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Iceland is undertaking extensive efforts to construct massive walls, comparable in size to three-story buildings, to safeguard vital infrastructure and residences from potential lava flows.
This urgent action follows the reactivation of long-dormant volcanoes near Reykjavik. The six volcanic systems on the Reykjanes peninsula, home to nearly 8% of Iceland’s population, are projected to remain active for centuries.
Photographer: Halldor Kolbeins
These systems form a network beneath the peninsula, reaching towards the capital, which has experienced five eruptions since 2021. In response to the looming threat of another eruption, Icelandic authorities initiated the construction of protective walls around the Svartsengi geothermal power plant in November. Kristinn Hardarson, who oversees operations at HS Orka, the energy company owning Svartsengi, reported that nearly 100 heavy machines have been working relentlessly at the site.
To shield the plant, about 560,000 cubic meters of materials will be utilized, as explained by Vidir Reynisson, head of Iceland’s Civil Protection and Emergency Management. He emphasized the strategy to redirect rather than stop the lava flow. Additionally, defenses are being erected around Grindavik, a key fishing town with nearly 4,000 residents. Despite initial successes in diverting lava, new fissures have posed renewed threats to the town.
The construction of a 5-mile barrier around Grindavik is expected to take six weeks, with requirements for materials surpassing those at Svartsengi, according to Ari Gudmundsson, a civil engineer at Verkis. Similar smaller-scale attempts have been made in Italy, Hawaii, and Iceland to counter lava flows.
Iceland’s history of building defense walls dates back to the 1973 eruption in Heimaey, where the entire population had to evacuate.