik, on March 21, 2021. (Jeremie Richard/AFP/ via Getty Images)

On Monday, the Icelandic Meteorological Office said in a statement on their website that gas pollution is expected close to the eruption. The gas was being dispersed to the northwest towards the Reykjavik capital area, but authorities say low concentrations means dangerous pollution is unlikely. 

The Icelandic Meteorological Office said on Sunday that the eruption is expected to peter out over the next days or weeks.

Write to Eilis Quinn at Eilis.Quinn(at)

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

Iceland: Quaking in their beds, sleepless Icelanders await eruption, Thomson Reuters

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

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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