Due to Iceland’s location on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a divergent tectonic plate boundary, and its location over a hotspot, the northern Nordic island country has a high concentration of active volcanoes.
Known as the land of fire and ice, the island currently has 32 active volcanic systems, 13 of which have seen eruptions since Iceland’s settlement in AD 874. The most active system is Grímsvötn.
Iceland is Europe’s largest and most active volcanic area, home to a third of the lava that has flowed onto Earth in the past 5,000 years — since the Middle Ages, according to Visit Iceland.
The vast North Atlantic island borders the Arctic Circle where it straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a crack in the ocean floor that separates the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. The shifting of these plates is partly responsible for Iceland’s intense volcanic activity.
Despite being in the far north near the Arctic Circle, Iceland’s volcanoes can have far-reaching effects on the rest of the world. in 2010, an eruption at Eyjafjallajokull volcano sent massive clouds of smoke and ash into the atmosphere, causing the greatest disruption to peacetime air traffic until the Covid-19 pandemic.
The outage lasted more than a week with the cancellation of more than 100,000 flights worldwide and some 10 million passengers stranded.
Pictured: The Northern Lights are seen over the ash plume of a volcano in Iceland, Eyjafjallajokull, April 22, 2010
The eruption of Eldgja – meaning ‘canyon of fire’ in Icelandic – is the largest eruption of basaltic lava the world has ever seen. Part of the same volcanic system as the mighty Katla volcano, the Eldgja fissure is 75 kilometers long and extends to the western edge of Vatnajokull. The eruption resulted in two large 301-square-mile lava fields.
The eruption of the Laki volcanic fissure in the south of the island is considered by some experts to be the most devastating in Iceland’s history, causing the greatest environmental and socio-economic disaster: 50 to 80 percent of Iceland’s livestock were killed, leading to to a famine that killed a quarter of the Icelandic population.
The volume of lava, nearly 15 cubic kilometers (3.6 cubic miles), is the second largest recorded on Earth in the past millennium.
The meteorological impact of Laki’s eruptions had repercussions across the Northern Hemisphere for years, causing global temperatures to drop and crop failures in Europe as millions of tons of sulfur dioxide were released.
Some experts have suggested that the effects of the eruption may have played a role in triggering the French Revolution, although the issue is still a matter of debate.
The volcano’s 130 still smoking craters were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019, along with the entire Vatnajokull National Park to which it belongs.
Pictured: Laki volcanic cones left behind after the 1783 eruption. The volume of lava, nearly 15 cubic kilometers (3.6 cubic miles), is the second largest recorded on Earth in the past millennium
Virtually unknown at the time, Askja, Iceland’s second largest volcanic system, erupted in three distinct phases. Two of the three ash clouds rose more than 20 kilometers (12 miles) into the sky.
The toxic precipitation in Iceland, which reached 20 centimeters (eight inches) thick in places, killed livestock, contaminated the soil and sparked a wave of emigration to North America.
Secluded on a plateau and far from civilization, Askja is today a popular tourist attraction. The lava fields were used to train astronauts for the 1965 and 1967 Apollo missions.
Considered one of Iceland’s most dangerous volcanoes, Katla’s latest eruption added five kilometers of landmass to the country’s southern coast.
Located beneath the Myrdalsjökull Glacier, when Katla erupts, it ejects large amounts of tephra, or solidified magma rock fragments that are dispersed into the air and carried by the powerful glacial flood caused by melting ice.
With an average of two eruptions per century, Katla hasn’t erupted violently in over 100 years, and experts say it was too late.
Satellite image of the Katla volcano in Iceland. Photo taken on September 20, 2014. Considered one of Iceland’s most dangerous volcanoes, Katla’s latest eruption added five kilometers of landmass to the country’s southern coast
During one of the most dramatic eruptions in the country’s recent history, Heimaey Island in the Westman Islands was awakened one January morning by an eruption in a fissure just 150 meters from the city center.
The eruption of Eldfell volcano not only took place in a populated area – one of the country’s main fishing zones at the time – but also surprised locals at dawn. A third of the houses in the area were destroyed and the 5,300 residents were evacuated. One person has died.
2010 During the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, huge plumes of ash rose into the sky for several weeks in April 2010, causing the greatest disruption to peacetime air traffic until the Covid-19 pandemic.
About 100,000 flights were cancelled, leaving more than 10 million travelers stranded.
Pictured: Horses graze as a cloud of volcanic material rises from the erupting Eyjafjallajokull volcano, April 16, 2010 in Fimmvorduhals, Iceland. A major eruption occurred on April 14, 2010, resulting in a plume of volcanic ash being thrown into the atmosphere over parts of northern Europe, disrupting air traffic. About 100,000 flights were cancelled, leaving more than 10 million travelers stranded
Grimsvotn Volcano, also located below Vatnajokull Glacier, is Iceland’s most active volcano. The last eruption was in May 2011, the ninth since 1902.
For a week, it spewed an ash cloud 25 kilometers (15 miles) into the sky, canceling more than 900 flights, mostly in the UK, Scandinavia and Germany.
2014 – 2015
The awakening of Bardarbunga, a volcano beneath Vatnajokull Glacier – Europe’s largest ice sheet – in the heart of southern Iceland’s uninhabited highlands, was the most recent eruption before Friday’s.
The volcano erupted for five months, both under the ice and breaking the surface in a fissure in the Holuhraun lava field, creating Iceland’s largest basalt lava flow in more than 230 years, without causing injury or damage.