Seismic activity continues in the Svartsengi area, extending to the Sundhnúkur crater row. The earthquakes in the vicinity of Mount Þorbjörn appear to be getting shallower today as at the time of writing.
The Sundhnúkur crater row erupted c. 2,360 years ago. It is accredited with creating the Hópsnes/Þórkötlustaðanes land spit to the east of Grindavík.
Here are our updated earthquake plots to 26th May 2022 15:06.
The following video shows both the geoscatter plots by day from 17th April 2022 to 26th May 2022 in the swarm for the western Reykjanes Peninsula, and the scatter plots for the same period for the area around Mount Þorbjörn.
While the earthquake plots are highly suggestive of more shallow magma ascent, we need to bear in mind that this area is on the plate boundary, the Mid Atlantic Ridge. Some of the seismic activity may be existing faults moving to accommodate the magma. Time will tell when and where magma emerges.
For the latest updates and alerts, please consult with IMO or the local authorities.
Original Post 24th May 2022
The earthquake swarm that started on 17th April 2022 on the western Reykjanes Peninsula continues. Today we are plotting activity at the Svartsengi area near Mount Þorbjörn, which lies to the north of Grindavík, Iceland. We have used Mount Þorbjörn as the marker for Svartsengi in our plots.
IMO reports that there has been significant uplift of 40mm to 45mm during the swarm in the area north of Grindavík indicative of magmatic activity.
Let’s look at the earthquakes.
Western Reykjanes Peninsula
Initially, we updated our plots of the area between 63.75°N,23.0°W to 64.0°N, 22°W. Here is a summary.
From a simpler scatter plot and a geodensity plot, we can see much of the activity has occurred near Mt Þorbjörn or Svartsengi in the area enclosed in the green box below.
Let’s look more closely at the area around Mt Þorbjörn.
Svartsengi Area, 63.81°N, 22.5°W to 63.90°N, 22.35°W
For more up to date information on the seismic activity and the latest alerts, please refer to the local authorities or the Icelandic Met Office, IMO.
An earthquake swarm started on the Reykjanes Peninsula on 17th April 2022 and is continuing at the time of writing. This swarm is part of a larger volcano-tectonic episode that started at the end of 2019 on the Reykjanes Peninsula, including the eruption at Geldingadalir.
Local volcanologists are reporting now that recent ground deformation of 3.5cm suggests a magma intrusion in the vicinity of Svartsengi, north of the town of Grindavík. Magma is believed to be pooling at a depth of c. 4km between Mount Þorbjörn and the Eldvörp crater row. This is an area which can produce large earthquakes of 6.5M. People are advised to avoid areas where landslip is likely.
We have updated our earthquake plots to show the swarm to date. Our plots exclude an earthquake occurring earlier today with a depth of 40.7km to keep the detail in the plots showing depth; the earthquake omitted is 19/05/2022, 00:11:14, 63.77°N , 22.75°W, 40.7km, 1 magnitude. Since we downloaded the data at 09:55 am today, there has been a 3.0 magnitude, 4.9 km NNE of Grindavík.
Our plots show possible doming in the vicinity of Mount Þorbjörn and the Svartsengi Volcanic System.
The eruption at Geldingalur, Reykjanes, Iceland, which started on 19.03.2021 at 20:25, is continuing unabated as I write. The volcano is happily bubbling away building somewhat unstable but impressive looking cones and covering the Geldingadalur valley floor with lava.
The eruption is steadily increasing at the time of writing; it has a lava output of 5 -7m3 per second. IMO have estimated that the valley would fill enough for lava to overflow into the neighbouring valley, Meradalir, in a matter of days at the current eruption rates.
Scientists at the University of Iceland are analysing the lava. To date, they have reported that the lava is a primitive one (i.e. little magma evolution in the crust), indicative of a mantle source at a depth of 17 km to 20 km.
