Volcano erupts near Iceland capital, mesmerising spectators

Eruption follows 10,000 earthquakes that have been detected since Saturday

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A volcano erupted near Iceland's capital Reykjavik on Wednesday, the country's meteorological service reported, as live images showed lava spewing out of a fissure in the ground.

The volcano is about 40 kilometres from Reykjavik, near the site of the Mount Fagradalsfjall volcano in south-western Iceland, which erupted over the course of six months from March to September 2021.

During this eruption, glowing red lava could be seen gushing from the ground, spreading into a blanket of smouldering black rock as it cooled and as blue smoke rose up from the hilly landscape on the Reykjanes peninsula.

Curious onlookers quickly made their way to the scene, bewitched by the sight of the bubbling lava and the intense roar that could be heard rising up from the ground as the lava erupted, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

The Icelandic Meteorological Office, which monitors seismic activity, estimated the size of the fissure at about 300 metres. It said the eruption started in the Meradalir valley, less than one kilometre from the scene of last year's eruption.

Wednesday's eruption came after a period of intense seismic activity, with about 10,000 earthquakes detected since Saturday, including two with a magnitude of at least 5.0.

While there was no ash plume, the meteorological office said it was “possible that pollution can be detected due to the gas release”.

Gases from a volcanic eruption — especially sulphur dioxide — can be elevated in the immediate vicinity and may pose a danger to health and even be fatal.

Gas pollution can also be carried by the wind.

“Risk to populated areas and critical infrastructure is considered very low and there have been no disruptions to flights,” Iceland's Ministry for Foreign Affairs said on Twitter.

More than an hour after the start of the eruption, a commercial passenger jet could be seen flying over the eruption site at low altitude, heading for Reykjavik's main airport Keflavik.

During last year's eruption, more than 140 million cubic metres of magma spilt into the area over a period of six months before it was officially declared over after nine months, in December 2021.

Relatively easy to access, the site became a major tourist attraction, drawing more than 350,000 visitors, the Icelandic Tourist Board said.

On Wednesday, rescue teams and police rushed to the scene of the latest eruption to assess the danger and possible gas contamination, and discouraged people from visiting.

Icelandic President Gudni Johannesson, who happened to be driving near the scene of Wednesday's eruption, echoed that appeal.

“I just want people to be careful and know more before they go there into the unknown. If this eruption will be anything like the last one, there will be enough time, so there is no need to rush,” he told English-language media outlet Iceland Monitor.

Mount Fagradalsfjall belongs to the Krysuvik volcanic system in south-western Iceland.

Iceland has 32 volcanic systems currently considered active, the highest number in Europe. The country has had an eruption every five years on average.

Wednesday's eruption was the country's seventh in 21 years.

However, until last year, the Reykjanes peninsula had not experienced an eruption since the 13th century, when a volcano erupted for 30 years from 1210 to 1240.

After last year's eruption, geophysicists had said it could signal the beginning of a new period of eruptions lasting centuries.

A vast island near the Arctic Circle, Iceland straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a crack on the ocean floor separating the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.

The shifting of these plates is in part responsible for Iceland's intense volcanic activity.

Updated: August 03, 2022, 9:09 PM
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