Fears of air disruption after Iceland volcano erupts and Reykjavik flight delayed - but '2010 event was different'

19 December 2023, 11:38

Volcano erupts in Iceland weeks after thousands evacuated from town

By Will Taylor

Fears of a the Icelandic volcano's eruption causing mass disruption have been allayed, with media in the country saying comparisons to 2010 are poor.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

This eruption took place on Hagafell, in Iceland's southwestern Reykjanes peninsula, on Monday night.

Almost 4,000 people in nearby Grindavik, a fishing town, had been evacuated in anticipation of the activity, while a popular spa called Blue Lagoon was shut down.

A raft of earthquakes preceded the eruption, including the more than 230 recorded close to Grindavik overnight on Sunday.

It will conjure memories of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010, which caused widespread disruption to European air travel - especially as Reykjavik's Keflavik airport, some 25 miles north east, delaying one easyJet flight for five hours.

Read more: Crowds descend on site of massive Icelandic volcano eruption in defiance of police pleas to stay away


But Hallgrímur Indriðason, from the national broadcaster RUV, said: "The 2010 eruption was different because it erupted under a glacier and when this happens you get this huge explosive ash high up in the air which is very fine and stays up in the air for a long time.

"This is much different. This is a crack with lava flow and the ash doesn't stay up in the air as much than in previous cases.

"So unless we had an eruption under the sea - which there is a slim chance of - then there will no impact on air traffic."

Adrenaline junkies have defied warnings from Icelandic authorities to stay away from a volcano.

Stark pictures show crowds of people taking photos as an orange glow lights up the night sky and molten rock spews from the ground.

One image showed a queue of traffic heading towards the area despite police telling people to do the exact opposite.

Read more: Volcano erupts in Iceland after weeks of intense earthquake activity as thousands evacuated

Spectators watched the eruption despite warnings to leave the area
Spectators watched the eruption despite warnings to leave the area. Picture: Getty
The eruption happened in southwestern Iceland
The eruption happened in southwestern Iceland. Picture: Google Maps

"Think about someone other than yourself and follow the guidelines of the public safety. Please," said an environment ministry spokesperson.

Iceland's police said: "An eruption has begun. We ask people not to be in front of the responders and not to go in the direction of the eruption.

"It is important that roads and other things are as accessible as possible."

Iceland's president, Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson, said: "It is not clear what damage it can cause, but now we rely on our scientists as well as all those who need to do monitoring and other operations.

Crowds gathered to watch the huge eruption
Crowds gathered to watch the huge eruption. Picture: Getty

"Above all else, we protect human life but we do all the defence of structures to the best of our ability. I send warm greetings to the people of Grindavik and those who now work on the scene."

A flash of light was recorded on webcam footage at about 10.17pm local time.

Magma was later seen spewing down the ridge of hill. Vidir Reynisson, Iceland's civil protection boss, said it was flowing at "at least a hundred cubic metres per second, maybe more".

Icelandic police shared this image of cars travelling to the eruption
Icelandic police shared this image of cars travelling to the eruption. Picture: Social media

"So this would be considered a big eruption in this area at least," he added.

A coast guard helicopter was due to assess the impact of the eruption.