The Reykjanes Peninsula lies on oceanic crust created by the Mid Atlantic Ridge. The Peninsula, itself, straddles the Ridge. The crust here is 15 km thick, which is unusual so close to a spreading ridge. However, Iceland is a basaltic plateau overriding a mantle plume. Both the mantle plume and the Mid Atlantic Ridge influence formation of the crust. There are no magma chambers / reservoirs in the crust on the Peninsula; magma tends to ascend directly from the mantle.
The Peninsula is made up of lava shields, móberg hills, table mountains and fissure-fed lava flows and crater rows. The shield volcanoes on the Peninsula formed at the beginning of the Holocene between 10,000 and 7,000 years ago. Shield volcanoes form from hot picrite or olivine tholeiitic basaltic lava flows with rates of c . 5m3 per second. The móberg hills formed from submarine fissure eruptions and consist of pillow lavas, breccias and tuffs. The table mountains were formed from subglacial activity, which had the activity not been constrained by the ice cap, would have resulted in shields. Later Holocene activity has comprised effusive tholeiitic fissure eruptions which formed crater rows and produced large lava flows that now cover some of the earlier formations. Historic activity has been between 940 AD and 1340 AD, including the Reykjanes Fires of 1210 AD to 1240 AD; and, the Krýsuvík Fires of 1151 AD to 1188 AD.
Geldingadalur, itself, is a small valley to the south east of the summit of Fagradalsfjall, a 385m high hyaloclastite subglacial Pleistocene table mountain formed during the Weichselian glacial period, with a subaerial lava cap on its northwest part. It is currently classified as part of the Krýsuvík Volcanic System.
The Fagradalsfjall area is seismically very active, with large earthquake swarms, notably in 1998, 2000, and 2004, and again now as part of the new volcano-tectonic episode on the Reykjanes Peninsula that started in December 2019. Various studies from previous seismic activity have noted extensive faulting under the south west part of Fagradalsfjall; these faults strike N-S and NE -SW. In addition, there are two clusters of faults under the eastern part.
Earlier swarms in the current volcano-tectonic episode have resulted in magma intrusions, such as the one at Mt Þorbjörn which we discussed last year, but no eruption. The latest earthquake swarm which started on 22 February 2021 is the only one to result in an eruption at the time of writing.
Seismicity in the Current Swarm
We have updated our plots for the Reykjanes Peninsula and dividing them between the run up to the eruption on 19 March 2021 at 20:45 and after the eruption to 26 March 2021 15:55.
The plots preceding the eruption repeat the ones shown earlier so we are just showing the geodensity plot for comparison. You will note that the earthquakes do not reach down to 15 km in the current swarm to date. However, there were one or two deeper earthquake in some of the earlier episodes.
The plots for the period after the onset of the eruption (19.03.2021 20:45 to 26.03.2021 15.55) show that activity is concentrated on Geldingadalur and two spots north east of Fagradalsjall. Seismic activity has also extended further south.
Whether the earthquake hotspots will lead to new eruption sites, only time will tell.
For the current status, please consult IMO (link below).
If you wish to watch the eruption , there are local webcams. The link to one is given below.
14.03.2021: The magma intrusion on the Reykjanes Peninsula appears to be edging further southward. The longer this continues, the more likely an eruption. New plots added (Figs 13 – 15).
We have moved updates to the beginning of this post. The original post from 9 March 2021 and the earlier update are below.
We have updated our plots to 14.03.2021 17:46 for the area between 63.83314°N, 22.55148°W to 63.96605°N, 21.8566°W . Here are the results; the magma intrusion appears to be edging slowly further southwards, if we use the Department of Civil Protection’s line that the earthquake locations are the best indicator at the moment of where the magma is.
For the current status and advice, please consult IMO.
The Armchair Volcanologist
Since we wrote [our original post], the earthquake swarm continues unabated with several thousand more earthquakes and some more tremor pulses.
The Department of Civil Protection report today includes the following:
“Earthquake activity now reaches up to the Nátthagi valley south of Fagradalsfjall, which suggests that the southernmost end of the magma path lies there.
