We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

After Weeks of Waiting An Eruption Has Finally Started in Iceland

The southern Reykjanes Peninsula has been rattled by earthquakes for weeks with authorities saying that chances of an eruption were high.

Rocky Planet iconRocky Planet
By Erik Klemetti
Dec 19, 2023 3:57 AM
Helicopter View of Iceland Eruption
A view of the December 18, 2023 eruption near Grindavík in Iceland seen from a helicopter. Credit: IMO.


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

For over a month, the town of Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula has been waiting and watching. Although most of the ~3,000 people have been evacuated from the area, authorities in Iceland have monitored the area, measuring thousands of earthquakes, a multitude of cracks in the ground and the release of volcanic gases from these cracks. No one knew if, when and where an eruption might occur.

The waiting is finally over. In the evening of December 18, an almost 2.5 mile (4 kilometer) fissure starting erupting northeast of Grindavík and since then has been producing lava fountains and lava flows.

The eruption began at 10:17 pm local time according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office. At earthquake swarm had begun in the area near Sundhnúkagígar at around 9 pm local time and it was only a little over an hour later that lava finally reached the surface. Luckily, the eruption so far has not been in main part of Grindavík, the Blue Lagoon or the geothermal power plant nearby.

A map showing the location of the new fissure eruption on the Reykjanes Peninsula on December 19, 2023. Credit: IMO.

There are some spectacular shots of the eruption that have been taken by local authorities showing the fissure and lava flows. There are also webcams pointed towards the eruption, so you can watch it all happening at home.

I've annotated a few webcam captures from this evening to give you an idea of what's happening. Now, the hardest thing is scale in these images as there are no obvious landmarks to see in the dark. My best guess is that the lava flows are tens of meters tall (maybe hundred feet or more) but that is a guess based on prior activity. So far, the size of the fissure has outpaced those formed during the earlier eruptions on the peninsula since 2020, including the Fagradalsfjall eruption that ended in later summer 2023.

A view of the eruption near Grindavík, Iceland seen from Fagradalsfjall webcam, annotated by Erik Klemetti. Credit: Live from Iceland webcam capture.
A view of the eruption near Grindavík, Iceland seen from Fagradalsfjall webcam, annotated by Erik Klemetti. Credit: Live from Iceland webcam capture.

The IMO is already reporting that the eruption is decreasing in intensity -- which, as they point out, doesn't mean it is going to end soon, just that it has reached some equilibrium. Eruptions such as these might last days to months, but anyone saying they know how long it will be is guessing at best. This eruption isn't likely to create any sort of aviation havoc like Eyjafjallajökull did in 2010 except possibly for flights in and out of Reykjavik.

At the moment, the eruption is the best we might have hoped for: an impressive sight that isn't posing direct danger to life and property. We'll see if it stays that way.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.