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Icelandic and Italian Volcanoes Vie for Attention!

Icelandic and Italian Volcanoes Vie for Attention!


Krýsuvík volcanic area, Iceland

Update 22 March 2021

After weeks of activity and tens of thousands of earthquakes, Iceland's Fagradalsfjall volcano on the Reykjanes Peninsula erupted late on 19 March. The eruption so far has been relatively small in Icelandic terms, but scientists from the Icelandic Meteorological Office and international volcano hazard programmes have been monitoring it constantly measuring not only earthquakes in the area as the magma pushes through, but also gas plumes and inflation and subsidence of the surrounding area.

The eruption was not explosive and occurred in an area that, although it is near the airport, is not populated. there is only a low level threat to air travel and residents in SW Iceland have been advised to keep windows closed and stay indoors due to the gases.

Fagradalsfjall volcano. Credit: Halldór Björnsson, Vedurstofen


15 March 2021

Iceland is renowned for its ongoing earthquakes and volcanoes, but the past few weeks have seen increased levels of activity on the Reykjanes Peninsula. Large swarms of tens of thousands of  earthquakes per day started in late February including strong earthquakes of up to magnitude 5.5.

Fig. 1 - Location of Earthquake

The earthquakes represent ‘cracking’ of the crust as magma pushes through – it has so far reached a depth of about 2km below the surface. It is expected that the magma will reach to the surface and erupt between Mt. Fagradalsfjall southwest of Mt. Keilir.

Fig. 2 - Image: Icelandic Meteorological Office,

These mountains are part of Krýsuvík volcanic area. Unlike other volcanoes, this is not a cone shaped mountain but is a fissure swarm (series of linear ridges on the surface that sometimes rupture) about 50km long and only about 400m above sea level. Thanks to the volcanic system in the area, it is known for its high-temperature geothermal heat, manifesting as hot and altered ground with mud pools, fumaroles (where hot volcanic gases are released) and is a popular tourist attraction.

Fig.3 - Krýsuvík  volcanic area, 25km S-SW of Reykjavik. Image: Google Earth

Fig. 4 - Fumeroles at the Krýsuvík area. Image: Evgenia Ilyinskaya

The volcano hasn’t erupted since the 12th century and previous activity has been effusive basaltic eruptions producing lava flows from less than 1km3 to larger eruptions that reached the sea. Historically, there have also been minor tephra deposits – these are fragments and rock and ash that settle to the ground to form layers.

The volcanic and earthquake activity in Iceland is constantly monitored by the Icelandic Meteorological Office  who send regular updates and alerts to the public and other agencies. Since the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano and the impact on air travel, this alert system has been upgraded and expanded with alerts now going to international partners including GSI. Dr Brian McConnell receives these alerts and coordinates with Ireland’s emergency response group if there is any potential threat to Ireland.

Mt Etna, Sicily

Colleagues in the Institute for Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) in Sicily have also been busy lately monitoring the recent eruption at Mt Etna. Mt Etna is a much more active volcano with regular eruptions attracting tourists to the area. This is a more traditional cone volcano with most eruptions from a central caldera with spectacular lava fountains and ash clouds several kilometres high.

Both volcanic areas are carefully monitored by geoscientists on the ground (e.g. seismic activity, gases, composition of the lava) and from remote sensing data collected by drones, aeroplane and satellite data.

Fig. 5 - Image of INGV scientists measuring activity at Mt Etna, February 2021, image Boris Behnke (INGV)

For more information please contact Dr Aoife Braiden or Communications manager Dr Siobhán Power


To follow activity at Mt Etna, follow INGV in Sicily     @INGVvulcani

To follow activity at Icelandic volcanoes and current levels of activity follow the Icelandic Met Office    @Vedurstofan and