A volcano that began erupting Monday in Iceland continued spewing lava on Tuesday and was accompanied by hundreds of earthquakes that flowed through the magma flow on the country’s southwestern coast, officials said.
Volcanic activity at Sundhnúksgígar on the Reykjanes Peninsula appears to be waning, according to the Iceland Meteorological Office. Officials said new aerial images analyzed on Tuesday showed there were now three vents spewing lava southeast of Stóra-Skógfell, down from five at the start of the eruption in the Fagradalsfjall volcanic system.
“The lava flow is estimated to be about a quarter of what it was at the beginning of the eruption,” the Met Office said in a statement on Tuesday.
A third of the original 2 1/5-mile fissure remained active Tuesday, officials said.
“The lava fountains are also lower than they were at the beginning of the eruption, reaching about 30 meters in height.” [about 100 feet] The Met Office said it was at its highest.
The Meteorological Office said on Tuesday that at least 320 earthquakes, one of them measuring 4.1, had occurred since the eruption on Monday night.
But since the eruption, seismic activity in the area has decreased significantly, according to the Met Office. Since Tuesday afternoon, only 10 earthquakes have been recorded in the area, officials said.
Following the volcanic eruption at Sondonksjjar, the land surrounding the Svartsinje Power Plant, a geothermal power plant, sank by about 5 centimeters, or about 2 inches, officials said. Before the eruption, the ground had risen by about 35 centimeters, or nearly 14 inches, due to a magma conduit that had been forming since November 10.
“It is too early to say whether magma will continue to accumulate under Svartsinje and whether the ground will start to rise again,” the Met Office said.
The eruption began north of the town of Grindavik at around 10pm local time on Monday, the Met Office announced in an alert on its website, noting that it “can be seen on webcams and appears to be located near Hagafell, about 3km away.” [about 1.8 miles] North Grindavik.”
The Met Office said the “earthquake swarm” began about an hour before the eruption. Officials said in an update about four hours later that the intensity of the eruption began to decrease within hours.
The Met Office said: “The fact that activity is already decreasing is not an indication of how long the eruption will continue, but rather that the eruption is reaching equilibrium.”
The affected area near Grindavik, a fishing town with a population of about 3,700 that was evacuated in November in preparation for the volcanic eruption, remained closed by the country’s civil defence, President Gwenni Th. Johansson said Social media Tuesday.
“We are now waiting to see what the forces of nature have in store,” he said. “We are prepared and remain vigilant.”
As the eruption continues at Sundhnúksgíga, there is an increasing possibility of more vents opening along the original fissure as well as to the north or south, officials said.
The Met Office said looking at the lead-up to the eruption revealed there was approximately 90 minutes between the first indications and the start of the eruption, adding that the warning time for new vents could be very short.
The Met Office said the eruption occurred over “a dam that formed in November”. Officials said the eruption fissure began expanding southward, with its southern tip near Sundhnokkur.
Scientists estimated the lava flow from the volcanic fissure at “hundreds of cubic meters per second,” adding that the largest lava fountains were at the northern end. The office said the lava was spreading horizontally.
Local meteorological officials warned in November of a “high possibility” of a volcanic eruption. Officials said that more than 20,000 earthquakes have rocked the region since late October.
At the time, officials declared a state of emergency near the Fagradalsfjall volcano on the sparsely populated Reykjanes Peninsula.