Residents of Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula faced yet more destruction last week as they faced the third volcanic eruption since December.
Now, a satellite image reveals the true scale of the latest eruption.
The image was snapped by the European Union’s Copernicus’ SENTINEL-2 satellite just 10 hours after the eruption on February 8.
It shows how lava rapidly bled into the frozen landscape, travelling up to 2.8 miles (4.5 km) west, and destroying pipes that provide 20,000 people with hot water.
It also highlights just how close the lava came to hitting the vital Svartsengi power plant.
Satellite imagery from the EU’s Copernicus Sentinel 2 satellite captures the shocking power of the latest eruption on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula
This is the third eruption to hit the Reykjanes peninsula (highlighted red) in the last three months, leading the town of Grindavik to be evacuated
Shortly after 5:30am local time, a two-mile fissure tore open and sent lava spewing out into the frozen landscape
At around 5:30am local time on February 8, an eruption ripped open a 1.9-mile (3km) fissure in the Earth just 2.5 miles (4km) north of Grindavik.
At the time of the eruption, Iceland’s Meteorological Office (IMO) estimated that nine million cubic meters of magma had built up in a volcanic chamber.
When the pressure eventually became too great and the volcano burst open, this lava spewed out into the surrounding area.
In the striking satellite image, you can see the vast area covered by still-glowing lava flows.
Previous eruptions in the Reykjanes peninsula have sent lava flows travelling southwards, coming dangerously close to Grindavik and the nearby power station.
In January, lava from the most dangerous eruption travelled to the edge of town and destroyed at least three houses.
However, as this image reveals, lava from the February 8 eruption mainly travelled to the west.
The Copernicus satellite image shows that the lava flow travelled 2.8 miles (4.5 km) from the eruption site, settling into a long thin flow.
Lava flows from the eruption travelled 2.8 miles (4.5 km) west, hitting a key hot water pipe (pictured) near the Blue Lagoon tourist attraction
The eruption sent out an enormous plume of steam and gas which can also be seen in the satellite imagery. Iceland’s Met Office, however, now says that the risk of gas pollution has abated in the town of Grindavik
In the satellite image, you can also see the plume of gas being shot out by the eruption.
The Copernicus team said in a statement: ‘The smoke plume and the lava flow can clearly be seen near the city of Grindavik.’
While the white plume seen in the image is mainly composed of steam, during the early phases of the eruption IMO also noted that ‘a conspicuous, dark plume’ emerged from part of the eruption.
According to IMO, this was likely due to lava interacting with groundwater, resulting in slight explosive activity.
Even though the satellite image shows the plumes travelling over Grindavik, IMO maintains that there is no longer a risk of gas pollution within the town.
Within the town of Gridavik, the biggest risks are now the formation of sinkholes and earthquakes caused by ‘fault movement’.
Closer to the lava flows, however, hazards due to gas pollution are still considered likely.
In this closeup of the satellite image, you can see how close the lava flows came to the town as the gas cloud travelled over the formerly inhabited area. You can also see the black rock left behind by an eruption in January which destroyed at least three homes
While this latest eruption does not directly threaten any settlements, its effects have been hugely disruptive.
Lava struck a key hot water pipe leading from the Svartsengi geothermal power plant.
The Copernicus team said: ‘The lava flow has disrupted the hot water supply to more than 20,000 households, and the local Civil Protection Agency has raised its alert level to emergency status for the whole Reykjanes Peninsula region.’
Work to repair the pipeline is ongoing but it may be several days before hot water services return.
There are also concerns lava may strike key pipelines close to the Svartsengi geothermal power station.
The IMO has updated its hazard map for the area (pictured), reducing the risk of gas and lava flows for Grindavik (orange). However, around the Svartsengi power plant (yellow) there is still a moderate risk of lava flows
If this were to happen then a further 30,000 people could be affected.
However, according to IMO, the eruption has now subsided, meaning further damage is unlikely.
In a statement issued on February 9, IMO wrote: ‘No eruptive activity was observed in a drone-flight over the eruptive site carried out at noon today. This suggests that the eruption is ending.’
Volcanic tremor activity in the area has also significantly decreased since February 8, raising hopes that the worst of the eruption is now over.
Yet experts suggest that more eruptions in the Reykjanes peninsula are likely in the coming months.
Iceland has extremely high levels of volcanic activity due to its location above the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
After remaining dormant for eight centuries, experts believe that the Reykjanes peninsula is now entering a new era of volcanic activity. This means that eruptions like this are likely to occur again in the coming months
Iceland is a particular hotspot for seismic activity because it sits on a tectonic plate boundary called the Mid Atlantic Ridge
This crack in the ocean floor divides the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates and allows frequent eruptions to occur.
The island itself experiences one eruption about every four or five years, however, the Reykjanes peninsula has lain dormant for eight centuries.
There have now been five eruptions since August 2022 and three since December alone.
This has led volcanologists to say it was probably the start of a new era of activity in the region.