Iceland believes it has identified where a major volcanic eruption is likely to occur, with thousands of mini quakes prompting the mass evacuation of a nearby town.

The Iceland Met Office have warned that Hagafell, a mountainous region in the south of the country, is the “prime location for an eruption”.

The alert came after magnetic gas was detected at a borehole in Svartsengi, regarded by experts as a signal that an eruption will soon occur.

Almost 2,000 mini quakes have been recorded in the past 24 hours, with 4,000 residents evacuated from the nearby town of Grindavik following the declaration of a state of emergency.

Authorities say it could be months before residents can safely return to their homes even if there isn’t an eruption as feared.

READ MORE: ‘I live in Icelandic town in path of a volcano – if it blows we’re done for’

Volcanologist Haraldur Sigurðsson has warned that if an eruption does happen, he expects that it could erupt into the sea and that the evacuated town would need to be “reorganised”.

“I’m also worried about the port,” Haraldur told Iceland’s Morgunblaðið (MBL) newspaper. “It doesn’t take much to destroy this port, fill it with lava.

“There are both cracks there in the harbour and even if the magma comes up somewhere outside, it flows into the harbour, because this is the depression.

“So, in the big picture, this town needs to be completely reorganised,” he added.

Residents fled from Grindavik on Tuesday after the Met Office put out an alert saying that its meters had detected sulphur dioxide.

The town has become lined with massive cracks in the land that are billowing out steam in the last week, caused by magma moving underground and pushing up on the Earth’s crust.

Last Friday, the Met Office discovered that magma was coursing into the ground and breaking up rock over a distance of nine miles.

The IMO’s Matthew Roberts likened the magma’s movement beneath Grindavik as “almost like an underground freight train”.

Western parts of the town are reported to have sunk into the ground.

The Reykjanes peninsula had not had an eruption for 800 years until 2021.

It has seen three eruptions since then, all of which have thankfully been in remote uninhabited areas.

But volcanologists believe this may be just the beginning of a new era of volcanic activity in the region.

Eythor Reynisson, a life-long resident of Grindavik, says the threat is likely to put off a lot of people from returning.

“There are going to be a lot of people who don’t want to go there,” he said, adding: “My mother said ‘I never want to go there again.’”

No deaths have been reported in relation to the seismic activity.

Margaret Hartley, Senior Lecturer in Earth Sciences at the University of Manchester, says with this latest eruption warning, it’s a question of when, not if.

“I do think an eruption will take place, but the big question is when that might happen,” she said.

“The most likely way to create this fracture is that a pressure build-up of gas bubbles in the dike will force magma towards the surface, breaking the crust apart.”

She continued: “The process is a bit like shaking up a can of fizzy drink – as soon as a crack opens in the top of the can, the drink escapes with lots of frothing.”

Iceland has been a consistent hotspot for seismic activity due to it being located on a tectonic plate boundary called the Mid Atlantic Ridge.

The Mid Atlantic Ridge is a long chain of mountains stretching down the Atlantic that is gradually pushing Eurasia and North America away from each other.

Iceland also sits over a mantle plume, a column of molten rock that comes up from the deep mantle to the surface and becomes lava when it erupts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *