Iceland authorities warn hikers of rockfall risk after post-eruption earthquakes

The volcanic eruption near Litli Hrutur, south-west of Reykjavik in Iceland on July 10, 2023. A volcanic eruption started on July 10, 2023 around 30 kilometres (19 miles) from Iceland’s capital Reykjavik, the country’s meteorological office said, marking the third time in two years that lava has gushed out in the area. (Kristinn Magnusson/AFP via Getty Images)

Icelandic authorities are warning hikers of an increased rock fall risk on the Reykjanes Peninsula, after the volcanic eruption at Litla-Hrút triggered hundreds of earthquakes in the region. 

“A total of around 300 earthquakes have been recorded on the Reykjanes Peninsula since the eruption at Litla-Hrút began yesterday,” the Icelandic Meteorological Office said in an update Tuesday evening. “By far most of the earthquakes have been below 2.0 in magnitude, but two have been measured larger, they were 2.0 and 2.1 in magnitude.”

Lava started to flow at the site from a 1km-long ground fissure on Monday, near to where previous eruptions have occurred over the last two years.

Significant seismic activity was recorded in the run up to the eruption, but the Icelandic government said fissure eruptions do not typically cause large explosions or project ash.

A man taking a picture of flowing lava during the volcanic eruption at Litli Hrutur, south-west of Reykjavik in Iceland on July 10, 2023. (Jeremie Richard /AFP via Getty Images)

The area is not near population centres or critical infrastructure and there have been no flight disruptions.

Police warn of gas risks and possibility of new fissures 

The eruption took place between Litli-Hrútur peak and Mt. Keilir in southwest Iceland. 

Icelandic authorities said activity at the site was decreasing on Tuesday but warned that toxic gases were still a risk and strongly advised people to stay away from the eruption until officials give the OK.

The weather watch forecast for gas distribution posted on June 11. Icelandic authorities say gas pollution from the eruption is an increasing risk when the wind dies down and that gas can collect in depressions and be fatal. (Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management)

“The eruption area is a dangerous area where conditions can change suddenly,” regional police said in a statement posted on the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management website.

“Police are warning people to stay away from the eruptions due to gas pollution. The danger increases when the wind dies down. Then life-threatening gases can collect in depressions and can prove fatal. 

Mt. Keilir is currently marked a danger zone and gas pollution may spread further around the catchment area Wednesday morning.

Wildfires are also a risk because of magma.

New vent could form without notice : police

Flowing lava at the eruption near Litli Hrutur, south-west of Reykjavik in Iceland. Authorities warned travellers on Tuesday to be aware that new fissures could open at the site without notice and that lava often moves too fast to outrun. (Kristinn Magnusson/AFP via Getty Images)

Activity at the eruption site continues to decrease, but authorities warned the area is still unstable.

“Lava is now flowing from several vents on the original fissure that opened northeast of Litla-Hrút. It is therefore a fissure eruption that behaves not unlike previous eruptions in the same areas.

“The latest data, however, indicate that the magma tunnel has moved about 1km to the northeast and reaches under Keili. Deformation is measured across the magma tunnel, so it cannot be ruled out that a new vent will form there at short notice.”

Authorities warned would-be spectors this could happen without them having the time to get away.

“New fissures can open [quickly], and lava can fall from the rim causing a rapid and sudden advance that can be difficult to avoid while running,” the police said. 

Comments, tips or story ideas? Contact Eilís at eilis.quinn(at) 

Related stories from around the North: 

United States: Alaska’s tiny, restless Bogoslof volcano erupts again – and researchers won’t be going there anytime soon, Alaska Dispatch News

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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