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NASA captures eruption of Iceland's Svartsengi volcano from space

NASA’s satellite imagery has provided a stunning and insightful look into the recent volcanic eruption on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula. 

The dramatic before-and-after images, captured using infrared cameras on the NOAA-20 satellite, reveal the intense heat from the vast lava flows that have reshaped the landscape.

Powerful eruption

For years, an eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula was anticipated due to increasing seismic activity. The final warning came on the night of December 18 with a series of earthquakes, leading to a 2.5-mile-long fissure opening up less than two miles north of Grindavik. 

This fissure soon gave way to five vents, each spewing enormous volumes of lava. At its peak, the eruption emitted more than ten times the lava per second compared to Iceland’s last three volcanic events.

Dramatic changes

The power of this eruption has been vividly captured in NASA’s satellite photos. An image taken before the eruption, on December 18, shows a dark, calm area indicating the cold climate. In stark contrast, a photo from the early hours of December 19 displays bright areas, highlighting the lava’s radiating heat. 

“What you’re seeing in these images is the very high temperatures of the active lava flows compared to the surrounding land and clouds,” said Simon Carn, a volcanologist at Michigan Technological University.

Bright lava flow 

Intriguingly, the second image reveals three circular, cooler areas amidst the bright yellow of the lava flow. These likely represent hills around which the lava is flowing. 

“The darker lower-temperature areas appear to be some topography that the lava is flowing around, but these could also be areas where the eruption fissure is not active and has cooler lava, or where gas plumes or clouds are obscuring the surface,” Carn explained.

Dangerous situation 

Carn, however, cautions that the eruption’s behavior could quickly become more hazardous. Changes in lava flow direction, extension of the active fissure, or opening of new fissures could pose further dangers. 

Despite the eruption slowing down to three vents, experts warn that it doesn’t necessarily signal an imminent end. Iceland’s Met Office has indicated the possibility of additional vents opening with little warning time.

Potential hazards

Concerns also loom over potential pollution from the eruption reaching Reykjavík, though this has not occurred yet. The peninsula remains closed to visitors, and residents of Grindavik have not been advised to return home. 

Nonetheless, the eruption has drawn adventurous tourists attempting to trek the considerable distance to the site, prompting police interventions for safety reasons.

In a statement underscoring the risks, local police said that “it can be assumed that it will take an experienced hiker about 4-5 hours to walk this route, which is not for everyone.” This statement serves as a reminder of the challenging conditions and potential hazards posed by the eruption, as the world continues to watch this dramatic natural event unfold.

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