Residents of Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula faced even more destruction last week as they faced the third volcanic eruption since December.
Now, a satellite image reveals the true scale of the latest eruption.
The image was taken by the European Union’s Copernicus SENTINEL-2 satellite just 10 hours after the Feb. 8 eruption.
It shows how lava quickly overflowed into the frozen landscape, traveling up to 2.8 miles (4.5 km) west and destroying pipes supplying hot water to 20,000 people.
It also highlights how close the lava came to hitting the vital Svartsengi power station.
Satellite images from the EU’s Copernicus Sentinel 2 satellite capture the shocking power of the latest eruption on Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula.
This is the third eruption to hit the Reykjanes Peninsula (highlighted in red) in the last three months, prompting the evacuation of the city of Grindavik.
Shortly after 5:30 a.m. local time, a two-mile fissure opened and spewed lava onto the frozen landscape.
At around 5:30 a.m. local time on February 8, an eruption opened a 3-kilometer (1.9 mi) fissure in the Earth just 4 kilometers (2.5 mi) north of Grindavik.
At the time of the eruption, the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) estimated that nine million cubic meters of magma had accumulated in a volcanic chamber.
When the pressure finally became too great and the volcano opened, this lava poured out into the surrounding area.
In the surprising satellite image you can see the vast surface covered by still bright lava flows.
Previous eruptions on the Reykjanes Peninsula have sent lava flows southward, coming dangerously close to Grindavik and the nearby power station.
In January, lava from the most dangerous eruption traveled to the outskirts of the city and destroyed at least three houses.
However, as this image reveals, lava from the February 8 eruption traveled primarily westward.
The Copernicus satellite image shows that the lava flow traveled 4.5 km (2.8 mi) from the eruption site and formed into a long, thin flow.
Lava flows from the eruption traveled 4.5 km (2.8 mi) west and struck a key hot water pipe (pictured) near the Blue Lagoon tourist attraction.
The eruption caused a huge plume of steam and gas, which can also be seen on satellite images. The Icelandic Meteorological Office, however, now says that the risk of gas pollution has decreased in the town of Grindavik.
In the satellite image you can also see the column of gas that shoots out from the eruption.
The Copernicus team said in a statement: “The plume of smoke and lava flow can be clearly seen near the city of Grindavik.”
While the white plume seen in the image is primarily composed of vapor, during the early phases of the eruption, the IMO also observed that “a striking dark plume” emerged from part of the eruption.
According to the IMO, this was probably because the lava interacted with groundwater, causing slight explosive activity.
Although the satellite image shows plumes of smoke passing over Grindavik, the IMO maintains that there is no longer a risk of gas pollution within the city.
In the city of Gridavik, the biggest risks now are the formation of sinkholes and earthquakes caused by “fault movement”.
However, closer to lava flows they are still considered likely hazards due to gas pollution.
In this close-up of the satellite image you can see how close the lava flows came to the city as the gas cloud traveled over the previously inhabited area. You can also see the black rock left behind by an eruption in January that destroyed at least three homes.
While this latest eruption does not directly threaten any settlements, its effects have been hugely disruptive.
The lava reached an important hot water pipe leaving the Svartsengi geothermal power plant.
The Copernicus team said: “The lava flow has disrupted hot water supplies to more than 20,000 homes, and the local Civil Protection Agency has raised its alert level to a state of emergency for the entire Reykjanes Peninsula region. “.
Work to repair the pipe is ongoing, but it may take several days before hot water services return.
There are also concerns that lava could reach key oil pipelines near the Svartsengi geothermal power plant.
The IMO has updated its hazard map for the area (pictured), reducing the risk of gas and lava flows for Grindavik (orange). However, around the Svartsengi power station (yellow) there is still a moderate risk of lava flows.
If this were to happen, another 30,000 people could be affected.
However, according to the IMO, the eruption has already subsided, so further damage is unlikely.
In a statement issued on February 9, the IMO wrote: ‘No eruptive activity was observed in a drone flight over the eruptive site carried out at midday today. This suggests that the eruption is coming to an end.”
Volcanic tremor activity in the area has also decreased significantly since February 8, raising hopes that the worst of the eruption may have passed.
However, experts suggest that more eruptions are likely to occur on the Reykjanes Peninsula in the coming months.
Iceland has extremely high levels of volcanic activity due to its location above the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
After lying dormant for eight centuries, experts believe the Reykjanes Peninsula is now entering a new era of volcanic activity. This means that eruptions like this are likely to happen again in the coming months.
Iceland is a particularly hotspot for seismic activity because it sits on the boundary of a tectonic plate called the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
This crack in the ocean floor divides the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates and allows frequent eruptions to occur.
The island itself suffers an eruption every four or five years, but the Reykjanes Peninsula has been dormant for eight centuries.
There have already been five eruptions since August 2022 and three since December alone.
This has led volcanologists to say that it was probably the beginning of a new era of activity in the region.