Earthquake swarm in Iceland could hint at even bigger event

Maura Kelly
·3 min read

Nearly constant earthquakes have plagued the main population center of Iceland in recent days, and officials warn this could be a sign of an imminent volcanic eruption.

Iceland is no stranger to seismic activity as the island has been formed by volcanic activity due to the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates moving away from each other. Iceland is home to volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, lava fields and occasional earthquakes.

However, the islands are experiencing unusual seismic activity with over 22,000 earthquakes occurring since February 24th, according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office.

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According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), a series of mostly small earthquakes with identifiable main shock is considered a swarm and can be short-lived or continue for days, months or years.

Earthquakes in a swarm happen in roughly the same area and are associated with geothermal activity.

Most of the earthquakes have occurred in the Southern Peninsula, or Reykjanes region, located to the south of the capital city of Reykjavik. About two-thirds of Iceland's population lives in Reykjavik and the surrounding towns.

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Locals told CNN that while they are used to earthquakes in the area, the almost constant shaking has been unsettling.

Most of the earthquakes have had a magnitude of 3.0 or less on the Richter Scale. However, the largest tremors reached a magnitude of 5.2 on Feb. 27 and 5.6 on Feb. 24.

Outside of a few cracks in roads and rockfalls on steep slopes near the epicenter of the swarm reported by Iceland's Road and Coastal Administration, very little damage has been caused by the frequent earthquakes, CNN reported.

In this Oct. 26, 2016 file photo, the church of Vik, Iceland, near the Volcano Katla. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

Local experts that CNN spoke with about the lengthy period of seismic activity said concerns among the public make sense. "Of course it worries people," Þorvaldur Þórðarson, a volcanology professor at the University of Iceland, told CNN. "For this region, this is actually fairly unusual, not because of the type of earthquakes or their intensity, but for their duration. It's been going for more than a week now."

Þórðarson went on to say that the frequent earthquakes are likely due to an intrusion of magma into the Earth's crust in the Reykjanes region and that officials are trying to figure out if the magma is moving even closer to the surface.

There are multiple volcanoes located along this southwestern peninsula, including Mount Keilir which is located about 20 miles south of Reykjavik, and local officials warn that an eruption could be imminent.

"We are not saying we have signs an eruption has begun," said Kristín Jónsdóttir, an official from the Icelandic Meteorological Office, told local media. "But this looks like the type of activity we expect in the run-up to an eruption."

According to The Guardian, officials announced that residents were not in any immediate danger, but travel to the peninsula should be avoided.

Officials also stated this would be the first eruption in this region of Iceland since the 12th century, according to The Guardian.

The fears of an eruption come during an active period for volcanoes elsewhere around the world. Both Mount Etna in Italy and Mount Sinabung in Indonesia have been particularly active in recent weeks. Each volcano sent towering ash clouds into the sky this week, which left villages in both countries coated in ash.

No injuries or fatalities were reported as a result of either eruption, but air travel was impacted for a period of time in Italy's Sicily region, which is where the volcano is located.

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