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What’s going on in Iceland?

Last updated: Nov 20th, 2023

The eyes of the world are once again turning towards Iceland as the threat of another volcanic eruption looms. There remains much uncertainty, but here’s what we know so far.

What we know

  • Since October 24th seismic activity has increased on the Reykjanes Peninsula with reports of 1,000s of earthquakes a day.
  • On Thursday 9th November the Blue Lagoon was closed due to the increased seismic activity.
  • The alert level has been raised to emergency (the highest level) indicating an event could lead to harm to people, communities, properties or the environment. Immediate measures have been taken to save lives and prevent casualties, damage and or loss.
  • The town of Grindavik (home to almost 4,000 people) has been evacuated since the early hours of Saturday 11th November. Roads to the town and some others on the Reykjanes Peninsula have been closed. Magma dyke extending under the town..
  • A 15km long magma intrusion is believed to have formed with part of the magma dyke extending under the town of Grindavik. It is estimated this is moving slowly upwards and is thought to be only 800m below the surface. This 360˚ visual shows the line of the intrusion.
  • Since the evacuation of Grindavik large cracks have appeared in roads, hot water pipes have been fractured and there has been some structural damage to buildings, which can be seen here.
  • Residents have been allowed to briefly return to collect valuables and pets that were left behind in the rush to evacuate.
  • The exact location of a possible eruption site is still unknown. A volcanic eruption could happen anywhere along the 15km magma corridor.
  • In recent days earthquake activity has decreased although there are still frequent earthquakes the intensity has reduced.
  • The amount of magma feeding the intrusion has decreased which indicates that the likelihood of a fissure opening along the entire 15km of the intrusion is less likely and a fissure eruption (should it occur) will be smaller than first thought.
  • Scientists and the Department of Civil Protection are closely monitoring the situation and analysing developments.
  • The airport remains open and flights are arriving and departing all the time.
  • The danger area is limited to the area around the town of Grindavik on the Reykjanes Peninsula, the rest of Iceland is safe to visit.

What happens next?

It’s not possible to determine when or if an eruption might occur but there is still a high probability of an eruption. There are 3 possible scenarios:

1. A lava eruption could occur on land somewhere along the 15km magma intrusion. This is still thought to be the most likely outcome. A fissure could open in close proximity or within the town of Grindavik and have devastating consequences should lava engulf people’s homes, businesses and the town’s infrastructure.

2. There is still a possibility that no eruption will occur. Activity could die down and no magma will reach the surface. This would be the best possible outcome.

3. As the intrusion extends under the sea floor off the coast of Grindavik there is the possibility of a submarine eruption which would result in a more explosive eruption which is likely to produce some ash. This is now considered less likely but can’t be ruled out completely.

Will my tour be affected?

At present, we have no groups due to depart imminently for Iceland, however as avid Geographers, we are naturally keeping abreast of the situation unfolding in the area. As is standard practice, we are carefully monitoring local sources as well as ABTA and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCDO) travel advisories to ensure that we can heed any safety warnings to ensure the safety of our future groups and to support our suppliers and friends in Iceland. Unless the FCDO changes the travel advisory to warn against travel to Iceland, it is expected that tours will continue to depart as normal.


So, what happens if an eruption disrupts our travel plans?

Whilst is it difficult to put a “plan B” into place without knowing what the specific impact of any eruption will be, please rest assured that we are well-placed to make adaptations to group travel plans in the event this becomes necessary, imminently prior to departure or whilst on tour. This could mean a simple change to the itinerary, as has been the case with groups travelling earlier in November, or having to manage bigger travel disruption if, for example, the airport was closed for a significant period of time or the safety exclusion zone was widened to an extent that the itinerary was not possible to execute. In the event of any disruption to your planned trip, whether minor or major, we will always work with you to manage any changes that may be required.

Of course, safety is our primary concern for all tours and we are on hand to support our groups 24/7 when travelling, working closely with our chosen insurance partner Aviva, where appropriate. Furthermore, for your peace of mind, your money is completely protected in the event that you are prevented from travelling.

If you do need any further information, please do not hesitate to contact us.

We join with our friends in Iceland to hold our breath and wait to see what happens. Our thoughts and prayers are very much with the residents of Grindavik as they face these difficult times.

Where to find more information

The Icelandic Met Office: Scientific information on the seismic activity and development of events

Safetravel: Updates on safety

RÚV English: News coverage from Iceland in English

YouTube Live Stream Webcams: Multiview of live camera feeds monitoring the Reykjanes Peninsula