Spectators flock to the Icelandic volcano

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Fagradalsfjall (Iceland) (AFP) – Onlookers traveled to the site of an erupting volcano near the Icelandic capital Reykjavik on Thursday to marvel at bubbling lava, a day after the crack appeared in an uninhabited valley.

The eruption happened about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Reykjavik, near the site of the Mount Fagradalsfjall volcano in southwest Iceland which spewed magma for six months between March and September 2021.

While last year’s eruption was easily walkable and attracted more than 435,000 tourists, the new eruption is more difficult to access, requiring a strenuous 90-minute hilly hike from the nearest parking lot.

Despite this, more than 1,830 people visited the site on the first day of the eruption, according to the Icelandic Tourist Board, and more visitors were seen hiking at the site early Thursday.

Among them was American tourist Hather Hoff, 42, for whom seeing lava was “a life goal”.

“I had to sit and cry a little bit because it’s so beautiful, so moving, it’s the raw strength of our planet,” she told AFP.

Anita Sauckel, a 40-year-old German living in Iceland, visited last year’s eruption and couldn’t resist witnessing the latest volcanic activity.

“It’s special with the lava, huge fountains spurting out in the middle, and I really like that,” she said.

The fissure was estimated to be around 360 meters long, the Icelandic Meteorological Office said on Thursday, with lava fountains around 10 to 15 meters high.

Wednesday’s eruption was preceded by a period of intense seismic activity, with around 10,000 earthquakes detected since Saturday, including two with magnitudes of at least 5.0.

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The frequency of earthquakes has slowed since the magma broke through the ground.

The average lava flow in the first few hours was estimated at 32 cubic meters per second, according to measurements taken at 1705 GMT on Wednesday — 3.5 hours after the eruption began — by scientists from the Institute. earth sciences.

That’s about four or five times more than at the start of last year’s eruption.

“The current eruption is therefore much more powerful,” the Institute wrote in a Facebook post.

The lava covered an area of ​​about 74,000 square meters (about 800,000 square feet), he said.

By comparison, last year’s six-month eruption saw 150 million cubic meters of lava spill over 4.85 square kilometers.

Gas risk

Officials had initially urged people to refrain from visiting the site until a hazard assessment had been completed.

But on Thursday, the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management only said young children should not walk to the site of the eruption.

The gases from a volcanic eruption – especially sulfur dioxide – can be high in the immediate vicinity, can pose a health hazard and even be fatal.

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Gaseous pollution can also be carried by the wind.

Mount Fagradalsfjall belongs to the Krysuvik volcanic system on the Reykjanes peninsula in southwestern Iceland.

Known as the land of fire and ice, Iceland has 32 volcanic systems currently considered active, the highest number in Europe. The country experiences an eruption every five years on average.

However, until last year, the Reykjanes Peninsula had not seen an eruption since the 13th century, when a volcano erupted for 30 years from 1210 to 1240.

Geophysicists said the 2021 eruption could signal the start of a new period of eruptions lasting centuries.

The movement of these plates is partly responsible for the intense volcanic activity in Iceland.

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