Decision taken after the EU expressed concern
This was of course our April-1 story, aimed to amuse rather than fool, in these dark days. The idea came from Lughduniense and Geolurking, and images were artfully created by Lughduniense. Carl proclaimed it ‘wonderful’ and Manning was happy to ‘help’. And I just did the writing up. This was a team effort. Our thanks go to all the readers who told us it put a smile on their face. What more could we ask for?
And now for the story.
The Iceland Tourist Office announced this morning that the impending eruption at Þorbjörn on the Reykjanes peninsula has been postponed until 2021. The decision was taken after a full-day meeting involving a delegation from the EU headed by EU commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičiusr (Environment, Oceans and Fisheries) and the Iceland Minister of Health, Svandís Svavarsdóttir.
Þorbjörn is currently weeks away from erupting. The renewed inflation (see here for the latest IMO curve) is expected to cross the critical level (the top line in the curve) in mid-April, with an eruption following between 16 and 20 April. The eruption is expected to last up to a week, and to be a major tourist attraction. Þorbjörn is conveniently located close to both the capital, Reykjavik, and the major international airport, Keflavik, and the lava will safely run into the ocean. The Iceland Tourist Office has started to prepare safe access and viewing areas. The eruption was expected to give a welcome boost to the Icelandic economy. However, the current travel restrictions means that too few overseas visitors will be able to visit the eruption. In addition, it may be difficult to enforce the social distancing requirement, or to comply with the Minister of Health’s ban on larger gatherings which limits eruption viewings to no more than 100 people at a time.
The European Union has added to the pressure because of concerns on air quality in Western Europe during the eruption. Based on the forecasted wind patterns in mid-April, the eruption would likely violate EU air quality directive 2008/50/EC. The EU promised to provide additional financial assistance in the recovery phase from the current epidemic, if Iceland was willing to reschedule the eruption.
It was therefore decide to stop the on-going inflation. Completely cancelling the eruption was not considered because of the touristic impact. The eruption is instead rescheduled for 2021.
The method used to delay the eruption was not explained by the Iceland Tourist Office press release. However, the Blue Lagoon Company has confirmed that Iceland will use the Blue Lagoon to extract heat from the new magma, thus reducing the pressure. The Blue Lagoon consists of waste water from the geothermal plant. By drilling deeper and greatly increasing the pump pressure the water will be brought closer to new magma and extract heat from it. The circulation speed will be greatly increased. The Blue Lagoon will become too hot for bathing, but the area is currently closed to the public anyway. The Blue Lagoon is scheduled to re-open in August 2020 although this may be postponed if there is a further magma intrusion during the spring or summer.
The method will make use of the newly developed Magma Cooling Cycler (colloquially called the VSE, for volcano suppressor engine), which creates the extreme pressure required to push water deep enough and to keep the superheated water from turning to vapour underground. The cycler is based on a design by Joseph Manning, Professor of Volcanic Suppression at Yale University (currently in Iceland) and was build at the University of California at Santa Barbara. A version of the VSE has already been installed at the Blue Lagoon during the current closure under guidance of Manning.
The superheated water will create a large geyser within the Blue Lagoon. Access will be strictly prohibited, however the geyser will be easily visible from Keflavik, possibly as early as this afternoon.
Tour operators have begun to offer eruption tours for 2021. However, care should be taken when booking these as the precise dates of the 2021 eruption are still being discussed with the EU.
April 1, 2020
Ps. Update: The pumps have been turned on this morning. The water pressure caused two M3 earthquakes when the water reached the magma chamber.