Háskóli Íslands

March 12, 2021

The Civil Protection and Emergency Management’s Science Board held an online meeting today to discuss the earthquake swarm in the Reykjanes Peninsula. The meeting was attended by experts from the Icelandic Met Office, the University of Iceland, ÍSOR, KAUST University, the Environment Agency of Iceland, the Icelandic Institute of Natural History, the National Land Survey of Iceland and Reykjavik Energy, as well as a representative from the Directorate of Health, Isavia-ANS, HS-Orka.

Seismic surveys and data received in the last 24 hours was viewed.

Main results of the meeting:

  • Earthquake activity now reaches up to the Nátthagi valley south of Fagradalsfjall, which suggests that the southernmost end of the magma path lies there.  
  • The magma path continues to expand although there is some uncertainty regarding the pace of the magma flow. Data has indicated that the magma path has been moving towards the south coast in the last few days, but latest surveys do not indicate that the path has moved notably in the last 24 hours. 
  • Possible gas pollution was reviewed in the case of an eruption. This would e.g. involve sulphur dioxide (SO2). The Environment Agency viewed the seismographic devices that have been placed to monitor possible gas pollution.
  • With view of the eruption history and geological research, a volcanic fissure opening south of Fagradalsfjall and reaching the ocean is unlikely. Given the current circumstances, an undersea eruption with associated ash eruption is therefore unlikely.     
  • As has been stated earlier in the Science Board’s notifications, while the magma path continues to expand it must be assumed that an eruption may occur in the area. The longer the current situation lasts, the more likely an eruption becomes.    

Further about the results of the meeting:

Earthquake activity now reaches up to the Nátthagi valley south of Fagradalsfjall, which suggests that the southernmost end of the magma path lies there. High earthquake activity has been in this area from midnight and at 7:43am a quake of 5.0 in magnitude was measured in the area. Data has indicated that the magma path has been moving towards the south coast in the last few days. Latest surveys do not indicate that the path has moved notably in the last 24 hours. 

With view of the eruption history and geological research, a volcanic fissure that opens south of Fagradalsfjall reaching the ocean is unlikely. Given the current circumstances, an undersea eruption with associated ash eruption is therefore unlikely.

Possible gas pollution was reviewed in the case of an eruption. This would e.g. involve sulphur dioxide (SO2). The Environment Agency viewed the seismographic devices that have been placed to monitor possible gas pollution.

Prior to this unrest there was only one measuring station measuring SO2, a HS Orka’s station in Grindavík. The Environment Agency has set up two additional monitors, one in Vogar and another one in Njarðvík and work is underway to add more monitors in Reykjanesbær to monitor the SO2 level.

The Met Office has set up a diffusion model which estimates the diffusion of gas pollution based on the weather forecast at any given time. By monitoring the SO2 level and applying the diffusion model, the effect of pollution on residents in the area, due to a possible eruption, can be assessed and announcements subsequently published with instructions regarding appropriate responses.

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