Volcano erupts in Iceland near Reykjavik

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A volcanic eruption has begun in southwestern Iceland near the capital Reykjavik following thousands of small earthquakes in the area in recent weeks, the country's meteorological office says.

The eruption occurred near Fagradalsfjall, a mountain on the Reykjanes Peninsula, located around 30km southwest of the capital.

More than 40,000 earthquakes have occurred on the peninsula in the past four weeks, a huge jump from the 1000-3000 registered each year since 2014.

Pictures on local media websites showed a bright red night sky. A picture posted on Twitter by the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) showed smoke rising from brightly-glowing lava streams.

The eruption posed no immediate danger to people in Grindavik or to critical infrastructure, IMO said.

"I think we couldn't hope for anything better than that," IMO volcanic hazards coordinator Sara Barsotti told Reuters.

Unlike the eruption in 2010 of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which halted about 900,000 flights and forced hundreds of Icelanders from their homes, this eruption is not expected to spew much ash or smoke into the atmosphere, IMO said.

Located between the Eurasian and the North American tectonic plates, among the largest on the planet, Iceland is a seismic and volcanic hotspot as the two plates move in opposite directions.

The source of the eruption is a large body of molten rock, known as magma, which has pushed its way to the surface over the past weeks, instigating the earthquakes.

The number of quakes had slowed down in recent days, however, leading geologists to say that an eruption would be less likely.

Reykjavik's international Keflavik airport was not closed following the eruption, but each airline had to decide for themselves if they want to fly or not, IMO said.

A helicopter with scientific personnel aboard had been scrambled to observe the eruption, IMO said.