Even for a volcanic island accustomed to occasional tremors, this has been an unusual week for Iceland. According to the Icelandic Meteorological Office, about 17,000 earthquakes hit the southwestern region of Reykjanes.
According to CNN, the biggest earthquake, of magnitude 5,6 on the Richter scale, it occurred on the morning of February 24. It was the strongest of a swarm that continues to shake residents of the capital Reykjavík and the municipalities around it, where two-thirds of the Icelandic population lives.
Two 5.6 magnitude earthquakes also occurred on February 27 and March 1.
So far, little damage has been caused by the tremors, although the Icelandic Road and Coast Administration has reported small cracks in the roads in the area and rock falls on steep slopes near the epicenter of the swarm.
“I have experienced earthquakes before, but never so many in a row“, Says Auður Alfa Ólafsdóttir, resident of Reykjavik, in statements to CNN. “It is very unusual to feel the Earth tremble 24 hours a day for an entire week. This makes us feel very small and powerless against nature ”.
In the fishing town of Grindavík, the locals had a front row seat to feel the tremors. “I have never experienced anything like this before,” said Páll Valur Björnsson, who is a congressman. “We are used to it, it started a year ago. But is a lot more now – very unsettling. I am not afraid, but it is uncomfortable. I woke up twice last night because of [tremores]. It is difficult, but you have to learn to live with it ”.
Iceland is located in a tectonic plate boundary which continually divides, separating North America and Eurasia from each other along the Mesoatlantic Chain line. Most of the seismic activity is detected only by sensitive scientific equipment. The occasional strongest tremors are an inevitable part of life in an active seismic region.
Þorvaldur Þórðarson, volcanology professor at the University of Iceland, said concerns about recent activity are understandable. “Of course it worries people. For this region, this is quite unusual, not because of the type of earthquakes or their intensity, but because of their duration. It’s been going on for over a week. ”
“Why is it happening? It is very likely that we will have a magma intrusion in the crust [da Terra]. It definitely got closer to the surface, but we are trying to find out if it is getting even closer ”, he explained.
As there are several volcanoes in the area affected by the earthquakes, local authorities have warned that an eruption may be imminent.
Elísabet Pálmadóttir, a natural hazards expert at the Icelandic Meteorological Office, said authorities are installing surveillance equipment in the area, from GPS and earthquake monitors to gas cameras and detectors.
According to the expert, a more powerful event can be a cause for concern and estimates that the area may suffer a earthquake of magnitude 6 or higher. “In this particular area, where we saw activity last week, we could experience a 6.0 magnitude earthquake. But we could have a 6.5 to the east of the area, east of Lake Kleifarvatn, ”he said.
No city appears to be at risk from lava flows in the event of a volcanic eruption, according to the latest modeling from the University of Iceland’s Volcanology and Natural Hazards Group, which released potential flow maps this Wednesday.
“Based on the current model, no big city is in danger“Said volcanologist Ármann Höskuldsson, adding that Keflavík International Airport would also be spared. However, the main road that connects the airport to the capital, Reykjavík, can be affected, as well as some transmission lines.
Pálmadóttir also notes that these models do not take into account possible dangerous gases that could be emitted by a volcanic eruption.
The spectrum of a major eruption is reminiscent of the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010, that caused one of the biggest air traffic outages in the world since World War II. However, Pálmadóttir considers that a similar ash cloud would be unlikely in the current situation. In addition, “the composition of the magma here is very different, the intensity of the explosive activity would be significantly less.”
Víðir Reynisson, from Iceland’s Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, said it was “more likely” to have an eruption than “not to have”. It would be the first in the area since the 12th century.
For now, residents are waiting for signs of an eruption. Víkurfréttir, a local news service, has installed a video camera pointing at Keilir, which will begin broadcasting live if an eruption begins.
In the past 24 hours, the great earthquakes felt that the previous days had largely decreased – but the calm may not last long. “It is definitely not over,” concluded Pálmadóttir.
Maria Campos, ZAP //