Curious onlookers on Thursday flocked to the site of an erupting volcano near Iceland’s capital Reykjavik to marvel at the bubbling lava, a day after the fissure appeared in an uninhabited valley.
The eruption occurred about 40 kilometers outside Reykjavik, near the site of the Mount Fagradalsfjall volcano in southwest Iceland, which spewed magma for six months between March and September 2021.
While last year’s eruption was easily accessible on foot and attracted more than 435,000 tourists, the new eruption is more difficult to access, requiring a strenuous 90-minute mountain hike from the nearest parking lot.
Despite this, more than 1,830 people visited the site on the first day of the eruption, according to the Iceland Tourism Board, and more visitors were seen walking to the site on Thursday.
Among them was American tourist Hather Hoff, 42, for whom seeing lava was “a goal in life”.
“I had to sit down and cry a little because it’s so beautiful, so emotional – that’s the raw power of our planet,” she told AFP.
Anita Sauckel, a 40-year-old German living in Iceland, visited last year’s eruption and couldn’t resist witnessing the latest volcanic activity.
“This is special with the lava, huge fountains popping up in between, and I love that so much,” she said.
The fissure was estimated to be about 360 meters (1,181 feet) long, the Iceland Meteorological Office said on Thursday, with lava fountains about 10 to 15 meters high.
Wednesday’s eruption was preceded by a period of intense seismic activity, with around 10,000 earthquakes detected since Saturday, including two with a magnitude of at least 5.0.
The frequency of earthquakes has decreased since magma exploded into the ground.
The average lava flow in the first few hours was estimated at 32 cubic meters per second, according to measurements taken Wednesday at 17:05 GMT – 3.5 hours after the eruption began – by scientists at the Earth Science Institute. .
That’s about four or five times more than at the start of last year’s eruption.
“The current eruption is therefore much more powerful,” the Institute wrote in a Facebook post.
The lava covered an area of about 74,000 square meters (about 800,000 square feet), he said.
By comparison, last year’s six-month eruption saw 150 million cubic meters of lava spill over 4.85 square kilometers.
– Gas hazard –
Authorities initially asked people to refrain from visiting the site until a hazard assessment has been carried out.
But on Thursday, the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management said only that young children should not walk to the site of the eruption.
The gases from a volcanic eruption – especially sulfur dioxide – can be high in the vicinity, can pose a health hazard and even be fatal.
Gas pollution can also be carried by the wind.
Mount Fagradalsfjall belongs to the Krysuvik volcanic system on the Reykjanes Peninsula in southwest Iceland.
Known as the land of fire and ice, Iceland has 32 volcanic systems currently considered active, the most in Europe. The country has had an eruption every five years on average.
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.
Geophysicists said the 2021 eruption could signal the start of a new period of eruptions that last for centuries.
A vast island near the Arctic Circle, Iceland straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a crack in the ocean floor that separates the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.
The shifting of these plates is partly responsible for Iceland’s intense volcanic activity.