The Earth is erupting in fountains and oozing rivers of glowing lava again outside Reykjavik at a place called Meradalir, and onlookers are taking risks to witness the spectacle that they may not even fully understand.
The erupting fissure appeared Wednesday in an empty valley not far from the Mount Fagradalsfjall volcano that spent six months erupting in 2021. That eruption was the first on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula in eight centuries — now a more powerful eruption is underway nearby.
The fissure is roughly the length of three football fields and about five to ten times larger in terms of magma flow.
The relatively rare sight is attracting people from Reykjavik, other parts of the country and elsewhere to get some one-of-a-kind shots for social media, but it’s a dangerous proposition.
While a volcanic eruption can appear to be relatively consistent and predictable from second to second, they are actually anything but. The fact that this peninsula lay dormant above the surface for almost a millenium and has suddenly burst back to life should provide some indication of just how volatile the situation actually is.
Eruptions can amp up their intensity at any moment, hurling not only molten lava but also large chunks of solid rock across startling distances. It’s not much of an exaggeration to compare hanging out near an eruption to sightseeing in an active war zone.
In addition to lethal projectiles, there is an invisible risk at play near an eruption as well. Toxic gases are another by-product of eruptions, leading to air pollution that authorities must monitor and warn nearby populations about.
In particular, sulfur dioxide is commonly emitted by eruptions, which can cause respiratory problems that can even be lethal in large doses as well as the potential for anaphylaxis.
The current eruption is more difficult to access than last year’s, require a challenging 90 minute hike, but officials report that still nearly 2,000 visitors made the trek the first day. Cell phone records also indicate that as many as 8,000 people were in the area.