One of Iceland’s most popular tourist destinations, the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, has been temporarily closed due to a series of earthquakes that have alerted the island nation’s most populous region to the possibility of a volcanic eruption.
Early on Thursday morning, guests hurried to evacuate the spa’s hotels after being startled into wakefulness just before 1:00 a.m. by a magnitude 4.8 earthquake—the biggest to strike the area since the recent wave of seismic activity started on October 25.
Local taxi driver Bjarni Stefansson reported arriving to the Retreat Hotel to find the parking lot packed with twenty to thirty taxis and lava rocks spilled across the road.
According to Stefansson, “there was a panic situation.” “People believed there was going to be a volcanic eruption.”
Due to a buildup of volcanic lava about five kilometers below the surface, the area surrounding Mount Thorbjorn on the Reykjanes Peninsula has been shook by hundreds of little earthquakes every day for more than two weeks. The Icelandic Met Office reports that since October 27, the ground in the area has risen by 9 centimeters, although no immediate symptoms of an eruption have been seen.
Scientists are closely monitoring the situation for any indication that the seismic activity is getting closer to the surface, which could be an indication that the magma is breaking through the earth’s crust, the Met Office said.
“Presently, there are no signs that earthquake activity is becoming shallower,” the agency said on its website. “However, the situation could change quickly, and it is not possible to exclude a scenario involving a lava-producing eruption in the area northwest of Thorbjorn.”
Every four to five years, Iceland, which is situated atop a volcanic hotspot in the North Atlantic, experiences an eruption. The most disruptive in recent memory was the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which caused extensive airspace closures throughout Europe and erupted massive clouds of ash into the atmosphere.
A volcanic system that had lain dormant for 800 years has erupted three times since 2021 in the Reykjanes Peninsula on the southwest coast of Iceland.
In the past, eruptions in secluded valleys have happened without causing any harm. The magma storage chamber that is currently building up again could erupt less than three kilometers from the Blue Lagoon, despite geologists’ predictions that this is the most likely result of the current activity.
In the worst-case scenario, lava would threaten the town of Grindavík and the Blue Lagoon, along with the pipelines channeling hot water to thousands of homes that are heated with geothermal energy.
“We need to be prepared for the worst,” volcanologist Thorvaldur Thordarson said. “Magnitude 5 earthquakes, such as the one last night, are known to precede eruptions.”
The Blue Lagoon, a popular tourist destination that offers naturally heated pools of seawater below, said that it was temporarily closing owing to the “disruption of the guests’ experience” that occurred during the night and the extended strain on its staff.
The resort will not reopen until November 16th, according to a statement from the business. It had faced criticism for its delay in taking action.
Nearly thirty visitors departed the resort after the earthquake, according to spokeswoman Helga Arnadottir, but the majority were part of a single group that was traveling together.
Approximately 1,400 earthquakes struck the peninsula in the 24 hours leading up to Thursday midday, according to the Met Office.
The 3,400-person fishing town of Grindavík has seen a string of seismic events since the Reykjanes Peninsula started to tremble three years ago. But the tremors were more intense last night.
Hildur Gunnarsdóttir, 68, a retired beautician, claimed that she drove her Volkswagen Passat all night long in order to “get a break from feeling the earthquakes.”