Lava flows from a volcano in the Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland, on Saturday. Reuters
A volcano that spewed glowing red lava near Iceland's capital Reykjavik after awakening for the first time in 900 years appeared to be subsiding on Sunday, posing no danger to people, experts said.
Streams of red lava bubbled and flowed out of a fissure in a valley in Geldingadalur, close to Mount Fagradalsfjall on the Reykjanes peninsula in southwestern Iceland.
As the lava flow slowed under rain showers, a blue gas plume and a vapour cloud rose from the site, just 40 kilometres from the capital and near a popular tourist destination, the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa.
The eruption occurred on Friday night, lighting up the night sky with a crimson glow as hundreds of small earthquakes shook the area.
While Iceland's Keflavik International Airport and the small fishing port of Grindavik are just a few kilometres away, the zone is uninhabited and the eruption did not present any danger to the public.
Lava flows from the erupting Fagradalsfjall volcano. AFP
"The eruption is considered small at this stage and the volcanic activity has somewhat decreased since yesterday evening," the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO), which monitors seismic activity, said in a statement on Saturday. It said the "eruptive fissure" measured approximately 500 to 700 metres.
The lava area, it added, was less than one square kilometre, with small lava fountains.
Speaking to reporters, University of Iceland geophysicist Magnus Tumi Gudmundsson described the valley as an "ideal" spot for the eruption, likening it to "a bathtub the lava can slowly leak into."
IMO earthquake hazards coordinator Kristin Jonsdottir meanwhile said it was "very likely the eruption will last for the next few days."
Friday's eruption took place in the Krysuvik volcanic system, which does not have a central volcano, about five kilometres inland from the southern coast.
Icelandic Coast Guard members watch as lava flows from a volcano in the Reykjanes. Reuters
Sigurdur Kristmundsson, a 54-year-old Grindavik port official, said that locals were exhilarated by the eruption. "Nobody is in danger or anything like that. So I think people are excited and not afraid of it."
Dormant for 900 years
Access to the area was initially blocked off but later opened to the public, though Iceland's Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management stressed the several-hour hike from the nearest road was only recommended for those "used to being outdoors in difficult conditions."
Gases from a volcanic eruption — especially sulphur dioxide — can be elevated in the immediate vicinity, and may pose a danger to health and even be fatal. Gas pollution can also be carried by the wind.
Lava flows from a volcano in Reykjanes. Reuters
"Currently gas pollution is not expected to cause much discomfort for people except close up to the source of the eruption. The gas emissions will be monitored closely," the IMO said.
The Krysuvik system has been inactive for the past 900 years, according to the IMO, while the last eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula dates back almost 800 years and lasted about 30 years, from 1210 to 1240.
But the region had been under increased surveillance for several weeks after a 5.7-magnitude earthquake was registered on February 24 near Mount Keilir on the outskirts of Reykjavik.
Since then more than 50,000 smaller tremors had been registered, and magma was detected just one kilometre under the Earth's surface in recent days near Fagradalsfjall.
Geophysicist Gudmundsson said the eruption signalled a new period "which may last centuries with eruptions, possibly 10 years to 100 years apart."
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