Iceland volcano erupts for second time this year with lava close to power plant


A volcano in Iceland has erupted for the second time this year and the third time since December, pumping lava up to 80 metres (260ft) into the air and disrupting life in the Reykjanes peninsula in the south-west of the country.

Fountains of bright orange molten rock spewed from cracks in the ground and lava crossed a road near the Blue Lagoon, a luxury geothermal spa, which had closed on Thursday.

The lava flow also hit thermal-based water pipes in the region just south of the capital, Reykjavík, disrupting the supply of hot water to more than 20,000 people and leading the Civil Protection Agency to raise its alert level to emergency status.

The agency also asked households and businesses to conserve electricity. Restoring hot water via an emergency pipeline that was already under construction could take days, it said.

People look at the volcano erupting on Thursday. Photograph: Marco Di Marco/AP

Volcanic outbreaks in the Reykjanes peninsula are fissure eruptions, which do not usually cause large explosions or significant dispersal of ash into the stratosphere.

However, scientists fear they could continue for years, and Icelandic authorities have started building dykes to divert burning lava flows away from homes and critical infrastructure.

The lava stream was only about 0.6 miles (1km) from the peninsula’s Svartsengi geothermal power plant, said Rikke Pedersen, who heads the Nordic Volcanological Center research group in Reykjavík.

Fountains of orange molten rock spewed from cracks in the ground as the volcano erupted. Photograph: Iceland Civil Protection/Reuters

Protective dykes have been built in the area and workers were trying to fill in small gaps along the road as the lava flowed. “So they are really doing all they can to prevent lava reaching the power plant,” she said.

The latest eruptive fissure, the sixth outbreak since 2021, was roughly 2 miles (3km) long, Iceland’s meteorological office said. Intense earthquake activity began at about 5:30am and the eruption came 30 minutes later.

A plume of smoke rose 2 miles into the air, according to the Met Office. Still, Reykjavik’s international airport, about 12 miles (20km) to the north-west of the fissure, was operating as normal, airport operator Isavia said.

The previous eruption in the area started on 14 January and lasted roughly two days, with lava flows reaching the outskirts of the Grindavík fishing town, whose nearly 4,000 inhabitants had been evacuated, and where some houses were set alight.

Thursday’s eruption took place some way from Grindavík and was unlikely to pose a direct threat to the town, an Icelandic geophysicist, Ari Trausti Guðmundsson, told Reuters.

Iceland’s president, Guðni Jóhannesson, posted an image on social media of the view from his residence, with flames and smoke in the distance.

During a previous eruption in January lava reached the town of Grindavík. Photograph: Bjorn Steinbekk | @bsteinbekk via Instagram

“As before, our thoughts are with the people of Grindavík who cannot reside in their beautiful town. This too shall pass,” Jóhannesson wrote.

Despite downgrading the volcanic system’s threat level, authorities have warned of further eruptions as land continued to rise in the area due to magma accumulating underground.

The Reykjanes peninsula has six active volcanic systems and could see eruptions on-and-off for decades or potentially centuries, Gudmundsson said.

Lava near the road to Grindavík, close to the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa that closed on Thursday. Photograph: Marco Di Marco/AP

Other parts of the country have more powerful volcanoes.

In 2010, ash clouds from eruptions at Eyjafjallajökull in the south of Iceland spread over large parts of Europe, grounding about 100,000 flights and forcing hundreds of Icelanders to evacuate homes.

But unlike Eyjafjallajökull, the Reykjanes volcano systems are not trapped under glaciers and are therefore not expected to cause similar-sized ash clouds.

Iceland, which is roughly the size of the US state of Kentucky, has more than 30 active volcanoes, making the north European island a prime destination for volcano tourism – a niche segment that attracts thousands of thrill seekers.

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