The magma path continues to expand although there is some uncertainty regarding the pace of the magma flow. Data has indicated that the magma path has been moving towards the south coast in the last few days, but latest surveys do not indicate that the path has moved notably in the last 24 hours.
With view of the eruption history and geological research, a volcanic fissure opening south of Fagradalsfjall and reaching the ocean is unlikely. Given the current circumstances, an undersea eruption with associated ash eruption is therefore unlikely.
As has been stated earlier in the Science Board’s notifications, while the magma path continues to expand it must be assumed that an eruption may occur in the area. The longer the current situation lasts, the more likely an eruption becomes. “
They also note that gas measurements are being taken in the area.
Our updated plots show the seismic activity moving further southward, notably the geodensity plot in Fig 12. There is also some parallel activity further west on a much smaller scale.
For the current status and advice, please consult IMO.
The Armchair Volcanologist
An eruption considered likely; magma c. 1km below the surface.
Despite the earlier tremor pulses, the Krýsuvík Volcanic System has not yet erupted. However, as seismicity continues to be intense, with well over 34,000 earthquakes recorded by Iceland’s SIL system now since 24 February 2021, it is thought that an eruption is likely.
The latest report from Iceland’s Civil Protection Service Council on March 8, 2021, states that if an eruption occurs, the most likely scenario is still a fissure eruption between Fagradalsfjall and Keilir. A magma intrusion (they use the term tunnel) is forming in the region, with most recent activity at its southern end. Magma has now reached an upper depth of c. 1 km. GPS and satellite readings indicate that the magma flow has decreased in the past week. If the intrusion continues to grow, further surges in seismic activity can be expected.
The earthquakes trending westward from the vicinity of the magma intrusion are thought to be the result of the crust accommodating the intrusion. No other magma movement has been detected during this swarm.
So where are Fagradalsfjall and Keilir? Here is a map (with directions on how to drive from one to the other, not that we would recommend that at the moment).
We have plotted the confirmed earthquakes for week 8 and week 9 2021, plus a few hours of yesterday, between 63.7°N, 21.0°W to 64.4°N, 23.0°W download from IMO’s site. Here are the latest plots for the Reykjanes Peninsula, 63.7°N, 21.0°W to 64.4°N, 23.0°W:
If we zoom in on the area between 63.83314°N, 22.55148°W to 63.96605°N, 21.8566°W we can take a closer look at the intrusion, itself, (or the earthquakes magma movement is causing). The area was selected to take in Svartsengi, Fagradalsfjall, Keilir and Krýsuvík.
Since we downloaded the data for the above plots, IMO have reported another short-lived burst in seismic activity at 05:20 this morning with a seismic tremor Mt. Fagradalsfjall, south of the intrusion.
IMO have produced a map of the dike intrusion and the areas of seismic activity that are arising due to the increased tension in the crust caused by the intrusion.
For the current status and advice, please consult IMO.
28 February 2021 (updated 2 March 2021 with the addition of earthquake plots showing rifting / dike formation)
A large earthquake swarm started on 24 February 2021 on the Reykjanes Peninsula in the vicinity of the Krýsuvík volcanic system between Kleifarvatn and Svartsengi. At the time of writing the swarm is still ongoing with over 7,200 earthquakes record by Iceland’s SIL system. Three earthquakes of 5.0M or more have been recorded: 5.7M and 5.0M on 24 February and a 5.2 on 27 February 2021.
The alert level for the Krýsuvík volcanic system has been raised to yellow following sightings of steam jets in geothermal areas in the region after the 5.7M and 5.0M.
The Icelandic Met Office have attributed this swarm to the recent re-awakening of volcano-tectonic activity on the Peninsula.
We downloaded the confirmed earthquakes from IMO’s site to take a look. We plotted earthquake density for Week 8, 2021, earthquake locations for February 2021 and earthquakes by month from January 2009 to February 2021.
