Last night, a powerful earthquake hit the Isle of Surtsey, a part of the South Coast’s Vestmannaeyjar islands.

The 3.4 magnitude quake struck at 1.42 AM. It measured a depth of 14.4 kilometres with the epicentre approximately 2.1 kilometres northwest of Surtsey in the Vestmannaeyjar (or Westman Islands) archipelago.

See Also: Volcanos in Iceland

Geologist for the Icelandic Meteorological Office, Elísabet Pálmadóttir, stated that this particular earthquake was quite remarkable because they are not very common for that specific area of the country.

Iceland is quite seismically active. In an average week, the seismic monitoring network can pick up over 500 earthquakes. This number can reach into the thousands if there are episodes in any of Iceland’s active volcanoes. However, the area of Surtsey has only registered just over 100 earthquakes since 1991. The last time a quake of this magnitude struck was in 1992.

Two aftershocks were also detected, but the Meteorological office has not found evidence to link the activity to an imminent eruption.

No residents of the neighbouring Westman Islands nor the mainland’s Hvolsvöllur town reported feeling the quake. Elísabet said it’s important for geologists to receive reports from residents who experience earthquakes because it helps them assess their magnitude and examine their impact.

Surtsey in its early stages.

Surtsey Island forming. Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Howell Williams

Surtsey is the southernmost point of Iceland, and as a land mass is incredibly young. It was formed during a volcanic eruption which started 130 metres below sea level. On November 14, 1963, the lava reached the surface. The eruption continued for almost three and a half year until the island reached its peak size of 2.7 square kilometres, in June 1967.

Read about the 1960s and Surtsey here

Surtsey is part of the Vestmanaeyjar submarine volcanic system wherein 1973 the volcano Eldfell erupted on the island of Heimaey.

A snapshot of the destruction caused by Eldfell

Heimaey Volcanic Eruption. Credit: Óskar Elías Sigurðsson

The Eldfell eruption destroyed over 400 homes and almost led to a permanent evacuation of the island.

Lava threatened to destroy the island’s harbour, and an effort to cool the flow by pumping seawater onto it was mounted by residents. The effort succeeded and the harbour was saved.

Resourceful Heimaey locals used the heat from the eruption to provide hot water and electricity to the island. They also gathered left-over volcanic rock to extend the runway at the island’s small airport and even used it as landfill where 200 new houses were built.

Today Heimaey has a population of around 4,500 which shows that when it comes to natural disasters, Icelanders are rarely phased.

See also One Hour Small Island Tour in Vestmannaeyjar