Iceland earthquakes, volcanic activity explained by a seismologist

Nov 15, 2023, 11:00 AM

A fissure stretches across a road in the town of Grindavik, Iceland....

A fissure stretches across a road in the town of Grindavik, Iceland Monday Nov. 13, 2023 following seismic activity. Residents of Grindavik, a town in southwestern Iceland, have been briefly allowed to return to their homes on Monday after being told to evacuate on Saturday after increasing concern about a potential volcanic eruption caused civil defense authorities to declare a state of emergency in the region. (AP Photo/Brynjar Gunnarsson)

(AP Photo/Brynjar Gunnarsson)

SALT LAKE CITY — Iceland has averaged 1,000 earthquakes in the past weeks. Volcanic activity has caused the quakes. It has also ripped the ground open, leaving cracks and allowing steam to rise. Now, as a precaution, Icelandic officials have evacuated the small fishing town of Grindavik.

The Washington Post reported that officials believe the intrusion is centered “about two miles northeast of Grindavik.”

Jamie Farrell, a Professor of Seismology at the University of Utah, said magma intrusions are the cause of the earthquakes.  “Anytime that magma is being intruded into the shallow crust, it’s going to make the ground around it move,” said Farrell.

Farrell added that the intrusions, known as “dike intrusions,” are common.

When magma flows to the surface, it takes the path of least resistance. It may or may not reach the surface.

Depending on the depth of the magma, it can cause damage to Earth’s surface. Officials have estimated the magma is about a half mile below the surface. That is why some cracks have opened in the ground, causing damage to roadways.

Iceland’s geology has played a role in the intrusions. The country sits over a volcanic hotspot, according to Scientific American. Additionally, Iceland sits atop the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where two tectonic plates are moving apart from one another.

Is an eruption likely?

Farrell said that earthquake and ground deformation rates have slowed in the past few days. However, Icelandic officials do not know when or if the volcano will erupt. At the time of publication, officials have warned it is likely.

Reuters reported that meters in Grindavik detected elevated levels of sulfur dioxide. The gas is commonly emitted by volcanic eruptions. The detections led to a renewed evacuation of the small fishing town’s roughly 3,000 residents.

Farrell said that Iceland is likely to continue experiencing earthquakes.

“I would say more of the same in the near future. But since I’m not really that close to it, I wouldn’t really want to speculate on where it’s heading. I don’t really have the data to [speculate,]” said Farrell.

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Iceland earthquakes, volcanic activity explained by a seismologist