Will the Iceland volcano eruption affect the UK?

A volcano has erupted in south-west Iceland, raising concerns over whether UK air travel could be affected.

The eruption started at 10.17pm near the town of Grindavik, whose 4,000 inhabitants were evacuated as a precaution.

The erupting volcano can be seen from Reykjavik, about 26 miles north-east of Grindavik.

On social media, images and videos show lava spouting out of a crack in the volcano, turning the sky orange and putting the country’s civil defence on high alert.

According to the Met office, the crack is around 4km (2.5 miles) long, with the lava flowing at a rate of around 100 to 200 cubic metres per second.

This comes after an Icelandic volcanic eruption in 2010 wreaked havoc on Europe’s airways after a huge clod of ash led to over 100,000 flight cancellations, at a cost estimated at £3bn.

Will UK flights be affected by the Iceland volcano?

Currently there are no signs an ash cloud of the kind that grounded flights in 2010 will emerge, flights from the UK to Iceland appear to be operating normally, and the intensity of the volcanic eruption is decreasing, according to the Icelandic Met office.

Helicopter overflying the volcanic eruption (Photo by Icelandic Coast Guard/AFP via Getty)

Hallgrímur Indriðason, a news reporter at RUV Iceland, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s not a threat to air traffic for now.

“The 2010 volcano was different because it erupted under a glacier and when that happens you get explosive ash high in the air and it stays in the air for a long time. This time was different, so the ash does not stay up in the air as much – unless we had an eruption under the sea, which is a slim possibility.

“The eruption started just after 10 o’clock last night. An eruption that was expected sooner because of earthquakes happening near Grindavik in Reykjanes Peninsula.”

In November, Icelandic authorities began monitoring the area closely, particularly near the Svartsengi power plant and the Blue Lagoon, and a civil protection alert was declared after an intense swarm of earthquakes. 

“There have been some occasional earthquakes – towns were evacuated during earthquakes a month ago, the expected eruption happened last night, and this is the fourth expected eruption in almost three years,” Indriðason said.

“This is by far the most powerful one, more lava flow, more powerful lava stream up in the air, and the lava crack which the lava flows along is more than 4 kilometres long which is something we have not seen before.”

Despite the velocity of the volcanic eruption, national airline, Icelandair said the eruption will have a very minimal affect on the operations of Icelandair or Keflavik airport.

“Our flight schedule remains unchanged. No flights have been delayed or canceled due to the eruption. The safety of our passengers and staff is always our number one priority and at the heart of every decision we make.

“We’re monitoring the situation closely and will inform our passengers of any new developments.”

Houses in the village of Hafnarfjordur is seen as smoke is billowing in the distance as the lava colour the night sky orange from an volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula, western Iceland on December 18, 2023. A volcanic eruption began on Monday night in Iceland, south of the capital Reykjavik, following an earthquake swarm, Iceland's Meteorological Office reported. (Photo by Oskar Grimur Kristjansson / AFP) (Photo by OSKAR GRIMUR KRISTJANSSON/AFP via Getty Images)
Smoke billows in the distance following the eruption (Photo: Oskar Grimur Kristjansson/AFP via Getty)

Iceland’s foreign minister, Bjarni Benediktsson, said on X that “there are no disruptions to flights to and from Iceland, and international flight corridors remain open.

“The jets [of lava] are quite high, so it appears to be a powerful eruption at the beginning.”

Is it safe to travel to Iceland?

The latest advice from the UK Government issued today states that tourists and other travellers should monitor local media for updates and follow the authorities advice on travel to the area.

The statement said that while “earthquakes and indications of volcanic activity have increased above normal levels on the Reykjanes Peninsula, southwest of Reykjavik, the Icelandic authorities continue to monitor the area closely.”

According to Safe Travel Iceland, the eruption area is closed until further notice, and warned tourists to “please respect the closure.”