December 19, 2023 – Iceland volcano erupts

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Molten lava is seen exiting a fissure on the Reykjanes peninsula on Tuesday.
Molten lava is seen exiting a fissure on the Reykjanes peninsula on Tuesday. Kristinn Magnusson/AFP/Getty Images

Authorities in southwest Iceland have set up a checkpoint about five miles away from the eruption zone — the closest point to the lava flow where members of the public have been gathering to watch.

A CNN crew was given access inside the perimeter and brought less than a mile away from the active fissures.

“You do see when you get a little bit closer massive, gushing fountains of lava,” CNN Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen said.

The event is considered a fissure eruption, meaning lava is bursting from a long crack in the earth’s core that can extend for miles. The good news, Pleitgen said, is that this type of eruption doesn’t send ash into the atmosphere, which could prove disruptive to air travel. Fissure eruptions, however, can last for a long time and can also release dangerous gases, experts say.

“We are seeing a lot of lava being spewed into the air but also lava flow happening laterally from the actual fissure, from the actual crack, where the magma from the earth’s core burst through and is now coming to the surface,” Pleitgen said.

The lava is “very thin” and “liquidy” and is emerging from a small number of places along the fissure, Pleitgen said. The area is hilly with black, volcanic earth covered in snow. Even with fires, it’s cold outside, Pleitgen said, with temperatures reaching as low as 28 degrees Fahrenheit.

Still, he said the weather changes “extremely quickly” with strong winds giving way without warning to alternating periods of rain, snow, and sun.

“The elements are very strong because we’re right in the center of the Atlantic Ocean,” Pleitgen said.

Authorities are very active inside the cordoned-off zone. The nearby town of Grindavík has been evacuated for weeks as the volcano showed signs of eruption. A fissure that emerged running through that town has no lava coming from it yet.

Still, life in the urban area is proceeding mostly normally, Pleitgen said. Keflavík Airport, the country’s largest, is a half-hour drive from the volcano. The eruption is visible to plane traffic, but operations remain normal. Most roads in and out of the area are also functioning as usual.

“People seem pretty chilled about it. They’re quite used to volcanic eruptions,” Pleitgen said.

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