One of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions has closed after the Reykjanes peninsula was hit by about 1,400 earthquakes in 24 hours, a “seismic swarm” that has prompted fears of an imminent volcanic eruption.
The Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa south-west of Reykjavík, announced it would close its doors on Thursday for a week after a particularly powerful earthquake hit just after midnight followed by about 800 smaller quakes.
Dozens of terrified guests reportedly fled the resort, which has two hotels, in taxis overnight after the earthquakes began. The Icelandic news website Víkurfréttir reported that about 40 guests had left overnight, adding that rocks had fallen on the road up to the hotel lobby.
The Blue Lagoon said it had made a “proactive decision to temporarily close its operations for one week” due to the “disruption” to guests on Wednesday night and the “prolonged strain on our employees”.
“Blue Lagoon will closely monitor the developments of seismic activity in the upcoming days and reevaluate the situation accordingly,” it added in a statement.
The Reykjanes peninsula has been on alert in recent weeks after a period of seismic disruption started on 25 October, prompting Iceland’s civil protection agency to issue an “uncertainty phase” warning – an alert level referring to an event that has already started and could lead to a potential threat to people, properties, communities or the environment.
Since 25 October there have been about 22,000 earthquakes measured in the seismic swarm, largely in the south-west of Iceland.
On Thursday the Icelandic meteorological office said it had recorded about 800 earthquakes since midnight, and in the past 24 hours about 1,400, and that continued seismic activity could be expected, but that there were no indications of volcanic eruptions.
Earlier this week, the department of civil protection and emergency management announced an evacuation plan for Grindavík, a short drive from the Blue Lagoon, if it were hit by a volcanic eruption or large earthquake, including escape routes out of the town.
The largest event on Wednesday night, the Icelandic Met Office said, occurred at 12:46am just west of Mt Þorbjörn, which had a magnitude of 4.8, and was the most sizeable since activity started on 25 October.
Among the subsequent larger earthquakes – there were seven with a magnitude of 4 or above – were one at 12:13am about 4.2km east of Sýrlingafell, one at 2:56am about 3km south-west of Þorbjörn and one at 6:52am east of Sýrlingafell.
“While the accumulation of magma continues, seismic activity can be expected on the Reykjavík peninsula because the magma intrusion causes increased tension in the area,” a spokesperson said.
They added: “The seismic activity last night and this morning is an example of this frenetic seismic activity that can be expected while magma accumulation is in progress. The fact that there are now larger earthquakes than before in the area does not necessarily mean an increased rate of magma accumulation.”