Thousands of earthquakes have rocked Iceland – Do I need to be worried?

Iceland could suffer a massive volcanic eruption. Is it time to cancel your travel plans?

Thousands of small earthquakes in recent weeks have shaken Iceland, and the risk of a massive volcanic eruption remains high. For a week, travellers have been fearful of a repeat of the 2010 volcanic ash cloud which caused 100,000 flight cancellations.

What do I need to know?

  • Concerns about an eruption began on November 11, when the Icelandic Meteorological Office warned there was “considerable” risk of an eruption from the Fagradalsfjall volcano.

  • This prompted the evacuation of almost 4,000 people living in Grindavík, a fishing village 50km away from the capital Reykjavik.

  • On Wednesday, long cracks in roads and smoke rising from the ground were filmed throughout Grindavík’s centre.

  • By Friday, risk of the volcano erupting remained high. If it does spew large amounts of lava, the town of Grindavík could be destroyed.

Read more: Iceland roads cracked and evacuations ordered amid looming volcanic eruption

A police officer stands in front of a large crack in the road at Grindavik.
Grindavik is now a ghost town after its 40,000 residents were evacuated. Source: Reuters

🤔 Do I need to be worried?

If you're not in Iceland you won't be directly affected, but an eruption would spew extra greenhouse gases into the environment which is bad for everyone.

If you are travelling through Iceland right now then you should probably be prepared for flight delays if an eruption occurs.

When flights were cancelled in 2010 after the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, the problem cascaded, leaving millions of people stranded, not only in Europe but around the world.

But most experts believe a repeat of 2010 is unlikely right now, and the impact of an eruption will probably be confined to the local area.

The chaos of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption was triggered by ascending magma flowing into icy water under a glacier, causing a massive eruption column.

🗣️ What they said

Pilot Einar Dagbjartsson, evacuated Grindavík resident: “It's like sitting in a very boring movie, but you're stuck there, you can't get out of it. It's unreal. It's hard to digest.”

Dr Ana Casas Ramos, ANU: “The recent surge in activity within Iceland’s volcanic area of Fagradalsfjall, is a good reminder of how ‘alive’ the Earth truly is and of its powerful societal impacts.”

Emeritus Professor Simon Turner, Macquarie University: “Iceland is highly geologically active and has excellent monitoring, with experts on standby and locals evacuated.”

Associate Professor Teresa Ubide, University of Queensland: “Volcanic eruption is highly likely, but not guaranteed. If it happens, we do not know when and where it will be, how long it will last and what the exact impacts will be."

🗓️ What happens next?

Experts are monitoring seismic activity around Grindavík and a large sports hall is being used by the Red Cross to shelter residents. Some residents have been allowed to briefly return home to collect valuables.

A Caterpillar D11, Iceland’s biggest bulldozer, has been sent to help build defences around the area's geothermal power station.

💬 Conversation starter

There are no active volcanoes on mainland Australia, and the last eruptions occurred 5000 years ago at Mount Schank and Mount Gambier in South Australia.

But that doesn't mean Australia can't be affected by volcanoes. Scientists are continuing to track the impacts of Tonga's 2022 eruption, and have predicted it could impact our weather for eight years.

Read more: Iceland declares state of emergency over escalating earthquakes and volcano eruption fears

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