From our plots we can see the awakening of the volcano-tectonic activity with the upkick in number of earthquakes from December 2019. The current swarm is part of this activity.
At the time of writing, it is not possible to predict whether or not this activity will result in a local eruption in the near future. Only time will tell.
Update 1 & 2 /03/2021
Since writing the swarm has continued, with more than 15,000 earthquakes since it began last week.
The Department for Civil Protection has advised on 1 March 2021, that satellite images show deformation in the area has increased more than expected, indicating possible magma inflow.
We can see from the local GPS stations that there has been significant uplift near Krýsuvík.
We have also produced scatter plots by day for the swarm in week 8, 2021 which show possible rifting or dike formation.
IMO are updating the list of earthquakes for week 8, 2021, at the time of writing. For up-to-date information, please consult IMO.
While we are waiting to see if there is any volcanic activity at Grímsvötn or her neighbours, let’s take a look at how the current seismic activity in Iceland compares to previous years.
Our database, comprised of earthquake data downloaded from IMO (see Sources below), now goes back to 29 December 2008 and extends to 23 October 2020, although we may reupload the last week soon because IMO may have been in the process of updating the record when we downloaded the data.
From our graph, we can see that the total number of earthquakes was up in 2010, 2014, 2017 and 2020. In 2010, Eyjafjallajökull erupted, in 2014, Barðarbunga erupted at the Holuhraun fissure; in 2017, there was no subaerial volcanic activity, although Katla may have had some subglacial activity, and, in 2020, there is rifting both in the Reykjanes Peninsula and Tjörnes Fracture Zone but we have yet to see what, if any, volcanic activity emerges. Interestingly, the 2011 eruption of Grímsvötn did not push the total earthquakes up in 2011.
Let’s take a look at activity by region. Here we look at the four main volcanic regions: the Tjörnes Fracture Zone, Vatnajökull, Myrdalsjökull and the Reykjanes Peninsula, where there is most seismic activity.
We see that the eruption of Eyjafjalljokull increased the number of earthquakes in Myrdalsjökull but not to the extent that the eruption of Barðarbunga at the Holuhraun fissure and subsidence in the caldera pushed up the earthquakes for Vatnajökull in 2014 and subsequent years. In fact, the total number of earthquakes in all regions, except Myrdalsjökull, has remained elevated since Holuhraun.
Our database does not extend back far enough to draw any firm conclusions, however, it would appear that rifting events such as Holuhraun produce far more earthquakes than volcanic activity on its own.
Tjörnes Fracture Zone and on the Reykjanes Peninsula
This rather begs the question as to what is happening this year with the large earthquake swarms both in the Tjörnes Fracture Zone and on the Reykjanes Peninsula. Unless our database does not go back far enough, neither the 2011 Grímsvötn nor the 2014 Barðarbunga eruption was preceded by such large earthquake swarms in other regions.
The fact that there is significantly raised activity this year in both regions suggests to us that we may be witnessing the normal plate separation on the Mid Atlantic Ridge (it is not entirely smooth), possible local magma ascent, and / or the plates accommodating an ascending blob of magma from the mantle plume, which is believed to be under the Vatnajökull icecap. There is ground deformation at several spots under the Vatnajökull icecap which points to magma ascent.
IMO have reported that there could be a magmatic intrusion at depth on the Reykjanes Peninsula; this is supported by ground deformation.
Gas measurements, ground deformation and recent seismic activity at Grímsvötn (not enough to show in our graphs but above the background levels for the volcanic system) have led to the Icelandic authorities to consider that an eruption is possible there in the not too distant future and to raise the alert level a notch (see earlier article).
It is too soon to tell whether or not the rifting events, themselves, will result in eruption(s); it is possible that it is just a coincidence that we are seeing two large rifting events at roughly the same time – both areas are seismically active. Time will tell.
