COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – A volcanic eruption began on Friday in southwest Iceland, near the capital Reykjavik, following thousands of small earthquakes in the area in recent weeks, the country’s meteorological office said.
The eruption occurred near Fagradalsfjall, a mountain on the Reykjanes Peninsula, located about 30 km (19 miles) southwest of the capital.
“I can see the bright red sky from my window,” said Rannveig Gudmundsdottir, a resident of the city of Grindavik, just 8 km (5 miles) from the eruption.
“Everyone here gets in their cars to drive there,” he said.
More than 40,000 earthquakes have occurred on the peninsula in the last four weeks, a huge jump from the 1,000-3,000 earthquakes recorded each year since 2014.
Images on local media websites showed a bright red night sky. An image posted on Twitter by the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) showed smoke billowing from glowing lava streams.
The eruption did not pose an immediate danger to people in Grindavik or critical infrastructure, the IMO said.
“I think we can’t hope for anything better than that,” IMO volcanic hazards coordinator Sara Barsotti told Reuters.
Unlike the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which halted approximately 900,000 flights and forced hundreds of Icelanders from their homes, this eruption is not expected to spew much ash or smoke into the atmosphere, IMO said.
Situated between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, among the largest on the planet, Iceland is a seismic and volcanic hotspot as the two plates move in opposite directions.
The source of the eruption is a large body of molten rock, known as magma, that has made its way to the surface in recent weeks, causing earthquakes.
However, the number of earthquakes had slowed in recent days, prompting geologists to say that an eruption would be less likely.
Reykjavik’s Keflavik International Airport was not closed after the eruption, but each airline had to decide for itself whether or not it wanted to fly, the IMO said.
A helicopter with scientific personnel on board had moved to observe the eruption, the IMO said.
Reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen in Copenhagen; Edited by Leslie Adler and Matthew Lewis