According to scientists, volcanic activity in Iceland is currently intensified and may cause severe disruption for centuries.
Iceland is a volcanic island formed at the tectonic boundary between the Eurasian and the North American plate. As those plates move apart at a rate of 25 millimeters per year, magma deriving from the Earth's mantle emerges through volcanoes.
Peninsula Reykjanesskagi is a region in southwest Iceland and a UNESCO Global Geopark, that has been inactive for about 800 years. Geological data indicate that the region experiences volcanic eruptions about every 1000 years.
Current data show that more than 8,000 seismic shocks have occurred in the region in a short time period and the ground has been uplifted by around 10 centimeters as a result of magma intrusion, revealing that volcanoes are probably awakening. "There were eruptions in the Reykjanes peninsula 800 years ago, but in our lifetime, what we are experiencing is very unusual," Sigríður Magnea Óskarsdóttir, an expert in natural hazards at the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO), stated.
What is interesting about the volcanic activity in the region is that it may persist for an extended period. The last time, volcanic eruptions lasted from the 10th to the 13th century while each explosion sequence endured for decades and produced large amounts of plume, ashes and lava. Between 1210 and 1240, lava covered a 50-km2 area while rock fragments from the explosion were carried away by strong winds causing numerous rockfalls and affecting local populations.
Therefore, a major question is what would happen in the future if a similar volcanic activity has initiated. First of all, the Keflavík international airport, the largest airport in Iceland would face critical issues that could result in its closure. The runways could be covered by a thick layer of ash while visibility would be severely reduced. Volcanic activity could also affect infrastructure in the vicinity of the region and even in a nearby town. “The worst-case scenario is if lava flows towards the town of Grindavík. There is also another important infrastructure in the vicinity including a geothermal power plant. Hot and cold water supply may be at risk, along with roads, including the road between Reykjavík and Keflavík airport,” Kristín Jónsdóttir, an earthquake hazards coordinator at IMO, stated.
Volcanic and seismic activity will be thoroughly monitored by IMO. Random, occasional eruptions may not cause significant problems for Iceland but a series of explosions similar to the last one recorded will be extremely challenging to tackle. “People on the Reykjanes peninsula, and their descendants for several generations, may have to be on their guard and ready to evacuate every so often,” Dave McGarvie, a volcanologist working on volcano-ice interactions in Iceland and Chile at Lancaster University, UK, said.