Curious onlookers made their way to the site of a volcanic eruption near Iceland’s capital Reykjavik on Thursday to marvel at the bubbling lava, a day after the rupture appeared in an uninhabited valley.
The eruption occurred about 40 kilometers from Reykjavik near 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 drew more than 435,000 tourists, access to the new eruption is more difficult and requires a strenuous 90-minute hilly hike from the nearest parking lot.
Despite this, more than 1,830 people visited the site on the first day of the outbreak, according to the Iceland Tourism Association, and more visitors were seen making their way to the scene early 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 bit because it’s so beautiful, so emotional — it’s the raw power of our planet,” she told AFP.
Anita Sauckel, a 40-year-old German living in Iceland, visited the eruption last year and couldn’t resist witnessing the recent volcanic activity.
“It’s special with the lava, huge fountains jumping out in the middle, and I love that a lot,” she said.
The fissure was estimated to be about 360 meters (1,181 feet) long, the Icelandic Meteorological Office said Thursday, with lava fountains about 10-15 meters high.
Wednesday’s eruption was preceded by a period of intense seismic activity, which has seen about 10,000 earthquakes since Saturday, including two measuring at least magnitude 5.0.
The frequency of earthquakes has slowed since the magma broke through the ground.
The average lava flow in the first few hours was estimated at 32 cubic meters per second, according to measurements taken by scientists at the Institute of Geosciences on Wednesday at 1705 GMT – 3.5 hours after the eruption began.
That’s about four to five times more than when last year’s outbreak began.
“The current outbreak is therefore much stronger,” the institute wrote in a Facebook post.
The lava covered an area of about 74,000 square meters, it said.
For comparison, last year’s six-month eruption poured 150 million cubic meters of lava over an area of 4.85 square kilometers.
– gas risk –
Officials had initially urged people not to visit the site until a risk assessment had been conducted.
But on Thursday, the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management said only young children should not go to the eruption site.
Gases from a volcanic eruption – particularly sulfur dioxide – can be thrown up in close proximity, be harmful and even fatal.
Gas pollution can also be carried by the wind.
Fagradalsfjall Mountain is part of the Krysuvik volcanic system on the Reykjanes Peninsula in southwest Iceland.
Known as the land of fire and ice, Iceland has 32 volcanic systems that are currently considered active, the highest number in Europe. The country has had an outbreak every five years on average.
However, up until last year, the Reykjanes Peninsula had not seen an eruption since the 13th century, when a volcano erupted for 30 years from 1210 to 1240.
Geophysicists have said the 2021 eruption could signal the start of a new century-long period of eruptions.
Iceland, a huge island near the Arctic Circle, spans the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a rift in the sea floor that separates the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.
The shifting of these plates is partly responsible for Iceland’s intense volcanic activity.
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