Saturday 11 November 2023

The Earth Moves

In 2010, when Eyjafjallajökull lost its lunch and closed down European air-travel our own Dau.I and Dau.II, then 14 and 16, had an awf'y big adventure. They had chosen to go visit an old friend in Switzerland and had to repatriate themselves 1930s style by trains and boat and trains and boat. It brought into familial focus just how active Iceland can be. The island sits right on the boundary between the NorthAmerican and Eurasian tectonic plates which are, with more shrieking and grinding than the T in Boston, moving apart. 

The Reykjanes peninsula is where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (a divergent / constructive plate boundary) pops out of the sea for the first time since the Açores.The capital Reykjavik sits in the oxter of the peninsula to the North; with Keflavik Intl Airport out along the coast on the end of the Northside. I've flagged the fishing village of Grindavik because it's in The News today. And Metafilter since 7th Nov! The nearby represents the volcano Fagradalsfjall. Eyjafjallajökull is shown as another 130km due East.

Reykjanes has been in The News for the last two years because, after Fagradalsfjall erupted in Spring 2021, a swarm of earthquakes triggered a boost to volcatourism. Being conveniently close to Reykjavik and the airport, a lot of people turned up thinking of Mordor. Over the last tuthree weeks of 2023 another surge of tectonic rumbles has occurred just to the North of the working fishing town of Grindavík and even closer to two major infrastructural projects in the middle of the peninsula. 

1) The Svartsengi [black meadow] geothermal power station. Since 1976, this plant has been using the hot water to drive turbines to make electricity and adding that to the national grid. It also supplies hot-water for district heating in Reykjavik 45km NE. That's kinda neat, yes? Iceland, as it says on the tin, is cold in Winter but magma hot just under the surface. Steam central heating for an entire community is just a matter of pipework and maintenance. We otoh are burning wood and fossil fuel and destroying the planet.

2) The other local money-mill complex is the Blue Lagoon hydrothermal spa resort. "Healing waters. A subterranean spa. Gourmet cuisine. Luxurious suites. Otherworldly vistas. A universe of radiant wellbeing." This commercial venture battens onto the downstream effluent from Svartsengi insulating the clientele with plush towelling robes from any feelings of Mordourism. After holding out for rather longer than geological experts were comfortable with, The Blue Lagoon shuttered its facilities for a week at 0700hrs on the 9th November - to not hazard the lives of their employees. There had been a bigger shock than usual 6½ hours earlier, just after midnight, and ~40-50 spa-clients bottled out and hailed taxis to get them outta here.

Last night things got fizzy and the Civil Defense ordered up a fleet of buses to carry out the evacuation of Grindavík. They will be camping out in sports halls until the situation resolves itself. Everyone is hoping that the magma, which has uplifted the black meadow 8cm in the last two week will unzip to the North and spill out across the uninhabited part of peninsula off towards Keflavik. But precautionary principle applies. Lava can travel faster than a child can run and might arrive in town in 10-15 minutes. Better to spend a few days camping in a dry heated hall.

The last town-threatening eruption in Iceland was on Heimaey in Jan 1973 [bloboprev]. There, after evacuating the town, residual volunteers and civil defense folk sprayed 6 million tonnes of icy seawater at the lava face and stopped it from filling in their harbour. Some of the people of Heimaey never went back to daily island hardship and stayed on the mainland . . . in Grindavík!

1 comment:

  1. I just got back from a week in Reykjavík, where I was woken up by a 4.2 tremblor. I may have left just in time (or too soon if I was a "disaster tourist."