Iceland’s volcanic eruption could last for decades

Published 1 July 2024
- By Editorial Staff
Volcanic eruption near the town of Grindavik earlier this year.

Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula has seen five major eruptions since December alone. Now, researchers from Uppsala University and elsewhere predict that the eruptions could continue for decades.

Since 2021, the Reykjanes peninsula has experienced a series of volcanic eruptions, including five major eruptions in the last six months alone. The most recent eruptions have forced residents to leave their homes and led to the evacuation of visitors to the Blue Lagoon spa three times in two months.

An international team of scientists from the University of Oregon, Uppsala University, the University of Iceland, the Czech Academy of Sciences, and the University of California, San Diego, has been monitoring the volcanoes for the past three years. The results have been published in the journal Terra Nova.

Could be long-lasting

Iceland sits on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a tectonic plate boundary that separates North America from Eurasia. When these plates slide apart, volcanic eruptions can be triggered as molten rock from the Earth’s mantle rises to the surface. The Reykjanes Peninsula has been dormant for 800 years, but the current volcanic era could be as long as the previous one, which lasted for centuries.

Scientists know that eruptions on the peninsula are caused by plate movements, but the details of magma storage and plumbing are still unclear. There are eight volcanically active areas on the peninsula. Using geochemical and seismic data, the researchers investigated whether the magma from the 2021-2023 eruptions came from the same source as the recent eruptions to the west. They analyzed isotopes in lava samples to trace the origin of the magma.

The results showed that the magma probably came from the same storage zone under the peninsula. Imaging of the Earth’s interior, based on local earthquakes, suggests that a magma reservoir exists at a depth of 5.5 to 7.5 kilometers in the crust.

– But this reservoir is ultimately fed by the melting bedrock deeper in the mantle, which can cause eruptions lasting decades, with hundreds of square kilometers of magma emerging, says Ilya Bindeman, a volcanologist and professor of earth sciences at the University of Oregon, according to

“Nature is never regular”

Discussions are underway about drilling in Iceland’s volcanic areas to better understand the causes of eruptions. Because volcanic activity in Iceland is less explosive than elsewhere, scientists can get close to active fissures. However, it is difficult to predict how long the eruptions will continue.

– Nature is never regular, says Bindeman. We don’t know how long and how often it will continue for the next ten or even a hundred years. A pattern will emerge, but nature always has exceptions and irregularities.

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