Iceland Air Travel Disrupted After Volcanic Eruption

Following weeks of increased seismic activity, a volcanic eruption has begun disrupting travel to the North Atlantic island nation of Iceland. All flights into or out of Keflavik International Airport (KEF) were canceled on Friday following the eruption of the Fagradalsfjall volcano located on the Reykjanes Peninsula, 25 miles from the capital Reykjavik.

Icelandair 767
The Fagradalsfjall eruption only closed KEF for a short time. Photo: Getty Images

Scientists first warned of a possible eruption on March 3 after seeing an uptick in seismic activity in the area. Since last weekend, the tremors kept increasing, leading experts to warn that an eruption was imminent. On Friday, the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) announced that an eruption had occurred at 21:10 local time and that people should avoid the area.

It was an effusive eruption

Unlike the explosive eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 that caused air traffic havoc all over Europe due to the massive amount of volcanic ash, effusive eruptions produce a steady flow of lava. For an effusive eruption to occur, the magma must have a low, low ascent velocity (Reynolds Number), a dimensionless number in fluid dynamics. When the magma ascent rate is higher, an explosive eruption occurs, spewing ash clouds high into the sky.

Iceland Air Travel Disrupted After Volcanic Eruption
The explosive Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010 grounded flights all over Western Europe. Photo: Boaworm via Wikipedia

On its website, the IMO said the following:

“At the time of writing, the weather on the peninsula is wet and windy, and an orange glow can be seen in low clouds on the horizon from Reykjanesbær and Grindavík. The eruption site is in a valley, about 4.7 km inland from the southern coast of the peninsula. The coastal town of Grindavík is the closed populated region to the eruption site, located approximately 10 km to the southwest.”

It added: “There are presently no reports of ashfall, although tephra and gas emissions are to be expected.”

Icelandic police tweeted to ask for the population to stay calm and not go to the eruption site, or on Reykjanesbraut. It added that first responders need to be able to drive freely and scientists are working hard on assessments.

The situation today

Given the nature of the Fagradalsfjall eruption being effusive rather than explosive, we would not expect Keflavik International Airport to remain closed for too long. Icelandair has pretty much confirmed that KEF will be open today by issuing the following information on its website:

“A volcanic eruption started close to Fagradalsfjall, Iceland, just after 9 pm tonight. The volcanic eruption is a lava eruption and will not have a considerable impact on our Icelandair operations or Keflavík Airport, so flights for tomorrow morning are on schedule.”

The Icelandic national flag carrier added:

“We will continue to monitor the situation closely and make sure to keep our passengers informed if we have to make any changes to our flight schedule. The health and safety of our passengers and employees is always our priority and at the heart of every decision we make.”

Iceland is open for vaccinated visitors

So as you can see, the Fagradalsfjall eruption is nothing more than a small hiccup that should not halt flights to and from the island. This is great news for Iceland after the Icelandic government announced it was lifting COVID-19 restrictions on people who had been vaccinated.

Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine
Iceland is open to people who have been vaccinated. Photo: Getty Images

Up until March 18, Iceland only allowed visitors from European Union countries to enter without restrictions. Now people from the United Kingdom, the United States, and other nations who can prove that they have been vaccinated will be allowed to visit.

The one stipulation, however, is that the must-have been vaccinated with a vaccination recognized by the European Medicines Agency:

  • Comirnaty (Pfizer)
  • AstraZeneca
  • Janssen
  • Moderna

China’s Sinovac and Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines are, as of this time, not being recognized as proof that you have been vaccinated for the coronavirus.

Even with its seismic activity and the occasional volcanic eruption, Iceland remains an amazing country to visit.

Do you plan on traveling to Iceland this year? If so, please tell us about your planned trip in the comments.