Icelandic Language Blog

Brimstone Mountain earthquake. Posted by on Aug 31, 2012 in Icelandic customs, Icelandic history

Originally I was going to write more about the roadtrip next but Iceland itself decided otherwise. It habitually throws surprises at the people living here and one such happened yesterday: a larger than usual earthquake very near the Capital City area. As most earthquakes here stay below the level of 3 they’re hardly noticeable at all, but this one shook houses and apparently managed to drop small items off shelves at places. Yet at other areas of Reykjavík like Kópavogur it wasn’t felt at all.

The centre of the earthquake has been located at Brennisteinsfjöll (= Brimstone Mountain), some kilometres south of Reykjavík. Technically speaking it’s an active volcano but the last time it erupted was in 1341 and even then the size of the eruption was small, strombolian. The summer’s been unusually quiet on the side of volcanic activity with the exception of Katla burping a little bit now and then and Krýsuvík alternately inflating and deflating, so the earthquake got quite a good coverage in the media.

The size of the earthquake was around 4,2. In the recent years the largest one has been size 6,5-6,6 (the 2000 earthquakes in the south Iceland) and 6,3 (2008 earthquake, same area). In the 2000 ones there were no fatalities although a small number of people were injured and a large amount of sheep died. The latter one, despite being slightly smaller, caused about 30 reported injuries and no fatalities except for the sheep again. They also caused considerable damage to houses and roads. In comparison, yesterday’s earthquake mostly managed to shake up the Facebook: my friends, both local and foreign, flooded their reports on it the second they felt the ground move.

There’s an interesting article about the earthquake in Jón Fríman’s blog here. According to him there has been over 30 aftershocks so far. Can’t say I’ve felt a single one of them but then again, most of them are tiny and unnoticeable. Besides I may have grown a little bit used to earthquakes after all the time that I’ve lived here. Nowadays I don’t wake up to them any longer but I still remember how well I could feel them during the first year I spent here. Occasionally I sprung up at night and began to give my boyfriend a good telling-off for jumping in his sleep or shaking the bed, only to find out in the morning that it had actually been an earthquake… it’s lucky that he’s a good sleeper! XD

More about earthquakes as they happen can be found on the Icelandic weather reports page over here (click on the bar that says jarðskjálftar). It shows all earthquakes larger than 3 with a green star. The rest of the dots have a colour code depending on how long ago the earthquake has been.

Here are some news articles concerning the earthquake:

Verra er safnið hefði skemmst.

Jörð skalf í dag.

Jarðskjálftinn var 4,6 stig.

Fólk hljóp á dýr í Litlu Kaffistofunni.

Snarpur jarðskjálfti á höfuðborgarsvæðinu – Stærsti skjálftinn í 3 ár.

Jarðskjálftafræðingur: Ekki búið að losa um neina spennu að ráði.

Má búast við nokkrum eftirskjálftum.


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About the Author: hulda

Hi, I'm Hulda, originally Finnish but now living in the suburbs of Reykjavík. I'm here to help you in any way I can if you're considering learning Icelandic. Nice to meet you!


  1. Justin Case:

    I think most of us don’t feel it much because of the lack of tall buildings. Also, small wooden houses, which are rather common in Iceland, tend to absorb small shocks better than concrete buildings. Just like you, I rarely feel them anymore, and hardly ever in my sleep (thank God for that! I know how terrifying it could feel!)

    • hulda:

      @Justin Case That sounds logical indeed. The last time I’ve been to an earthquake before moving to Iceland was probably the Dudley 2002 that happened in the middle of the night and I definitely felt it – but I was living on the fifth floor if memory serves. Indeed, I hate few things as fiercely as waking up to an earthquake. -.-;

      However, I do like how low all the buildings here are. They give Reykjavík in particular an open and airy feel. And today I’ve learned I have more reasons to love them than just that!