Iceland volcano eruption sparks travel fears, risky photo shoots


A massive volcano erupting close to a major global travel hub, Iceland’s Keflavik Airport, sparked close monitoring by officials and fascination from people venturing near the flows of bright orange lava despite warnings.

The Fagradalsfjall volcano in southwest Iceland erupted Wednesday around 1:18 p.m. local time, according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office, which urged people to stay away from the sparsely populated area on the Reykjanes peninsula — though people still went up close to snap photographs with their children and fly drones.

The eruption, a volcanic fissure, is occurring about 10 miles from Keflavik International Airport and about 20 miles from the country’s capital, Reykjavík. As of Thursday morning the airport — which has flights from Seattle, London and Frankfurt — remained open and operational.

“Currently, there have been no disruptions to flights to and from Iceland and international flight corridors remain open,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

International travelers will recall the 2010 eruption of the country’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which spewed huge ash clouds into the atmosphere, grounding global air traffic and leaving millions stranded amid travel chaos.

“What we know so far is that the eruption does not pose any risk to populated areas or critical infrastructure,” Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir said in a statement. “We will of course continue to monitor the situation closely.”

The eruption is classified as a volcanic fissure eruption, which does not usually result in large explosions or significant production of ash dispersed into the stratosphere.

But it still prompted warnings to stay away due to the risk from noxious fumes and hot magma.

“The eruption follows intense seismic activity over the past few days. It is considered to be relatively small and due to its location, there is low threat to populated areas or critical infrastructure,” the Foreign Ministry said.

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The exact location of the eruption is in Meradalir, about 1 mile north of Mt. Stori-Hrutur, according to the Icelandic Met Office.

The area has experienced “strong earthquakes” in recent days ahead of the eruption, it added, and warned of ongoing tremors, rocks falling and gas pollution. The same volcano also erupted last year, it said, and lasted about six months.

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Volcanoes are a fact of life in Iceland, a country that sits atop the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, caused by the separation of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. On average, the country experiences a volcanic event about every four years.

However, the same geological activity is also responsible for some of the country’s most dramatic natural features such as black sand beaches and geothermal lagoons, which draw in millions of foreign tourists.

The current volcanic response is being led by Iceland’s department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management alongside the Meteorological Office and University of Iceland. Scientists are also in the area with Coast Guard helicopters to assess the situation, the government said.

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