A large earthquake swarm started on the morning of 19 July at around 1:30 am at Fagradalsfjall on the Reykjanes Peninsula. The largest earthquake had a magnitude of 5.1M. At the time of writing, there had been 1,635 earthquakes in the last 48 hours recorded on IMO’s website (note that not all of these have been confirmed). IMO’s map and breakdown of the swarm are shown below:
Close up of the Reykjanes Peninsula:
Fig 3: Breakdown of earthquakes by magnitude
This swarm is occurring on the east side of the swarms on the Reykjanes Peninsula which started late last year. IMO have reported that these swarms (still ongoing) are associated with multiple magma intrusions. The aviation code for the area is still green (IMO). IMO are in the process of evaluating the Fagradalsfjall swarm.
The swarm at the Tjörnes Fracture Zone is still ongoing.
The eagle-eyed amongst you will note that there is some seismic activity at Katla. Whether this will result in anything is anyone’s guess at the moment.
We have not yet updated our earthquake data-set for the current swarm. We will wait until IMO has had a chance to confirm more earthquakes
Update 24 July 2020
The swarm at Reykjanes is now less intense. In the meantime, Katla produced a shallow 3.0 M. IMO have remarked that earthquakes in the summer at Katla are not uncommon.
From memory, Katla was seismically active before the intense swarms started in August 2014 at Barðarbunga in the run up to the eruption at Holuhraun. This may have been a coincidence.
The earthquake swarm which started in December 2019 is continuing, let’s have a quick update on the stats.
There have been 19,675 earthquakes in the Reykjanes Peninsula area 64.4°N, 23.0°W to 63.7°N, 21.0°W for the period 1 Jan 2016 to 14 June 2020, of which 14,258 (72%) have occurred in the last six months, most associated with the swarm near Svartsengi.
Our updated scatter plots show that there is more shallow small earthquake activity above the lithosphere than in our earlier plots.
The geodensity plots for months 48 (December 2019) onwards (Figs 3.1 and 3.2) show that the most intense action started to the east of Mt Thorbjörn and has migrated west to Svartsengi and beyond.
IMO has confirmed that uplift has resumed in the vicinity of Mount Þorbjörn. Ground deformation is clearly visible on the GPS plots.
We are still looking at an unusually large swarm, accompanied by continued uplift in the vicinity of Mt Þorbjörn.
At the time of writing, there has been no change in the uncertainty phase declared by Icelandic Civil Protection .
The Armchair Volcanologist
15 June 2020
Raw earthquake data and GPS plots downloaded from the Icelandic Met Office: https://en.vedur.is
There has been a large earthquake swarm on the Reykjanes Peninsula over recent months, still ongoing at the time of writing, albeit with reduced intensity.
So let’s take a look at what’s been going on.
The Reykjanes Peninsula lies at the south west tip of Iceland on the Mid Atlantic Ridge, the boundary between the North American and Eurasian Plates. The North American Plate is moving westwards in relation to the Eurasian Plate; transform and extension faulting accommodate the relative Plate motions. The Reykjanes Volcanic Belt lies on the Reykjanes Peninsula, comprising five north east trending volcanic systems: Reykjanes, Svartsengi, Krýsuvík, Brennisteinsfjöll and Hengill. The volcanic systems are fissure swarms.
The line of earthquake epicentres in Fig 1 shows the path of the Mid Atlantic Ridge. These earthquakes were extracted from the data set used to generate the plots in the earlier post introducing Iceland. The raw earthquake data is publicly available data downloaded from the Icelandic Meteorological Office for the period January 2016 to 12 April 2020. The plot above is still data-heavy (too much data to see what is happening) so I have extracted the earthquakes by month to see where and when most activity occurred.
In the plots there is an impression of seismic activity trending along the Peninsula from the east to the west. This impression is born out most strongly in the activity from month 48 onwards. Although it should be noted that the level of activity for these months is unusually high.
There are several possible reasons for the east to west trending of the earthquake swarms:
the plates do not move smoothly past each other, so friction generates faults and earthquakes;
rifting is occurring to accommodate the upward motion of land further to the east, generated by the mantle plume in the vicinity of Vatnajökull; and /or,
magma intrusion in local volcanoes.
