‘Small’ volcanic eruption in Iceland lights up the night sky near Reykjavik

A volcano erupted just 40 kilometers from Iceland’s capital Reykjavik on Friday, with red lava erupting from the ground and a crimson glow illuminating the night sky.

Streams of red lava could be seen flowing out of a crack in the ground in Geldingadalur, near Mount Fagradalsfjall on the Reykjanes peninsula in southwest Iceland, in images filmed by a coast guard helicopter.

While Iceland International Airport Keflavik and the small fishing port of Grindavik are only a few kilometers away, the area is uninhabited and the eruption was not expected to pose a danger.

“The eruption started at Fagradalsfjall in Geldingadalur around 2045 GMT tonight. The eruption is considered small and the eruption crack is about 500-700 meters (1640-2300 feet) long. The lava is less than 1 square kilometer (0.4 square miles),” says Islands Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO), which monitors seismic activity, in a statement.

“There are some outbreaks in the area.”

The eruption is located in a valley, about 4.7 kilometers inland from the southern coast of the peninsula.

Police and Coast Guard officials drove to the scene, but the public has been urged to stay away and the main road from the capital region to Keflavik Airport was temporarily closed on Friday.

Resting for 900 years

There were no reports of ash falling, although tefra – solidified magma rock fragments – and gas emissions were to be expected.

Police ordered residents living east of the volcano to close their windows and stay indoors due to the risk of possible gas pollution through the wind.

Gas emissions – especially sulfur dioxide – can be increased in the immediate vicinity of a volcanic eruption and can pose a health and even fatal hazard.

Pollutants can exceed acceptable limits, even far away, depending on the winds.

Friday’s eruption took place in Krysuvik volcanic system, which does not have a central volcano.

Eruptions in the region are known as effusive eruptions, where lava flows steadily out of the ground, as opposed to explosive ones that spray ash clouds high into the sky.

The Krysuvik system has been inactive for the past 900 years, according to the IMO, while the most recent eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula dates back almost 800 years, to 1240.

But the region has been under increased surveillance for several weeks after a 5.7 magnitude earthquake was recorded on February 24 near Mount Keilir on the outskirts of Reykjavik.

That earthquake has been followed by an unusual number of minor tremors – more than 50,000, the highest number since digital recordings began in 1991.

The seismic activity has moved several kilometers southwest since the earthquake and was concentrated around the mountain Fagradalsfjall, where magma was discovered just one kilometer below the earth’s surface in recent days.

However, seismic activity had declined in recent days.

Land of fire and ice

Iceland has 32 volcanic systems that are currently considered active, the highest number in Europe. The country has, on average, had an outbreak every five years.

The vast island near the Arctic Circle stretches across the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a crevice on the seabed that separates the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.

The displacement of these plates is partly responsible for Iceland’s intense volcanic activity.

The most recent eruption occurred at Holuhraun, which began in August 2014 and ended in February 2015, in the volcanic system Bardarbunga in an uninhabited area in the middle of the island.

That eruption did not cause any major disturbance outside the immediate vicinity.

But in 2010 an eruption at the Eyjafjallajokull volcano sent huge clouds of smoke and ash into the atmosphere and disrupted air traffic for more than a week with the cancellation of more than 100,000 flights worldwide, leaving about 10 million passengers stranded.