As for a volcanic island accustomed to the frequent tremor, this has been an odd week for Iceland. Around 17,000 earthquakes have hit the southwestern area of Reykjanes over the last week, according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office,
The largest earthquake, a magnitude 5.6 on the Richter scale, occurred on February 24. It was the most powerful in a swarm that disturbed residents in the nearby capital city of Reykjavík, where two-thirds of the Icelandic population lives. Two more extensive earthquakes — over magnitude 5.0 — also hit on February 27 and March 1.
The quakes have caused little loss so far, though Iceland’s Road and Coastal Administration has recorded small cracks inroads in the area and rockfalls on steep slopes near the epicentre.
In the fishing town of Grindavík, residents have had a front-row seat to the tremors. “I’ve not encountered anything like this before,” says Páll Valur Björnsson, who teaches at the local College of Fisheries and holds the position as a deputy member of Parliament. “We are used to it; it started one year ago. But it is much more now very unsettling. I’m not scared, but this is uncomfortable.”
“We are battling with the ‘why’ currently. Why is this happening? We likely have magma intrusion into the [Earth’s] crust there. It has propelled closer to the surface, but we are working to figure out if it’s moving even closer to it,” the Prime minister said. With many volcanoes in the area, local officials have warned that an eruption could be expected. Elísabet Pálmadóttir, a specialist in natural hazards at the Icelandic Meteorological Office, told that the government is extending surveillance equipment in the area, from GPS and earthquake monitors to web cameras and gas detectors.
Recent earthquakes in Iceland
“In this specific area, where we’ve seen activity in the past week, we could experience a magnitude 6.0 earthquake. We could also have a 6.5 to the east of the area, east of the Kleifarvatn Lake,” she says. The central road connecting the airport to the capital could be affected, as could some powerlines, he added.
On Wednesday afternoon, a trembling close to the Keilir volcano, just 20 miles south of the capital, urged authorities to ban traffic in the area.
The large earthquakes felt on the previous days have mostly sunk, but the current lull may not last long. “It’s not over,” says Pálmadóttir.