Shaking in their beds, sleepless Icelanders await the volcanic eruption

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Icelanders crave some peaceful sleep after tremors from tens of thousands of earthquakes rocked their sleep for weeks in what scientists call an unprecedented seismic event, which could well end in a spectacular volcanic eruption. .

“Right now we feel it constantly. It’s like you’re walking on a fragile suspension bridge, ”Rannveig Gudmundsdottir, a lifelong resident of the city of Grindavik, told Reuters.

Grindavik is located in the southern part of the Reykjanes Peninsula, a volcanic and seismic hotspot, where more than 40,000 earthquakes have occurred since February 24, surpassing the total number of earthquakes recorded there last year.

Situated between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, Iceland frequently experiences earthquakes as the plates slowly move in opposite directions at a rate of about 2 centimeters each year.

The source of the earthquakes in recent weeks is a large body of molten rock, known as magma, moving about a kilometer (0.6 miles) below the peninsula as it tries to make its way to the surface.

“We have never seen so much seismic activity,” Sara Barsotti, coordinator of volcanic hazards at the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO), told Reuters.

Some of those earthquakes registered magnitudes as high as 5.7.

“Everyone here is so tired,” said Gudmundsdottir, a fifth grade school teacher. “When I go to bed at night, all I think is: am I going to get some sleep tonight?”

Many in Grindavik have visited relatives, spent time in summer houses or even rented a hotel room in Reykjavik, the capital, just to rest and sleep well.

Icelandic authorities warned of an impending volcanic eruption on the peninsula in early March, but said they did not expect it to disrupt international air traffic or damage nearby critical infrastructure.

Unlike the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which halted approximately 900,000 flights and forced hundreds of Icelanders from their homes, the eruption on the peninsula is not expected to spew much ash or smoke into the atmosphere.

Experts expect the lava to erupt from fissures in the ground, possibly resulting in spectacular lava fountains, which could extend 20 to 100 meters into the air.

Already last year the authorities launched an emergency plan for Grindavik. One option includes putting locals on boats in the North Atlantic, if an eruption closes the roads to the remote city.

“I am confident that the authorities will keep us informed and evacuate us,” Gudmundsdottir said. “I’m not scared, I’m just tired.”

Reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Edited by Emelia Sithole-Matarise


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