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Icelandic authorities warn of a ‘high probability’ of volcanic eruptions

Earthquakes continue to rattle southwest Iceland as officials warn of a “high probability” of a volcanic eruption in the coming days.

Residents of the country’s Reykjanes peninsula have been on high alert for weeks now, and the entire coastal town of Grindavik was evacuated in response to the threat.

In recent days, 1,500 to 1,800 earthquakes have been recorded daily in the region, according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO).

Intense increases in seismic activity may be associated with the movement of underground magma or molten rock. As such, earthquake swarms can predict volcanic eruptions, but it remains a challenge for scientists to make accurate forecasts of such events.

The town of Grindavik, Iceland, on 16 Nov.Bjørn Steinbekk / AP

The Icelandic Meteorological Office has been closely monitoring the rumblings of a volcano beneath the Reykjanes peninsula, including the formation of a large, 9-mile-long magma chamber that snakes from Kálfellsheiði southwest to the sea off the coast of Grindavik.

Swarms of earthquakes have centered around the underground magma tunnel, but it is not yet clear where magma will push up from the Earth’s crust and reach the surface.

All 3,400 residents of the town of Grindavik were ordered to evacuate the area on 10 November. Local officials said the evacuations will remain in effect until seismic activity in the area subsides.

Iceland’s civil protection agency has arranged in recent days to allow evacuated residents back into their homes for short periods to gather basic necessities.

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A row of cars on a road heading out of the town of Grindavik on November 13.Brynjar Gunnarsson / AP

The Icelandic Meteorological Office said on Monday that more than 700 earthquakes were recorded in the area that day. On Tuesday, the number dropped significantly, and officials said 165 earthquakes were detected since midnight. However, the agency added that the dropout may be due to bad weather passing over the country, which can hamper the ability of seismic instruments to pick up the smallest storms.

“Given the weather forecast for the next two days, which indicates rainfall and significant winds, it can be expected that both the sensitivity of earthquake detection and real-time GPS monitoring by IMO will be affected,” the agency said in a statement.

So far, operations at Keflavik Airport have not been disrupted, but the country’s Civil Protection Agency said the possibility of air traffic disruptions from an eruption “cannot be completely ruled out.”

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