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Iceland's Reykjanes Peninsula Faces Largest Volcanic Eruption in Decade

Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula has suffered its fourth and largest volcano eruption of the decade. The signs of volcanic activity started on Dec. 18, 2023, in the town of Grindavik, which is best known for its popular geothermal spa, the Blue Lagoon. Following weeks of thousands of earthquakes before the 18th, Grindavik and nearby towns evacuated more than 4,300 people.

A month before the eruption, a 2.5-mile-long fissure, which is a crack formed underneath the Earth, collected a significant amount of magma (molten rock). On Dec. 18, the opening reached the surface and nearly 150 cubic meters of lava flowed out per second for the first few hours. Heavy clouds of smoke and an orange hue covered the night sky in western Iceland. According to the Icelandic Meteorological Office, the intensity of the eruption and earthquakes weakened by the next day.

Volcanic activity is not unheard of in Iceland, since it is home to 32 active volcanoes, many of them subglacial. Most eruptions take place in unpopulated areas and don’t interfere with any humans. Often, these volcanic sites become tourist attractions. Iceland is also situated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where tectonic plates are frequently moving 2.5 cm apart per year.

Rikke Pederson, a scientist and center leader at the Nordic Volcanological Center, claims that the duration of the eruption can vary between a week to many months. This type of eruption, called a fissure eruption, normally creates a small-scale explosion that releases less ash into the stratosphere than usual. Near the volcano’s path lies a geothermal power plant that supplies nearly 30,000 residents on the peninsula with electricity and hot water. To prepare for disaster, Icelandic officials built a barrier around the plant to prevent lava from reaching it.

Despite the quiet effects of the explosion, recent reports of increased magma accumulating in the fissure sparked concern for Grindavik. There is still seismic activity in the area, but it is very minor as of the beginning of January.

[Source: CNN, Reuters]

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