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Volcanos in Iceland

Your crASH course in Iceland's many volcanos

April 15, 2020

Volcanos in Iceland

Your crASH course in Iceland's many volcanos

April 15, 2020

April 2020 marks the 10-year anniversary of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, one of Iceland’s biggest natural faux pas in recent years. What you might not know is that this was a rather minor eruption in geological terms, so read on for a crash course in Icelandic volcanos.

Iceland is situated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a (mostly) underwater mountain range, the boundary between the Eurasian and North-American tectonic plates. These tectonic plates pull Iceland apart by about 2 cm a year. New magma flows up to fill in the gap between the plates. This constant cement truck of Planet Earth will sometimes overfill and when pressure increases, the magma needs a way out. So, where does it go? That’s where Iceland’s many volcanos step in and act as faucets for the pipes to let out some built-up pressure.

Let’s start with some numbers

There are around 130 volcanos in Iceland, 30 of them are considered active and 18 of those have erupted since year 900. Only a handful still erupt regularly, such as Hekla, Grímsvötn in Vatnajökull Glacier and Katla in Mýrdalsjökull Glacier.
Keep in mind that in the world of geology, terms like “active” and “regularly” might not mean what you think they do. Active means that the volcano will still collect flowing magma and has erupted at some point during the last 10,000 years.

The oldest volcanos in Iceland are in the East and West fjords and are about 14-16 million years old. These volcanos have been inactive for quite some time and these areas are considered cold, i.e. they have hardly any geothermal water. The average lifespan of a volcano is about a million years.

All volcanos in Iceland were active at some point. One of the most iconic glaciers in Iceland, Snæfellsjökull, is an old volcano and is technically active, having erupted a few times in the last 10,000 years, even though the last eruption was about 2,200 years ago. Öræfajökull Glacier is also an old volcano and is considered Iceland‘s largest active volcano. It last erupted in 1727.

The land of fire, ice and lots of running water

If you’re getting confused by this oxymoron of a volcano and glacier and think we’re just getting our words mixed up, think again. Many volcanos in Iceland are tucked away under a glacier. Iceland’s most active volcano, Grímsvötn, is in the middle of Vatnajökull glacier. Grímsvötn erupts roughly 10 times a century which is something of an overachievement in the world of volcanos. Grímsvötn’s caldera actually forms a huge lake, filled with melted glacial water from the huge ice cap surrounding it. This is all something of an oddity, even in Iceland, but while Grímsvötn’s eruptions are mostly tucked away under the ice and never display that picturesque flow of molten lava, they cause immense floods when the caldera overfills, water bursts out from under the glacier and floods the sands below. If you’re driving past the vast sands of south Iceland, nestled by the huge glaciers, notice the long, high and sturdy bridges over what often seem like rather innocent streams. These little streams turn into epic waterways from melted glacier water for just this reason. So, you see that Iceland’s old tagline as the “land of fire and ice” is quite apt.

How common are volcanic eruptions in Iceland?

The 20th century saw 45 eruptions and there have been six eruptions since 2000. Icelanders are quite used to getting regular news about signs of eruptions, such as increased seismic activity in some areas, sulphur in glacier waters or visible ice cap movements above known volcanos. While this is all quite common and part of everyday life, Icelanders generally have a very humble attitude towards these natural forces. There is only so much you can do, but these forces should never be underestimated.

Notable eruptions in Iceland

The Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010 is probably one of Iceland’s most notorious claims to fame as it caused a huge disruption of global air traffic. It was, however, a rather small eruption, it just came with quite unfavourable ashfall.

Katla is another sub-glacial volcano that is monitored closely because Katla is known for massive and devastating eruptions. It usually erupts every 40-80 years, but it has now been about 100 years since its last eruption. Geologists are however not too worried because the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010 may have dissipated the magma pressure of Katla somewhat. Geologists also believe there might have been three small eruptions in the years 1955, 1999 and 2011 that did not break the ice cover. But Katla is a force to be reckoned with and could cause epic flooding and so the evacuation plans of this area are both detailed and regularly reviewed.

The Skaftáreldar eruption in Lakagígar is another notorious eruption. It began in June 1783 and lasted until February 1784. The eruption spewed toxic ashes and gases which devastated Iceland and, to an extent, Europe. The eruption is estimated to have killed 20-25% of the Icelandic population and over six million people globally which makes it the deadliest eruption in historical times. The lava fountains were estimated to have reached heights of 800 – 1,400m, the craters poured out an estimated 14 km³ of basalt lava that cover around 600km².

Not all eruptions are this deadly (Skaftáreldar) or inconvenient (Eyjafjallajökull). A few weeks before Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010, Fimmvörðuháls erupted with a so-called “tourist eruption”. It was a beautiful eruption which attracted people from all over the world to witness this awesome display of fire. Mount Hekla also generally has these kinds of picturesque eruptions, but gives very little warning, so there is an element of surprise there that needs to be taken into consideration.

Iceland is full of contradictions which is nowhere more evident than in its geology. Iceland’s many volcanos are both its most inhospitable feature and the reason this northern island is so gorgeous, warm and inhabitable. And so, we can’t imagine life without them.

