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Monday,  February 26, 2024 3:59 AM 

Iceland downgrades volcano threat warning, Blue Lagoon extends closure to Dec. 7

Iceland downgrades volcano threat warning, Blue Lagoon extends closure to Dec. 7
Blue Lagoon spa has extended it closure to Dec. 7, 2023. (Bhushan Raj Timla/Shutterstock)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

“Seismic activity has been relatively stable for the past few days,” wrote the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) on its website on Monday (Nov. 27).

Officials in Iceland have downgraded an emergency warning on the Reykjanes Peninsula as seismic activity, which escalated this month, triggering fears of a possible volcanic eruption, slows.

Iceland’s Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management lowered its Phase of Emergency on Nov. 23 to an Alert status, which means seismic activity is still occurring, yet on a smaller scale.

“The possibility of a volcanic eruption in the area above the magma tunnel, most likely between Hagafell and Sýlingarfell, still remains and it is possible magma could return to the tunnel beneath Grindavík, though this will be quickly identified through seismic and GPS sensors,” the department wrote in a statement on its website.

There are currently no disruptions to flights to and from Iceland and international flight corridors remain open.

As well, there is good access via all routes to Keflavík airport, including Reykjanesbraut, "which is operating as usual," the government notes.

Eruption alert

Since Oct. 24, scientists at the IMO have been monitoring a rise in earthquakes on Iceland's Reykjanes Peninsula, later concluding that a volcanic eruption would likely occur in the area of Fagradalsfjall. 

As a result, the fishing town of Grindavik was evacuated on Nov. 10 as magma flowed under the earth’s surface, resulting in thousands of tremors that left cracks in the community’s streets.

A volcano on Iceland's Reykjanes Peninsula was on the brink of eruption this month, said the Icelandic Meteorological Office. (X/@HeRulong)

“These evacuations will remain in place until uncertainty is over,” reads a statement on Visit Iceland’s website.

Grindavik, home to 3,400 residents, is about 50 kilometres southwest of Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital, and not far from Keflavik Airport, Iceland's hub for international flights.

READ MORE: Iceland volcano “unlikely” to cause travel chaos: scientists, tourism board

The region is also home to Blue Lagoon geothermal resort, a popular tourist attraction, which has temporarily closed.

Blue Lagoon and its facilities, including Silica Hotel, Retreat Spa, Retreat Hotel, and the Lava and Moss restaurant, closed Nov. 9 as a safety precaution.  

Grindavik is about 50 kilometres southwest of Reykjavik. (Visit Iceland)

Initially planned to stay closed until Nov. 30, the spa, in an update posted Tuesday (Nov. 28), said it will extend its shutdown until 7 a.m. on Dec. 7, “at which point the situation will be reassessed,” the company said.

Travel to Iceland has remained open throughout the ordeal, however. With the exception of Grindavik.

Possible flight disruptions?

Iceland sits just above a volcanic hot spot in the North Atlantic and averages an eruption every four to five years.

The last disruptive one was in 2010 with the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which spewed thick ash into the sky, grounding flights across Europe over fears that the ash could damage aircraft engines.

READ MORE: Threat of volcanic eruption rocks Iceland, Blue Lagoon spa closes

During that event, some 100,000 flights – over several weeks – were cancelled, affecting some 7 million passengers while resulting in more than a billion in losses to airlines, according to Oxford Economics.

Reports this month have suggested that the volcano in Fagradalsfjall won’t cause the same level of disruption to air travel if it erupts. 

Speaking to the Daily Mail, Professor Matt Watson of Bristol University's School of Earth Sciences called the eruption of 2010 “an unusual set of circumstances.”

“It was on a glacier which threw up a mixture of water and ash in weather conditions which were unfortunate in terms of travel,” Watson told the outlet.

The magma seen in recent eruptions on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula is “very fluid,” he said, which means bubbles of gas could escape instead of ash.

Visit Iceland is reminding visitors that there are currently 46 volcanoes actively erupting around the world “without any significant disruption to international air traffic.”

“While the possibility of air traffic disturbance cannot be entirely ruled out, scientists consider it an unlikely scenario,” the tourism board wrote in its latest update. “Potential disruption to flight traffic would depend on factors such as the location and size of the eruption.”

“Typically, the impact of volcanic eruptions is confined to a specific, localized area near the eruption. Notably, previous eruptions in the area did not impact flights to and from the country.”

For the latest on volcanic activity in Iceland's Reykjanes Peninsula, click here

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