‘Swarm’ of 20,000 earthquakes rattles Iceland

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Lava and moss in geothermal area, Eldvarpahraun lava field, Reykjanes, Iceland. (Getty Images)

(NEXSTAR) – More than 20,000 earthquakes have rocked southwestern Iceland between Feb. 24 and March 5, according to the country’s meteorological office. On Sunday alone, the Icelandic Meteorological Office reported about 2,800 quakes, including one that struck with a magnitude of 5.0.

The earthquake swarm began on Feb. 24, with a 5.7-magnitude shaker. A “swarm” is a sequence of mostly small quakes that often occur in the same area, and aren’t preceded by an identifiable major earthquake, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Most of the Icelandic earthquakes have been small, with only two registering above 5.0 in magnitude. Earthquakes between 5.0 and 5.9 magnitude are considered to be in the moderate range, and may result in slight damage to buildings, Michigan Technological University says.

Only minimal damage has been reported, including some landslides in Reykjanes and falling rocks. “People in Reykjavik are waking up with an earthquake, others go to sleep with an earthquake,” Thorvaldur Thordarson, a professor of volcanology at the University of Iceland, told the New York Times. “There’s a lot of them, and that worries people, but there’s nothing to worry about, the world is not going to collapse.”

The Icelandic government said that the earthquakes may signal an imminent volcanic eruption in the southwestern region of Iceland, where volcanoes are common. There are more than 30 active volcanoes throughout the country.

The government even reported a “tremor pulse” near Mt. Keilir on Thursday.

The Civil Protection and Emergency Management’s Science Board in Iceland later contradicted the government’s warning of volcanic activity.

“It is the scientists’ assessment that the latest data does not indicate magma moving rapidly closer to the surface,” the board said in a statement. “While this situation lasts the likelihood of an eruption is not high, but a possible rapid change in the status must be assumed.”

According to the board, the “likeliest scenarios” include a decrease in earthquake activity in the “next few days or weeks”; an increase in the swarm with quakes up to 6.0 in magnitude near Fagradalsfjall; an earthquake of 6.5 magnitude near Brennisteinsfjoll; and potentially some “magma intrusion” near Fagradalsfjall, which is unlikely to threaten the population.

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