A volcano on the Reykjanes peninsula in southwest Iceland spewed hot lava and plumes of smoke as it captivated onlookers on Wednesday, just eight months after its last eruption officially ended.
According to Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) The Fagradalsfjall volcano, located in an uninhabited valley about 25 miles southwest of the capital, Reykjavik, erupted at 1:18 p.m. local time on Wednesday.
“It’s impressive, it’s a bit unreal. The colors are really flashy,” French tourist Marion Roux-Calza told AFP. “It’s unreal to me… It’s very, very beautiful.”
After a series of earthquakes over the past week indicated volcanic activity near the crust, IMO scientists predicted an eruption would occur somewhere on the peninsula.
Iceland, with 32 currently active volcanic systems, is known as the land of fire and ice. On average, the country has experienced an eruption every four to five years, according to the Associated Press.
Iceland straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which is a fissure in the ocean floor, separating the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. AFP reports that the intense volcanic activity on this vast island near the Arctic Circle is partly due to shifting tectonic plates.
Nearly 12 years ago, the Eyjafjallajokull volcano left millions of air passengers stranded and canceled more than 100,000 flights, according to the AP. Fears that volcanic dust could damage jet engines halted air travel for days between Europe and North America.
With Wednesday’s eruption occurring about 10 miles from Keflavik International Airport, one of Iceland’s main hubs, concerns about potential impacts to aviation are high. Thursday morning, the international airport remained open and operational.
This recent eruption is expected to become a major tourist attraction after the 2021 eruption on the Reykjanes Peninsula which attracted more than 430,000 visitors, according to the Icelandic Tourist Board.
Since the news broke on Wednesday, shares of Iceland’s flagship airline, Icelandair, have risen 10%.
American tourist Heather Hoff has been waiting years to see the lava up close. She told AFP it was a “life goal” for her. Wednesday’s blowout during Hoff’s visit to Iceland couldn’t have come at a better time for her.
“We were stalking here and I had to stop,” Hoff, 42, said. “I had to sit down and I had to cry a little bit because it’s so beautiful, so moving and it’s like the raw power of our planet.”
No ash plumes were reported on Thursday, but the IMO warned the gas released could be harmful to people and the environment.
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the most abundant volcanic gas is water vapor, which is harmless. But significant amounts of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide can be emitted by volcanoes. Depending on the concentrations of these gases, they could pose a threat to people, agriculture and animals.
Icelandic President Gudni Johannesson has warned people planning to visit to do their research and be careful when visiting.
“I thought I was going to be able to get a lot closer,” said James Dills, an American traveling with Hoff, lamenting that the two couldn’t get within 4 meters of the lava. Dills, 62, also marveled at the auditory experience provided by the erupting volcano in addition to the visual experience. “And then the sound of the lava erupting and the dramatic splashing, it’s very, very exciting.”
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