Hundreds of hikers have been evacuated from Iceland’s volcano after a new canyon begins to spew lava
Due to Iceland’s Mid-Atlantic ridge position, a diverging tectonic plate boundary, and its location over a hot spot, 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 region, home to a third of the lava that has flowed on Earth for the past 5,000 years – since the Middle Ages, according to Visit Iceland.
The vast North Atlantic island borders the Arctic Circle where it extends across the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a crack in the ocean floor separating the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. The shifting of these plates is partly responsible for Iceland’s intense volcanic activity.
Despite the fact that Iceland’s volcanoes are located in the far north of the Arctic Circle, they can have far-reaching consequences for the rest of the world. In 2010, an eruption at Eyjafjallajokull volcano created massive clouds of smoke and ash in the atmosphere, most disrupting peacetime air traffic until the Covid-19 pandemic.
The disruption lasted more than a week with the cancellation of more than 100,000 flights worldwide and the abandonment of approximately 10 million passengers.
Pictured: The Northern Lights can be seen above the ash plume of a volcano in Eyjafjallajokull, Iceland, April 22, 2010
The Eldgja eruption – which means ‘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 Gorge is 75 kilometers long and extends to the western edge of Vatnajokull. The eruption created two large lava fields covering 301 square miles.
The eruption of the volcanic Laki gorge in the south of the island is considered by some experts to be the most devastating in Iceland’s history and caused the greatest ecological and socio-economic disaster: 50 to 80 percent of Iceland’s livestock was killed, leading to to a famine that killed a quarter of Iceland’s population.
The volume of lava, nearly 15 cubic kilometers (3.6 cubic miles), is the second largest on Earth measured in the last millennium.
The meteorological impact of the Laki eruptions had repercussions in 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 consequences of the eruption may have played a role in triggering the French Revolution, although the issue is still a matter of debate.
The 130 still-smoking craters of the volcano were placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2019, along with the entire Vatnajokull National Park to which it belongs.
Pictured: Laki volcanic cones left after the 1783 eruption. The volume of lava, nearly 15 cubic kilometers (3.6 cubic miles), is the second largest on Earth measured in the last 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 into the sky.
The toxic precipitation over Iceland, reaching 20 centimeters thick in places, killed livestock, polluted the soil and caused a wave of emigration to North America.
Isolated on a plateau and far from civilization, Askja is a popular tourist attraction today, and its lava fields were used to train astronauts for the Apollo missions of 1965 and 1967.
Considered one of Iceland’s most dangerous volcanoes, the latest Katla eruption added five kilometers of landmass to the country’s south coast.
Located under the Myrdalsjokull Glacier, when Katla erupts, it emits large amounts of tephra, or solidified magma rock fragments that are scattered in the air and carried away by the powerful glacier flooding caused by melting ice.
With an average of two eruptions per century, Katla hasn’t erupted violently for over 100 years, and experts say it’s too late.
Satellite image of the Katla volcano in Iceland. Photo taken September 20, 2014. Considered one of Iceland’s most dangerous volcanoes, the latest Katla eruption added five kilometers of landmass to the country’s south 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 canyon just 150 meters from the city center.
Not only did the Eldfell Volcano erupt in a populated area – one of the country’s main fishing grounds at the time – but it also surprised locals at dawn. One third of the houses in the area were destroyed and the 5,300 residents were evacuated. One person died.
In April 2010, massive ash plumes remained in the sky for several weeks during the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which caused the greatest disruption to peacetime air traffic until the Covid-19 pandemic.
About 100,000 flights were canceled, leaving more than 10 million travelers stranded.
Pictured: Horses graze as a cloud of volcanic material rises from the erupting volcano Eyjafjallajokull, April 16, 2010 in Fimmvorduhals, Iceland. A major eruption occurred on April 14, 2010, resulting in a plume of volcanic ash thrown into the atmosphere over parts of Northern Europe, disrupting air travel. About 100,000 flights were canceled, leaving more than 10 million travelers stranded
Also located under Vatnajokull Glacier, Grimsvotn Volcano 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 into the sky, canceling more than 900 flights, mainly 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 South Iceland’s uninhabited highlands, was the most recent eruption before Friday.
The volcano erupted for five months, both under the ice and through the surface in a crack in the Holuhraun lava field, creating Iceland’s largest basalt lava flow in over 230 years, but causing no injuries or damage.