Lava continues to flow from the Icelandic volcano, but not at the forceful level of an eruption

GRINDAVIK, Iceland — Lava continued to spout from a volcano in southwestern Iceland on Thursday, but activity had calmed down significantly from the eruption a day earlier.

Wednesday's eruption was the fifth and most powerful since the volcanic system at Grindavik reawakened in December after 800 years, releasing record levels of lava as the fissure grew to a length of 3.5 kilometers (2.1 miles).

Volcanologist Dave McGarvie calculated that the amount of lava that initially flowed from the crater could have buried London's Wembley Stadium, which seats 90,000 people, under 15 meters of lava per minute.

“These magma jets extend up to 50 meters (165 feet) into the atmosphere,” says McGarvie, an honorary researcher at Lancaster University. “That immediately seems like a powerful outburst to me. And that was my first impression… Then some numbers came out, estimating how much was coming out per minute or per second, and it was, 'wow.'

The activity once again threatened Grindavik, a coastal town of 3,800 people, and led to the evacuation of the popular geothermal spa town of Blue Lagoon, one of Iceland's biggest tourist attractions.

Grindavik, about 50 kilometers southwest of the Icelandic capital Reykjavik, has been under threat since a swarm of earthquakes in November forced an evacuation ahead of the December 18 initial eruption. A subsequent eruption took several buildings.

Protective barriers outside Grindavik deflected the lava on Wednesday, but the evacuated town was still without electricity and two of the three roads into the town were flooded with lava.

“I think the situation is quite good compared to what it looked like yesterday at the beginning of the eruption,” Grindavik Mayor Fannar Jónasson told national broadcaster RUV.

McGarvie said the eruption was more powerful than the four that preceded it because the largest amount of magma had collected in an underground chamber before breaking the Earth's surface and shooting into the sky.

The rapid and powerful onset of the eruption, followed a few hours later, is the pattern researchers have observed at this volcano, McGarvie said. It is unknown when this volcano's eruptions will end.

“It could take a long time,” says McGarvie. “We are really in new territory here, because eruptions like this have never been carefully observed in this part of Iceland.”

Iceland, which lies above a volcanic hotspot in the North Atlantic Ocean, experiences regular eruptions. The most disruptive event in recent times was the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which spewed huge clouds of ash into the atmosphere and led to widespread airspace closures over Europe.

None of the current eruptions have affected aviation.

___

Associated Press writer Brian Melley contributed from London.

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