• Wednesday, Apr 21, 2021
  • Last Update : 12:48 am

Iceland hit by 17,000 earthquakes in a week, eruption could be imminent

  • Published at 02:57 pm March 4th, 2021
Iceland-Glacier melting-Okjökull
File photo of Nasa handout image taken on September 7, 1986 showing the ‘Okjökull’ glacier atop the ‘Ok Volcano’ in Iceland (top), another image taken on August 1, 2019 showing the top of the ‘Ok Volcano’ where the Okjokull glacier has melted away AFP

Despite the large magnitude ratings, the quakes did not cause a lot of damage to the country so far

Around 17,000 earthquakes hit Iceland’s southwestern region in the past week. 

The largest earthquake took place on February 24, with a 5.6 magnitude rating on the Richter scale. The quake was close to Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city and home to two thirds of the population. Two larger earthquakes also hit Iceland on February 27 and March 1, reports CNN.

Despite the large magnitude ratings, the earthquakes did not cause a lot of damage to the country so far. Iceland’s Road and Coastal Administration found a few small cracks on roads around the earthquake areas, however nothing too concerning was found.

"I have experienced earthquakes before but never so many in a row," Reykjavik resident Auður Alfa Ólafsdóttir told CNN. "It is very unusual to feel the Earth shake 24 hours a day for a whole week. It makes you feel very small and powerless against nature,” he added.

In Grindavik, a small fishing town in Iceland, residents of the area have had direct exposure to the tremors. Páll Valur Björnsson, a teacher at the local College of Fisheries and deputy member of parliament, said: “"I've not experienced anything like this before.

"We are used to it; it started one year ago. But it is much more now -- very unsettling. I'm not afraid but this is uncomfortable. I woke up twice last night because of [tremors]. There was a very big one when I went to sleep, and I woke up with one. It is difficult but you have to learn to live with it," he added.

Active seismic region

Iceland is situated on top of a tectonic plate boundary that continues to split apart, distancing Eurasia and North America. Most quakes are hard to pick up and can only be identified with the proper equipment. As an active seismic region, it is also inevitable that residents feel some stronger tremors from time to time, the CNN report furthered.

However this time, the tremors are much longer and larger.

Þorvaldur Þórðarson, a volcanology professor at the University of Iceland, said: "Of course it worries people. For this region, this is actually fairly unusual, not because of the type of earthquakes or their intensity, but for their duration. It's been going for more than a week now.

"We are battling with the 'why' at the moment. Why is this happening? It is very likely that we have an intrusion of magma into the [Earth's] crust there. It has definitely moved closer to the surface, but we are trying to figure out if it's moving even closer to it," he added. 

With several volcanoes in the geographic area, local authorities say an eruption could be possible at any moment.

Installation of surveillance equipment

Elísabet Pálmadóttir, a natural hazards specialist at the Icelandic Meteorological Office, told CNN that authorities are installing surveillance equipment in the area, including monitors, cameras, GPS, and gas detectors.

She also warned that a powerful event may take place soon, and could potentially be a cause for concern, estimating that a 6.0 magnitude earthquake could take place as well.

"In this particular area, where we've seen activity in the past week, we could experience a magnitude 6.0 earthquake. But we could have a 6.5 to the east of the area, east of the Kleifarvatn Lake," she added.

Towns in the country do not appear to be at risk from lava flows, according to maps released by the University of Iceland's Volcanology and Natural Hazard Group.

"Based on the current model, no major town is in harm's way," volcanologist Ármann Höskuldsson told CNN, adding that the Keflavík International Airport will also be spared.

However, he feels that the main road connecting the airport to the capital could be affected, as well as power lines in the area. He added that estimated models do not take dangerous gases into account either, which could be a potential risk.

On Wednesday afternoon, a tremor near the Keilir volcano caused a traffic ban in the area. The volcano is around 32km south from the capital. According to the Icelandic MET Office, similar volcanic activity has taken place in the past before eruptions.

Víðir Reynisson, chief superintendent at Iceland's Department for Civil Protection and Emergency Management, said an eruption taking place was "more likely than not" within a short amount of time, the CNN report added. He addressed a news conference on Wednesday, adding that It will be the first eruption in the area since the 12th century.

Locals in the area are now awaiting signs of a potential eruption, some displaying gestures of excitement, and some anxiety.

In the past day, larger earthquakes have receded, however the break may not last long. 

"It's definitely not over," says Pálmadóttir.

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