(A Ríkislögreglustjóra/Public Domain)

Volcano Turns the Sky Red Over Southwest Iceland, Prompting Evacuations and Placing Officials on High Alert

The eruption of a volcano on southwest Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula sent plumes of ash into the sky on Monday, following several weeks of earthquakes that rocked the region.

Casting an eerie red glow against the night sky, the eruption could still be seen on Tuesday from several miles away near Reykjavik, where residents said lava and ash produced by the volcano illuminated the sky throughout the night and early morning.

The eruption was preceded by the evacuation of close to 4,000 people from Grindavik, a nearby fishing town, just weeks ago.

(Credit: Icelandic Met Office)

At approximately 22:17 local Icelandic time on December 18, a volcanic fissure eruption began on Sundhnúkagígaröðin, to the east of Mt. Sýlingarfell, according to a statement from the Icelandic Meteorological Office. The eruption was preceded by a “powerful seismic swarm” that began at approximately 21:00 the same day.

“Large lava fountains were observed in the beginning of the eruption and intense seismicity over the dike,” the statement read. “The power of the eruption has decreased with time as well as the seismicity and deformation.”

Area residents described frightening scenes as the eruption continued into early Tuesday morning, although locals had expected an eruption after increases in earthquake activity since October.

A volcanic and seismic hotspot, eruptions have occurred on the Reykjanes peninsula since July.

Iceland volcano
Location of the fissure along the Reykjanes peninsula where Monday’s eruption occurred (Credit: Icelandic Met Office/Institute of Earth Sciences).

In March 2021, similar eruptions occurred in the region’s Fagradalsfjall volcanic system, which persisted for six months and resulted in an official declaration of a state of emergency. Three more eruptions have occurred along the peninsula since 2021.

In 2010, an even more severe eruption in Iceland temporarily impacted air travel in Europe, although Monday’s eruption is not expected to lead to similar conditions according to Iceland’s foreign minister, Bjarni Benediktsson.

“There are no disruptions to flights to and from Iceland and international flight corridors remain open,” Benediktsson said in a post on X, although he added that evacuation orders were in place.

“Iceland’s Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management remains vigilant in response to increased seismic activity in and around the Reykjanes Peninsula,” Benediktsson said.

Micah Hanks is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of The Debrief. He can be reached by email at micah@thedebrief.org. Follow his work at micahhanks.com and on X: @MicahHanks.