Icelandic volcano eruption 'imminent' as risk upgraded and thousands leave their homes

A volcano in Iceland could erupt “imminently” with thousands of people evacuated from their homes as a precaution as the threat intensifies.

Iceland has declared a state of emergency following a series of earthquakes with thousands of people living in the southwestern town of Grindavík leaving their homes.

The Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) said there was a considerable risk of an eruption with the probability of an eruption on or just off the Reykjanes peninsula increasing since yesterday (Sunday) morning.

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An eruption could start at any time in the next few days, according to the statement.

Thor Thordason, professor of volcanology at the University of Iceland, said a 15km-long (nine mile) river of magma running under the peninsula was still active.

"That's why we're talking about an imminent eruption unfortunately. The most likely eruption side appears to be within the boundary of the town of Grinadvik," he told the BBC.

Thousands of tremors have been recorded around the nearby Fagradalsfjall volcano in recent weeks.

Gisli Olaffson, MP for the Pirate Party in Iceland, said “hard decisions” had been made with regard to the evacuation and that the town was entering “what might be a critical day.”

On X, formerly known as Twitter, he wrote: “We know that we had to make some difficult decisions, but those were made to ensure the safety and security of everyone involved. It was also humbling to work there alongside the volunteer s from Grindavik who have not only had to help their fellow citizens but also evacuate their own family and friends.

"As we enter what might be a critical day for Grindavik, my thoughts continue to be with the people of Grindavick. You can rest assured the entire nation will stand by you in these difficulties.”

Police decided to evacuate Grindavik after recent seismic activity in the area moved south toward the town and monitoring indicated that a corridor of magma, or semi-molten rock, now extends under the community, Iceland’s Meteorological Office said.

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The town of 3,400 is on the Reykjanes Peninsula, about 30 miles south-west of the capital, Reykjavik.

“At this stage, it is not possible to determine exactly whether and where magma might reach the surface,” the Meteorological Office warned.

Authorities also raised their aviation alert to orange, indicating an increased risk of a volcanic eruption.

Volcanic eruptions pose a serious hazard to aviation because they can spew highly abrasive ash high into the atmosphere, where it can cause jet engines to fail, damage flight control systems and reduce visibility.

A major eruption in Iceland in 2010 caused widespread disruption to air travel between Europe and North America, costing airlines an estimated three billion dollars (£2.45 billion) as they cancelled more than 100,000 flights.

The evacuation comes after the region was shaken by hundreds of small earthquakes every day for more than two weeks as scientists monitor a build-up of magma some three miles underground.

Concern about a possible eruption increased in the early hours of Thursday when a magnitude 4.8 earthquake hit the area, forcing the internationally known Blue Lagoon geothermal resort to close temporarily.

The seismic activity started in an area north of Grindavik where there is a network of 2,000-year-old craters, geology professor Pall Einarrson, told Iceland’s RUV. The magma corridor is about six miles long and spreading, he said.

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“The biggest earthquakes originated there, under this old series of craters, but since then it (the magma corridor) has been getting longer, went under the urban area in Grindavik and is heading even further and towards the sea,” he said.