Volcanic hazards

On average there is an eruption in Iceland every 3–6 years. Potential hazards accompany these eruptions. Eruptions can affect the climate and atmospheric processes, the hydrosphere, and terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Human and animal health may be negatively impacted, damage may occur to vegetation, and air quality may decline. The infrastructure of modern society may also be affected, for example due to economic losses or industry-related damage.

Eruptions can occur without advance warning. Luckily, there are generally precursors, such as earthquakes or crustal movements. The dangers posed by eruptions include lava flows, jökulhlaup (glacial outburst floods), toxic volcanic gas, and ash and tephra fall. Winds can disperse toxic gases (H2S, SO2, F) and volcanic ash throughout the country and even beyond Iceland’s borders. Tephra can cause damage due to the release of toxic gases and chemicals. Tephra fall may be accompanied by lightning. Airborne matter such as ash and tephra can disrupt air traffic. Seismic activity linked to the eruption can cause tsunamis, explosions, and avalanches. Jökulhlaup triggered by subglacial eruptions can cause tremendous damage, due to floods and ice-blocks released during the event.

It is important to have eruption response plans in place in order to minimise damage and to be aware of the dangers posed by eruptions. The Icelandic Meteorological Office and the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management provide more information on eruption response plans in Iceland and potential volcanic hazards.

Further information about Icelandic volcanoes is available on the Catalogue of Icelandic Volcanoes website.