It happens to the western part of the small fishing village of Grindavík. It sank more than a meter since last Friday. And so it continues to do so at a rate of about 4cm a day. What happens to the sinking town of Iceland?
The Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) explained that the cause is volcanic instability. And this could extend for decades. This caused the complete evacuation of the town.
After a long hiatus of 800 years, eruptions on the Reykjanes Peninsula began again in 2021. It is a new “eruptive cycle”, according to Matthew Roberts of the IMO. «We expect to see volcanic eruptions along the peninsula. “Not just repeatedly in the same place.”
It was discovered that the magma was penetrating the ground, fracturing rock over 15 km. It passed beneath Grindavík “almost like an underground freight train,” says Roberts. An unprecedented phenomenon in modern times. Evacuation was quickly ordered. Shocking images emerged of severely cracked roads and houses damaged by successive earthquakes.
Aerial photographs suggest that magma is penetrating beneath a visible earlier fissure. It is centuries old. “The magma intrusion is reexploding this exact same location,” Roberts says. Iceland is very used to volcanic activity. It sits on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The Eurasian and North American plates move a few centimeters apart each year.
But this type of evacuation of an entire community had not occurred in 50 years. “We are not waiting for an explosive eruption,” they explain. This is not necessarily good. A low-intensity eruption could mean lava pouring out for weeks and weeks. If that happened, the lava would flow south, possibly towards Grindavík.
Contingency plans include building protective barriers, known as “dams,” near the geothermal plant. The famous Blue Lagoon spa remains closed.
Iceland has all kinds of ingenious methods to combat lava, Roberts says. But “nature always wins if the eruption lasts long enough.” The sinking people of Iceland know this well. And it is very possible that it will disappear completely.