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A volcano could erupt in Iceland within hours. Experts say you shouldn't cancel your flights — yet

Blue Lagoon in Grindavik, Iceland
  • An Icelandic volcano could erupt within hours or days, the country's Met office said.
  • The small town of Grindavik has been evacuated after shifting magma caused around 1,000 earthquakes in the area.
  • But that shouldn't affect your travel plans, though the Blue Lagoon may be off-limits, experts said.

There's no reason to cancel your travel plans to Iceland, despite the country warning of potentially dangerous volcanic activity happening within the next few hours or days, experts told Insider.

"If I was a tourist thinking of going to Iceland, I wouldn't think twice, I would go," Dave McGarvie, a volcanologist from the University of Lancaster who studies Iceland volcanoes, told Insider.

Iceland declared a state of emergency after an unexpected acceleration of activity at Iceland's Fagradalsfjall volcano near the town of Grindavik.

The small town, home to about 4,000 people, was evacuated with authorities expecting magma could erupt "within a couple of hours at the shortest, but at least within a couple of days," Vidir Reynisson, head of Iceland's Civil Protection and Emergency Management, said on Saturday.

Still, aviation is unlikely to be affected, and the country's main tourist sites should be safe to visit — though the Blue Lagoon may be affected by the nearby volcanic activity.

A sign reads "Velkomin til Grindovíkur"
A sign at the entrance to the town of Grindavik, a small fishing village on the Reykjanes peninsula in the southwest of the country.

International lights are unlikely to get canceled

The eruption is unlikely to disrupt travel plans substantially, Andrew Hooper, a professor of Geophysics at Leeds at the University of Leeds, told Insider in an email.

"Only local aviation is likely to be affected if there is any impact at all," he said.

The news comes 13 years after the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, a large-scale eruption that shut down international flights for seven days, affecting 10 million passengers.

This was mostly due to a huge cloud of ash that blew fine particles far afield. But this is unlikely to happen in this case.

The main difference is that lava at Eyjafjallajökull blew through an ice cap, which "made the eruption more explosive than it would otherwise have been, hence the high eruption plume and very wide ash dispersal," Lionel Wilson, Emeritus Professor of Earth & Planetary Sciences, Lancaster University, said in a press release shared by the UK's Science Media Center seen by Insider.

"This should not happen at Fagradalsfjall," the volcano near Grindavik, "so they will just be dealing with weakly explosive lava fountains feeding lava flow," he said.

Even if we were expecting a large cloud of ash, the rules about flying during ash eruptions have been loosened since 2010, said McGarvie.

"In hindsight, we know that it was not necessary to completely close airspace in 2010. An identical eruption from Eyjafjallajökull in current times would only have about one-third of the flights canceled relative to 2010," he said.

Most tourist sites will be safe

Iceland visitors are unlikely to be at any risk, though you may not be able to visit the Blue Lagoon, the experts said.

Icelandic authorities will cordon off any area that could pose a risk. While an eruption could release toxic fumes, these will be closely monitored by the Icelandic Civil Protection, said Hooper.

Earthquake activity has mostly died down by now. In the capital Reykjavik, which is about 40 miles away, you may feel the odd small earthquake, said McGarvie.

A map of Iceland shows the location of Grindevik on the Southwest coast.
Location of tktktk in Iceland

The Blue Lagoon, which is about three miles away from Grindavik, had been closed in response to the heightened seismic activity and doesn't plan to reopen until at least November 16, a customer representative told Insider on the phone. The popular tourist destination's site will be regularly updated as the situation develops, the representative said.

It may be a good idea to skip the Reykjanes peninsula altogether as the situation develops because it is still fairly unpredictable, McGarvie said.

It is always difficult to know exactly how a volcanic eruption will develop, but the latest developments in the peninsula took volcanologists by surprise, McGarvie said.

While the Reykjanes peninsula was known to have volcanic activity, and its volcano had had fairly mild eruptions over the past decade, this activity accelerated drastically since mid-October.

Volcanologists now think there is a 15-kilometer-long (about 9 mile-long) magma "dike," a ditch filled with molten rock, shifting quickly closer to the surface.

"It is not something that's ever been observed in Iceland, certainly monitored in Iceland, in the last few decades," he said.

"This is all new, so we really don't have a pattern of past activity to help us look to the future and say: this is likely to happen, this is unlikely to happen," he said.

Simply put, the best bet is to carry on with your travel plans, but check in frequently with the Icelandic Civil Protection for advice, said Hooper.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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