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Volcanic eruption in Iceland that changed the face of Earth

Volcanic eruption in Iceland is quite a common thing as there are more than 130 volcanoes spread all over the country and many of them are considered to be very risky and with increased activity.

The increased Iceland volcanic activity is mainly because of Iceland’s location, the island is on the Mid Atlantic Ridge, the place where the North American Plate and the Eurasian tectonic plate meet.

So, Iceland is located in a place where magma is quite close to the surface of Earth and Icelandic volcano erupting was quite common, especially in the Middle Ages, when about a third of all lava that covered the Earth had erupted in Iceland.

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Types of volcanoes in Iceland

There are many types of volcanoes in Iceland out of which the most important 3 categories are:

  • Stratovolcanoes- which are the volcanoes that are hidden beneath the ice cap and here I would mention Katla and Hekla, both located in the southern part of the country
  • Dormant volcanoes are spread all over the country, surrounded by lava fields, most of them covered with moss.
  • Eruptions from fissure vents are long cracks that appear on the earth’s crust

Volcanoes in Iceland eruption – the story of the whole process

An Icelandic volcano errupting is one of the most beautiful and powerful displays of Earth’s power.

Fagradalsfjall Volcanic eruption in Iceland

Fagradalsfjall Volcanic eruption on Iceland

Magic spectacles for our eyes, volcanic eruption can cause a lot of damages and pain, including loss of lives and houses, especially if human settlements are found in the immediate vicinity of the volcanoes, close to eruption sites.

how do volcanic eruption in Iceland usually start?

Usually, everything starts with an accumulation of magma and gas under the Earth’s surface, sometimes visible to the naked eye.

Then the gas and steam erupt from the earth through small vents that appear in the ground and multiple earthquakes shake the area around the volcano.

These earthquakes might cause the magma to rise so everybody needs to be prepared for an imminent eruption.

Iceland Volcano Eruption

Iceland Volcano Eruption

The exact moment when a volcano in Iceland erupted is quite hard to anticipate, especially as there are no signs of activity in the area.

Complex and very well-trained teams monitor all the volcanoes in Iceland in order to predict with increased accuracy the moment when they will erupt.

But how violent they will erupt and for how long, are also very hard to predict, as volcanoes are unforeseeable.

The eruptions might be violent, with magma, ash and gases spat into the atmosphere, or more moderate when lava flows out continuously like a fountain.

A really frightening phenomenon that sometimes accompanies the eruptions is the pyroclastic flow also known as nuée ardente a great opportunity to see for powerful are the natural forces and the geothermal energy.

Hot gas and burning particles are spit from the volcano incinerating everything around the volcano and destroying crops and human settlements.

When the volcano lies beneath a glacier, the damages are even more severe as million cubic liters of ice melt and biblical floods and mudflow appear on the volcano’s slopes.

Volcanic eruptions step by step

Lava and gas plus other hazards

When talking about a volcano in Iceland eruption, we immediately think about volcanoes spewing lava, lava flowing from the crater, ash spit into the air and an important quantity of toxic gas that poison rivers and kill people and animals.

Iceland Volcano Gas Clouds

Volcano Gas Clouds

Well, luckily not all eruptions are so dramatic, although the list of other hazards might also contain pyroclastic flows, mudflows, avalanches, explosions, and even tsunamis.

The most important secondary effects of a volcanic eruption consist of damages caused to human settlements, crops, livestock, and even changes in climate and weather conditions.

Lava flows

The magic happens at about 70 to 200 kilometers above the ground, where the temperatures are high enough to melt the rock and transform it into magma.

Because of the force of gravity, as the magma is less dense than the solid rocks, the lava rises towards the surface and erupts through all kinds of fissures cracks that are found on the earth’s surface.

Iceland Volcanic eruption lava flows

Iceland Volcanic eruption lava flows

Generally, the volcanic rocks located where magma erupts can be split into 4 major categories:

  • Rhyolite can be any color from light gray to pink
  • Andesite which is generally medium gray
  • Basalt which is dark gray
  • Dacite which might be from light gray to tan

Explosions

When the forces are so intense, the gases and the lava are thrown away with an incredible force, the same as the forces implied in an explosion.

The ash, together with hot fragments and cinders are thrown into the atmosphere while the ash and the cinders cover the ground for many kilometers around the volcano.

One of the most recent massive explosions was recorded in the United States when Mount St Helens erupted in 1980.

Volcanic eruption explosion

Volcanic eruption explosion

A part of the cone fails and the ash and lava cause damages on several hundred square kilometers.
Pyroclastic flows

These are the most dangerous aspects of a volcano eruption and are also called nuées ardentes or “glowing clouds”.

Most commonly a pyroclastic flow appears when a column of ash becomes too dense and cannot rise anymore. Another situation when a pyroclastic flow appears is when the explosion is so massive that the caldera collapses.

Pyroclastic flows can move with incredible speed, up to 160 kilometers per hour, and have temperatures between 100 and 799 degrees Celsius. So everything that is touched by this pyroclastic flow is incinerated, including crops, livestock, houses, and even people.

Gas clouds

Gas clouds generated by a volcanic eruption in Iceland generally cause death by suffocation to people and animals as well as plants and trees.

The gases contained by these clouds or by the gases emitted by fumaroles or from crater lakes are carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide.

Iceland Volcano Gas Clouds

Iceland Volcano Gas Clouds

Toxic gases like helium, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen, nitrogen, and mercury might also be found in these gas clouds.

The most tragic eruption of gas had been recorded in West Africa, in the country of Cameroon in August 1986, when almost 2,000 people died because of a sudden release of carbon dioxide from a crater lake.

