Volcano in Iceland erupts for the third time in two months

The Blue Lagoon spa was evacuated, as lava crossed the main exit road from the popular tourist attraction.
Molten lava overflows the road leading to the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, a popular tourist destination in western Iceland. Orange lava covers a dark road, as gray smoke rises.
Molten lava overflows the road leading to the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, a popular tourist destination in western Iceland. Kristinn Magnusson/AFP/ Iceland OUT via Getty Images

A newly active volcano system in southwestern Iceland erupted again on Thursday February 8. This is the third eruption since December 2023 on the Reykjanes Peninsula, which is home to about 31,000 residents and is one of the most populated areas of the island nation. This new eruption also prompted an evacuation of the Blue Lagoon spa, a popular tourist destination and geothermal spa. 

[Related: Volcanic activity easing in Iceland following eruption.]

According to Iceland’s Meteorological Office, the eruption occurred at 6 a.m. local time northeast of Mount Sýlingarfell. The orange glow of lava was visible from the capital city of Reykjavík, about 30 miles away from the eruption. The eruption began to slow as of 2:45 p.m. local time and is concentrated in three main areas. The fissure is estimated to be close to two miles wide and erupted about two and a half miles away from the town of Grindavík. A stream of lava flowed over the main road that connects the town to the capital. Grindavík was evacuated in November 2023 following a series of earthquakes. An eruption eventually occurred there on December 18, 2023 with a second eruption on January 14, 2024

The Meteorological Office said there was no immediate threat to the fishing community of about 3,800 from this most recent eruption.

Several communities on the Reykjanes Peninsula were also cut off from sources of heat and hot water after a supply pipeline was swallowed by a river of lava. According to the Associated Press, the Civil Defense agency said lava reached the pipeline that carries heat and hot water from the Svartsengi geothermal power plant. Residents were urged to use electricity and hot water and electricity sparingly, while power plant workers began to lay a new underground water pipe to use as a backup.

The Blue Lagoon uses excess water from the power plant and was closed when the eruption began. According to Iceland’s national broadcaster RUV, all guests were safely evacuated and lava spread across the road exiting the spa after the eruption. 

Iceland sits over the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the boundary between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. It averages about one volcanic eruption every four to five years. The most disruptive eruption in recent times was the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano. Enormous clouds of ash spewed into the atmosphere, disrupting air travel across the Atlantic Ocean for months. Air travel has not been impacted by these most recent eruptions.

[Related: Geologists: We’re not ready for volcanoes.]

The Svartsengi volcanic system on the Reykjanes Peninsula had been dormant for about 800 years. Since 2021, there have been several eruptions. The threat to the roughly 31,000 residents of the peninsula will likely continue as the volcanic system begins to get more active. 

“It’s like a tap of water that is now open underneath the ground,” said Grindavik spokeswoman Kristin Maria Birgisdottir, according to The New York Times. Birgisdottir added that unless the volcanic area was “turned off soon,” the peninsula would be seeing “continuous events.”

The two previous eruptions only lasted a few days, but signaled what Iceland’s President Guðni Th. Johannesson called, “a daunting period of upheaval” on the populated Reykjanes Peninsula.