According to the Guardian, beginning on January 21, the peninsula region has suffered over 8,000 earthquakes due to magma shifting under the ground beneath the volcanic system.
A volcanic region in the Reykjanes peninsula, south-west of Iceland’s capital, that has been dormant for over 800 years has been showing activity over the past two months, according to scientists. The last time the volcanoes in the region erupted in the 10th century, fountains of lava sporadically spewed out of the crater vents over the course of 300 years.
“It seems that after being relatively inactive for many centuries, this region is waking up,” said Lancaster University volcanologist Dave McGarvie.
The extended eruption period is powered by five volcanic systems interconnected within the Icelandic region. Scientists claim that these five systems interact with one another every 1,000 years or so, creating the abnormally long eruption episodes – whereas normally volcanoes in the region are only active for a few years and then become dormant shortly after.
With the volcano being nine miles from Iceland’s Keflavik international airport, the Iceland GeoSurvey estimates that if the volcanic system begins to erupt then eventually the entire complex will be coated with 2cm of ash – halting all travel to and from the area.
“The worst-case scenario is if lava flows towards the town of Grindavík,” said Kristín Jónsdóttir from the Icelandic Meteorological Office, according to the Guardian. “There is also other 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.”
While the region typically remains active for centuries once it gets going, the eruptions are sporadic and small in comparison to larger volcanic events such Skaftáreldar (fires of Skaftá) within the crater row of Lakagígar, which lasted for about a year and became the most fatal volcanic event in Iceland’s history.
The Skaftáreldar eruption produced around 14-cubic-kilometers of basalt lava – most of the lava was produced within the first five months. Researchers claim that Skaftáreldar occurred in ten “pulses” consisting of short-lived explosions followed by longer periods of “fire-fountaining.”
Not only did the immediate effects have a significant impact on the Icelandic population, the eruptions also produced millions of tons of hydrogen flouride and sulfur dioxide, which polluted nearly the entirety of the region and still has an effect on the climate today.
According to Wired, sixty percent of all livestock died from pollution and 10,000 Icelanders died from the famine that followed. The smog that has built up around most of Eastern Europe today is known as the “Laki haze” named after the crater row.
So, while the recent volcanic activity in the Reykjanes peninsula will more than likely be minor in comparison to Lakagígar, it will still be an inconvenience to say the least for hundreds of years to come if the volcanic system turns on the jets.
“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,” said McGarvie.