Sunday, July 21, 2024

An Iceland volcano starts erupting again

A volcano in southwestern Iceland erupted on Wednesday for the fifth time since December, spewing red lava that once again threatened the coastal town of Grindavik and led to the evacuation of the popular Blue Lagoon geothermal spa.

The eruption began in the early afternoon following a series of earthquakes north of the town, which has 3,800 residents and was largely evacuated in December when the volcano awoke after centuries of dormancy. By early evening, activity had calmed, but initial estimates indicated it was the most vigorous eruption in the area so far. Lava shot 50 meters (165 feet) into the sky from a fissure that extended 3.5 kilometers (2.1 miles) in length, according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office.

Barriers built to protect Grindavik deflected the flowing lava, which cut off two of the three roads leading to town and approached the third. “It’s a much larger volume that’s on the move right now headed for town,” Grindavik Mayor Fannar Jónasson told national broadcaster RUV. “The lava has already conquered a lot.”

Workers and remaining residents were ordered to evacuate earlier in the day, police said. At one point, a dark plume of ash rose over the crater from an explosive interaction of magma hitting groundwater. While the ash cloud did not initially pose a threat to aviation, scientists were closely monitoring the situation, Jóhanna Malen Skúladóttir of the Met Office told RUV.

Grindavik, located about 50 kilometers (30 miles) southwest of Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, has been under threat since a swarm of earthquakes in November forced an evacuation ahead of the initial Dec. 18 eruption. Subsequent eruptions in February and March overwhelmed some defensive walls and consumed several buildings, with the Feb. 8 eruption engulfing a pipeline and cutting off heat and hot water to thousands of people.

The area is part of the Svartsengi volcanic system, which was dormant for nearly 800 years before reawakening. Iceland, situated above a volcanic hot spot in the North Atlantic, experiences regular eruptions and is adept at managing them. The most disruptive recent eruption was in 2010 when Eyjafjallajokull volcano spewed huge clouds of ash, leading to widespread airspace closures over Europe.

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