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Volcanos in Iceland

Your crASH course in Iceland's many volcanos

April 15, 2020

Volcanos in Iceland

Your crASH course in Iceland's many volcanos

April 15, 2020

April 2020 marks the 10-year anniversary of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, one of Iceland’s biggest natural faux pas in recent years. What you might not know is that this was a rather minor eruption in geological terms, so read on for a crash course in Icelandic volcanos.

Iceland is situated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a (mostly) underwater mountain range, the boundary between the Eurasian and North-American tectonic plates. These tectonic plates pull Iceland apart by about 2 cm a year. New magma flows up to fill in the gap between the plates. This constant cement truck of Planet Earth will sometimes overfill and when pressure increases, the magma needs a way out. So, where does it go? That’s where Iceland’s many volcanos step in and act as faucets for the pipes to let out some built-up pressure.

Let’s start with some numbers

There are around 130 volcanos in Iceland, 30 of them are considered active and 18 of those have erupted since year 900. Only a handful still erupt regularly, such as Hekla, Grímsvötn in Vatnajökull Glacier and Katla in Mýrdalsjökull Glacier.
Keep in mind that in the world of geology, terms like “active” and “regularly” might not mean what you think they do. Active means that the volcano will still collect flowing magma and has erupted at some point during the last 10,000 years.

The oldest volcanos in Iceland are in the East and West fjords and are about 14-16 million years old. These volcanos have been inactive for quite some time and these areas are considered cold, i.e. they have hardly any geothermal water. The average lifespan of a volcano is about a million years.

All volcanos in Iceland were active at some point. One of the most iconic glaciers in Iceland, Snæfellsjökull, is an old volcano and is technically active, having erupted a few times in the last 10,000 years, even though the last eruption was about 2,200 years ago. Öræfajökull Glacier is also an old volcano and is considered Iceland‘s largest active volcano. It last erupted in 1727.

The land of fire, ice and lots of running water

If you’re getting confused by this oxymoron of a volcano and glacier and think we’re just getting our words mixed up, think again. Many volcanos in Iceland are tucked away under a glacier. Iceland’s most active volcano, Grímsvötn, is in the middle of Vatnajökull glacier. Grímsvötn erupts roughly 10 times a century which is something of an overachievement in the world of volcanos. Grímsvötn’s caldera actually forms a huge lake, filled with melted glacial water from the huge ice cap surrounding it. This is all something of an oddity, even in Iceland, but while Grímsvötn’s eruptions are mostly tucked away under the ice and never display that picturesque flow of molten lava, they cause immense floods when the caldera overfills, water bursts out from under the glacier and floods the sands below. If you’re driving past the vast sands of south Iceland, nestled by the huge glaciers, notice the long, high and sturdy bridges over what often seem like rather innocent streams. These little streams turn into epic waterways from melted glacier water for just this reason. So, you see that Iceland’s old tagline as the “land of fire and ice” is quite apt.

How common are volcanic eruptions in Iceland?

The 20th century saw 45 eruptions and there have been six eruptions since 2000. Icelanders are quite used to getting regular news about signs of eruptions, such as increased seismic activity in some areas, sulphur in glacier waters or visible ice cap movements above known volcanos. While this is all quite common and part of everyday life, Icelanders generally have a very humble attitude towards these natural forces. There is only so much you can do, but these forces should never be underestimated.

Notable eruptions in Iceland

The Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010 is probably one of Iceland’s most notorious claims to fame as it caused a huge disruption of global air traffic. It was, however, a rather small eruption, it just came with quite unfavourable ashfall.

Katla is another sub-glacial volcano that is monitored closely because Katla is known for massive and devastating eruptions. It usually erupts every 40-80 years, but it has now been about 100 years since its last eruption. Geologists are however not too worried because the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010 may have dissipated the magma pressure of Katla somewhat. Geologists also believe there might have been three small eruptions in the years 1955, 1999 and 2011 that did not break the ice cover. But Katla is a force to be reckoned with and could cause epic flooding and so the evacuation plans of this area are both detailed and regularly reviewed.

The Skaftáreldar eruption in Lakagígar is another notorious eruption. It began in June 1783 and lasted until February 1784. The eruption spewed toxic ashes and gases which devastated Iceland and, to an extent, Europe. The eruption is estimated to have killed 20-25% of the Icelandic population and over six million people globally which makes it the deadliest eruption in historical times. The lava fountains were estimated to have reached heights of 800 – 1,400m, the craters poured out an estimated 14 km³ of basalt lava that cover around 600km².

Not all eruptions are this deadly (Skaftáreldar) or inconvenient (Eyjafjallajökull). A few weeks before Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010, Fimmvörðuháls erupted with a so-called “tourist eruption”. It was a beautiful eruption which attracted people from all over the world to witness this awesome display of fire. Mount Hekla also generally has these kinds of picturesque eruptions, but gives very little warning, so there is an element of surprise there that needs to be taken into consideration.

Iceland is full of contradictions which is nowhere more evident than in its geology. Iceland’s many volcanos are both its most inhospitable feature and the reason this northern island is so gorgeous, warm and inhabitable. And so, we can’t imagine life without them.

Kerid
Mt.Hekla
fimmvorduhals_folk

SOUTH SHORE BLOG

The Black Diamond Beach

You’ve probably seen some otherworldly-looking pictures of The Diamond Beach or Black Diamond Beach in Iceland. We’ll let you in on a little secret. It’s not called that in Icelandic.