Escalating volcanic activity in Iceland has led to the evacuation of a coastal town and temporary closure of a famous spa, triggering fears of possible travel disruptions brought on by ash.
Following a weekend of seismic activity in southwest Iceland, scientists are warning of a volcanic eruption after a 15km-long river of magma below the earth’s surface triggered more than 1,400 earthquakes over the weekend, cracking local roads.
On Saturday (Nov. 11), a state of emergency was declared in Grindavík, a fishing town on the Southern Peninsula of Iceland, where thousands of residents have now evacuated, the New York Times reports.
In a statement, the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) said there was a considerable risk of an eruption, saying one could start at any time in the next few days.
For travellers, such an event could result in a possible repeat of the disruptions caused in April 2010, when the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull erupted.
The billowing ash cloud from that particular eruption brought chaos to Europe’s air industry for a week, cancelling more than 50,000 flights.
“The overall assessment from the status meeting was that the likelihood of a volcanic eruption is high, and that an eruption could be possible on a timescale of just days,” the IMO said in a statement issued Saturday evening.
Blue Lagoon closes
While life continues in Iceland, preparations for a possible eruption are underway – and some of the measures impact tourism.
While it’s currently off-season for tourism in Iceland, the Nordic island nation still attracts visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of the northern lights and explore the destination’s Christmas markets.
Keflavik International Airport is operating as normal, with (so far) no reported cancellations to Icelandair and PLAY flights to and from North America and Europe.
However, the area south and southeast of the airport, which is home to major tourist attractions, such as the Blue Lagoon, is now off limits.
The Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa and resort southwest of Reykjavík, announced last Thursday (Nov. 9) that it would close for a week after a powerful earthquake hit just after midnight, followed by some 800 smaller quakes.
The Icelandic news website Víkurfréttir reported that about 40 guests left the property that evening, noting that rocks had fallen on the road up to the hotel lobby.
Blue Lagoon addressed its closure in a statement posted to its website on Nov. 13.
“Considering disruptions to our guests' experience and the sustained pressure on our employees, these precautionary measures were taken to ensure safety and wellbeing for all,” the spa wrote on its website, noting that its closure would remain in effect until 7:00 a.m. on Nov. 16, “at which point the situation will be reassessed.”
The IMO continues to monitor the situation, particularly in the area of Mt. Thorbjörn, 40 km southwest of Reykjavik.
Beyond this region, however, in greater Iceland, there appears to be no disruptions as of now.
Still, foreign countries are ramping up their travel warnings (although none are advising against travel to Iceland just yet).
The United Kingdom’s latest travel advice, as of Nov. 11, is to avoid the immediate area of seismic activity and monitor local media.
“While there is no current eruption, it is increasingly possible that one could occur,” the U.K. warns.
The Government of Canada, meanwhile, says that if an eruption occurs, “it could create dangerous lava flows in the immediate area.”
“Clouds of volcanic gas could move towards Reykjavik in the following days, which could bring potentially dangerous pollution levels,” Ottawa’s warning reads.
Travellers currently in Iceland are being advised to avoid areas close to mountains and steep slopes on the Reykjanes peninsula due to danger of falling rocks and landslides.