Let’s take a look at depth plots of earthquakes under the Reykjanes / Svartsengi area. This shows that the earthquakes over 3 M are largely in the lithosphere.
Plotting depth against longitude, effectively looking northwards through the swarms, also shows that most larger quakes are in the lithosphere but some over 2 M track towards the surface. On its own, this is not enough to draw any conclusions over the likelihood of an eruption; field observations, including gas emissions and ground deformation are required to determine how close to the surface magma may be.
These swarms were accompanied by local uplift, as shown by local GPS stations.
IMO(3) has reported that the most likely explanation for the recent swarms and uplift is a magma intrusion near Mt Thorbjörn at depth; Mt Thorbjorn is located near the Blue Lagoon, Svartsengi. As to whether or not magma will reach the surface for an eruption and where it emerges, we will have to wait and see. In the meantime, let’s look at the recent activity in historical times.
Historic Volcanic Activity
As noted earlier, the volcanic systems are fissure swarms. Activity is driven by rifting which enables magma to reach the surface. The most recent onshore volcanic activity took place between 940 AD and 1340 AD; later activity has been offshore. Onshore lavas from these eruptions tend to be tholeiitic basalts (1). The systems are still active as demonstrated by current geothermal activity.
The Hengill volcanic system is a series of fissure vents, crater rows and small shield volcanoes, with a highest point of 803m. It lies at the triple junction of the Reykjanes Peninsula volcanic zone, the Western volcanic zone and the South Iceland seismic zone. The lava types are basalt / picro-basalt, andesite / basaltic andesite and rhyolite. Hengill’s lavas are more complex that those to the west, reflecting its position at the triple junction. GVP(2) lists 13 Holocene eruptions ranging between VEI 0 and VEI 2; the last known eruption was a VEI 2 in 150 AD.
The Brennisteinsfjöll volcanic system is a series of crater rows and small shield volcanoes, with a highest point of 610m. Its lava types are basalt / picro-basalt. GVP(2) lists 9 Holocene eruptions ranging between VEI 0 and VEI 2. One eruption, previously attributed to Hengill, occurred during a meeting of the Icelandic parliament at Thingvellier in 1000 AD. The most recent eruption was a VEI 2 in 1341.
The Krýsuvík volcanic system is a series of crater rows and small shield volcanoes, with a highest point of 360m. Like Brennisteinsfjöll, its lava types are basalt / picro-basalt. GVP(2) lists 11 Holocene eruptions ranging from VEI 0 to VEI 2; the most recent of which was in 1340. The Krýsuvík Fires spanned a period between 1151 and 1188, producing 36 km2 of lava.
Reykjanes & Svartsengi
The Reykjanes volcanic system is a series of crater rows and small shield volcanoes, which extends offshore and includes several small islands. Reykjanes highest point is 140m. The Reykjaneshryggur volcanic system is a submarine system which is considered part of Reykjanes. GVP includes Svartsengi as a crater row of Reykjanes. Reykjanes lava types are basalt / picro-basalt. GVP(2) lists 22 Holocene eruptions ranging between VEI 0 and VEI 4, of which the most recent was a VEI 0 in 1970; the VEI 4 was in 1226. The 1226 eruption was part of the Reykjanes Fires which started in 1210 and lasted until 1240.
The area is one that has had a period of intense volcanic activity, so the recent earthquake swarms have generated a lot of interest.
Regular updates on seismic and volcanic activity in Iceland are published by the Icelandic Meteorological Office(3).
The Armchair Volcanologist
14 May 2020
References & Further Reading:
David W Peate, Joel A. Baker, Sveinn P. Jakobsson, Tod E. Waight, Adam J. R. Kent, Nathalie V. Grassineau, Anna Cecile Skovgaard , 2009. “Historic Magmatism on the Reykjanes Peninsula”, Contrib Mineral Petrol (2009) 157:359-382