Volcanic Activity in Iceland: Reykjanes Peninsula Erupts

by Santiago Fernandez
Reykjanes Peninsula eruption

Images of brightness temperature captured by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite on the NOAA-20 satellite on December 18 (left) and December 19, 2023 (right).

Following a period of anticipation marked by seismic activity, a new volcanic fissure has emerged on Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula in the southwest region.

The long-awaited eruption commenced after weeks of frequent seismic activity and geological alerts predicting volcanic activity. On the night of December 18, 2023, a fresh fissure began spewing lava on the Reykjanes Peninsula, situated approximately 4 kilometers (2 miles) northeast of Grindavík and 50 kilometers (30 miles) southwest of Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital.

This volcanic eruption was characterized by lava fountains reaching high into the air, originating from a 4-kilometer long fissure and emerging from five distinct vents. The right-hand image above, captured by the VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) on the NOAA-20 satellite, shows the area at 4:00 a.m. local time on December 19, post-eruption. The left image displays the same region prior to the eruption on December 18. Brightness temperature data helps distinguish relative temperatures of surface and atmospheric features.

Observations of the Volcanic Phenomenon

Simon Carn, a volcanologist at Michigan Technological University, explains that the images depict the high temperatures of the active lava compared to the surrounding terrain and clouds. He notes that darker areas, indicating cooler temperatures, may represent either inactive sections of the fissure, cooler lava flows, or obscured areas due to gas plumes or clouds. Topographic analysis reveals three hills to the west of the fissure, each approximately 200 meters in height.

The Icelandic Met Office reports that the lava primarily flows east and north, posing limited risk to Grindavík, the Blue Lagoon, and other local infrastructure. Carn warns that the situation might change if lava accumulation alters its flow direction, if the active fissure extends southward, or if new fissures appear. A northward flow of lava could eventually threaten the main road connecting Keflavík airport and Reykjavík.

Limited Impact on Air Travel and Safety Precautions

Icelandic authorities have highlighted that this fissure eruption is unlikely to cause major explosions or significant ash production affecting the atmosphere. As of December 19, air travel to and from Iceland remains uninterrupted, and international flight paths are open, as confirmed by Icelandic officials. They also mentioned that Grindavík was evacuated on November 10 as a precautionary measure, and the current eruption does not pose a life-threatening risk.

Image credit: Michala Garrison, utilizing VIIRS data from NASA EOSDIS LANCE, GIBS/Worldview, and the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Reykjanes Peninsula eruption

What caused the recent eruption on Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula?

The eruption was preceded by weeks of seismic activity, including earthquake swarms, indicating geological unrest that led to the opening of a new fissure and subsequent lava flow.

Where is the new fissure located on the Reykjanes Peninsula?

The new fissure is located approximately 4 kilometers northeast of Grindavík and about 50 kilometers southwest of Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland.

How did the eruption on the Reykjanes Peninsula manifest?

The eruption began with lava fountains shooting high into the air from a 4-kilometer long fissure, and lava flowing from five vents. It was captured in brightness temperature images by the VIIRS on the NOAA-20 satellite.

What do brightness temperature images reveal about the eruption?

Brightness temperature images help distinguish the relative warmth of the active lava flows compared to the surrounding land and clouds, highlighting the areas of volcanic activity.

What are the potential risks of the Reykjanes Peninsula eruption?

While the lava is mostly flowing east and north, posing minimal risk to nearby towns and infrastructure, there’s a possibility of risk if the lava flow changes direction, the fissure extends, or new fissures open.

How has the eruption affected air travel in Iceland?

As of December 19, 2023, there have been no disruptions to flights in and out of Iceland, and international flight corridors remain open, with the fissure eruption not producing significant ash.

Have there been any precautionary measures taken in response to the eruption?

Yes, the nearby town of Grindavík was evacuated on November 10 as a precaution, and authorities continue to monitor the situation to ensure public safety.

More about Reykjanes Peninsula eruption

  • Iceland’s Met Office Volcano Monitoring
  • NASA Earth Observatory
  • Reykjanes Peninsula Geological Information
  • Michigan Technological University Volcanology Research
  • VIIRS Instrument on NOAA-20 Satellite
  • Grindavík Town Official Website
  • Icelandic Air Travel Safety Updates
  • Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) Information

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Mike Johnson December 20, 2023 - 4:33 pm

wow, this article really captures the drama of the iceland eruption. those satellite images must be incredible to see, it’s like watching nature’s fury from space.

Dave_the_Geek December 20, 2023 - 8:37 pm

great coverage on the Reykjanes eruption! but hey, did they mention the potential effects on wildlife? I mean, it’s not just about towns and roads, right?

Jenny_from_Block December 20, 2023 - 10:05 pm

isn’t it amazing how technology like VIIRS on NOAA-20 helps us understand these natural events better? it’s like we have our own eye in the sky.

Sandra K December 21, 2023 - 12:31 am

I think the article could’ve explained a bit more about why these fissure eruptions happen? It’s fascinating stuff, but kinda complex for laypeople.

CarlitosWay December 21, 2023 - 2:25 am

gotta say, the response by the Icelandic authorities seems really on point. Evacuating Grindavik early was smart, Safety first, always.

Emma Roberts December 21, 2023 - 4:14 am

the part about the lava flows was really detailed, but i got lost with all the technical terms, could use some simplification for us non-scientists haha


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