A look back at Iceland’s main volcanic activity as the volcano erupts just 40km from Reykjavik on Wednesday


Mount Fagradalsfjall belongs to the Krysuvik Volcanic System on the Reykjanes Peninsula in southwest Iceland (Photo – Iceland Govt.)

A volcano erupted just 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Icelandic capital Reykjavik on Wednesday, spewing lava from a fissure in the ground near the site of a similar eruption last year.
Known as the land of fire and ice, Iceland is Europe’s largest and most active volcanic region, home to a third of the lava that has flowed on Earth since the Middle Ages, according to Visit Iceland.

The vast North Atlantic island straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a fissure in the ocean floor separating the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.

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The movement of these plates is partly responsible for the intense volcanic activity in Iceland.

Thirty-two volcanic systems are currently considered active in the country.

Here are the major eruptions in Iceland’s history:

2021

The volcano eruption of Mount Fagradalsfjall on March 19, just 40 kilometers from the capital Reykjavik, spewed more than 140 million cubic meters of magma into the valleys of Geldingadalur in six months, making it Iceland’s longest eruption. in 50 years.

Lava had not flowed for eight centuries on the Reykjanes peninsula, and for nearly 6,000 years where the eruption occurred, according to volcanologists.

Relatively easy to get to, the eruption has become a major tourist attraction, drawing more than 430,000 visitors, according to the Icelandic Tourist Board.

2014-2015

Bardarbunga, a volcano below Vatnajokull glacier – Europe’s largest ice cap – in the heart of Iceland’s uninhabited southern highlands, erupted for five months, both under the ice and across the surface in a fissure in the Holuhraun lava field.

It created Iceland’s largest basalt lava flow in over 230 years, but caused no injuries or damage.

2011

The Grimsvotn volcano, also located under the Vatnajokull glacier, is Iceland’s most active volcano. Its last eruption was in May 2011, its ninth since 1902. In a week, it threw a cloud of ash 25 kilometers (15 miles) into the sky, causing the cancellation of more than 900 flights, mainly in the Kingdom UK, Scandinavia and Germany. .

2010

In April 2010, huge plumes of ash billowed into the sky for several weeks when the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted, causing the biggest disruption to air traffic in peacetime until the Covid-19 pandemic. Some 100,000 flights have been cancelled, leaving more than 10 million travelers stranded.

1973

In one of the most dramatic eruptions in the country’s recent history, Heimaey Island in the Westman Islands was woken up one January morning by an eruption in a fissure just 150 meters (yards) from the center- town. The eruption of the Eldfell volcano not only occurred in a populated area – one of the most important fishing grounds in the country at the time – but it also surprised locals at dawn. A third of the houses in the area were destroyed and the 5,300 inhabitants were evacuated. One person died.

1918

Considered one of Iceland’s most dangerous volcanoes, Katla’s latest eruption added five kilometers of landmass to the country’s south coast. Located below the Myrdalsjokull Glacier, when Katla erupts it ejects large quantities of tephra, or solidified magma rock fragments that are scattered through the air and carried by the powerful flooding of the glacier caused by melting ice. With an average of two eruptions per century, Katla hasn’t erupted violently in over 100 years and experts say that’s overdue.

1875

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 fallout across Iceland, which in some places reached a thickness of 20 centimeters (eight inches), killed livestock, contaminated the soil and sparked a wave of emigration to North America. Isolated on a plateau and far from civilization, Askja is now a popular tourist attraction and its lava fields were used to train astronauts for the 1965 and 1967 Apollo missions.

1783

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 its greatest environmental and socio-economic disaster: 50-80% of the Icelandic livestock was killed, resulting in a famine that caused the death of a quarter of Iceland’s population.

The volume of lava, nearly 15 cubic kilometers (3.6 cubic miles), is the second largest recorded on Earth in the last millennium.

The meteorological impact of the Laki eruptions reverberated for several years in the northern hemisphere, causing a drop in global temperatures and crop failures in Europe as millions of tons of sulfur dioxide were released. Some experts have suggested that the aftermath of the eruption may have played a role in triggering the French Revolution, although the issue is still debated.

The volcano’s 130 still-smoldering craters were inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2019, along with the entire Vatnajokull National Park to which it belongs.

934 AD

The Eldgja eruption – which means ‘canyon of fire’ in Icelandic – is the largest basalt lava eruption 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 led to two large lava fields covering 780 square kilometers (301 square miles).


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