Ash falls

Eruptions are sometimes accompanied by massive ash falls which cause a lot of damages to people, crops, and animals.

Just a few centimeters of ash accumulated on the roof of your house can collapse the whole structure, kill crops and animals.

Iceland Volcano mudflows ash falls

Iceland Volcano mudflows ash falls

Actually, ash falls are the second major cause of famine and disease, but on the other hand, the volcanic soil is among the richest in nutrients and leads to the richest crops.

Avalanches, mudflows, and tsunamis

When an eruption volcano Iceland is recorded it is generally accompanied by avalanches of rocks and ice.

What is interesting is that sometimes the volcano issues all the signs of an eruption, but the lava fails to appear.

Iceland Volcano mudflows ash falls

Iceland Volcano mudflows ash falls

So, this means that if you are witness to an avalanche or to multiple earthquakes, the eruption is imminent.

The hazards associated with the volcanoes located under the ice cap are quite common and rarely followed by an eruption.

The most devastating volcanic eruption in Iceland

The erupting volcano in Iceland usually attracts thousands of tourists from all across the world, anxious to see with their own eyes this magnificent show.

I will list below the most important Iceland volcano eruptions from the last centuries, telling you everything you need to know about each of them: how massive they were, the damages caused, and for how long they last.

Map of Iceland Volcanoes that erupted since human settlement

Map of Iceland Volcanoes that erupted since human settlement

Laki or Skaftarelder from 1783 to 1784

This was by far the deadliest and most catastrophic eruption of a volcano in Iceland that killed millions of people and animals and changed the climate of the world.

This volcanic eruption from Iceland was not an isolated event, as the volcano continues to erupt for 8 long months.

140 vents spit lava, gases, and ash for 8 months, and more than 15 cubic kilometers of lava was thrown in the atmosphere and this makes this eruption the most destroying one from the last 500 years.

Laki Skaftarelder Iceland Volcano

Laki Skaftarelder Iceland Volcano

To have a clear picture of the proportions of the disaster I can tell you that the massive eruption of Kilauea from 1983 threw into the atmosphere just 4 cubic kilometers of lava, while Laki spits 4 times more.

This eruption is also known as the Skaftar Fires (Skaftarelder) and it was announced by a series of earthquakes that happened 3 or 4 weeks prior to the eruption.

The volcano erupted in June and the eruption followed the classic template: earthquakes, short explosions during the eruption, new fissures, followed by other violent explosions.

The eruption was so intense and powerful that eruption components were spat into the atmosphere with incredible speed reaching up to 15 kilometers high.

The lava fountains that came from earth were up to 1,400 meters tall and each fissure spits a huge quantity of lava with an incredible force, almost equal to the force of the Ohio River from the United States.

This volcanic eruption in Iceland continues to amaze scientists and people from all over the world with its force and brutality.

Based on the written evidence, about 90% of the lava which flowed from the depths of the Earth erupted in the first 5 months.

Actually about 35% of the total lava that erupted flows in the first 50 days of the Laki eruption.

The effects of this massive eruption were devastating not only for Iceland and its people but also for the entire Northern Hemisphere.

There was not just the hot lava incinerating everything it touched, but there were also the toxic gases released into the atmosphere.

Iceland hot lava Volcano erupting

Iceland hot lava Volcano erupting

The sulfur dioxide released remained close to the ground and it killed everything, from trees to shrubs and other plants, and caused skin irritations to people.

About 60% of the Icelandic livestock was killed and more than 10,000 Icelanders (about 25% of the total population of the country) died because of starvation and disease.

As you might expect, the cloud of toxic gases reached Europe and even the northern part of Africa a few weeks later.

One year later, the gas cloud reached China and the climate from the entire Globe was affected by the eruption.

The summer of 1783 was colder than usual and this affected mainly the regions close to the North Pole like Alaska, where Russian merchants from that time talked about the “summer that did not come”.

The crops from Europe had been affected while regions of Europe, including Venice, had been covered by ash that came from Iceland.

So, yes, Laki is one of the most catastrophic eruptions from the last centuries from Iceland that caused famine, climate changes, and millions of people killed.

Eldfell from 1973

Eldfell is a volcanic cone that was formed during the volcanic eruption in Iceland in 1973 and is about 200 meters high.

It is located on the island of Heimaey in the Westman Islands and its eruption caused a major crisis in the area and many people have been evacuated.

The whole island was covered with volcanic ash and more than 390 homes were destroyed, while the rivers of lava caused the temporary closing of the harbor.

The situation was so critical that authorities used water from the sea to cool off the rivers of lava and save the harbor from being swallowed by the hot river.

Eldfell volcano in Heimaey island Vestmannaeyjar archipelago Iceland

Eldfell volcano in Heimaey island Vestmannaeyjar archipelago Iceland

Everything started on 21 January 1973, quite early in the evening when small earthquakes shook the island.

More than 100 small earthquakes had been recorded in the following 2 days before the eruption started.

The volcano erupted on land and also underwater from where impressive lava fountains 50-100 meters high occurred along the fissure that has been recently created.

The new fissure that opened from where the lava erupted was called Eldfell which translates as the Fire Mountain.

This volcanic eruption from Iceland lasted for about 160 days, between 23rd January to 29th June 1973.

By the end of the eruption the whole island was covered in ash; streets, buildings, and cars were swallowed by ash and lava.

The good thing was that the number of deaths was extremely low; only one person died because of the eruption.

Material damages were quite significant as most of the houses from the island were destroyed.

When the eruption has finished the cone called Eldfell was about 220 meters above sea level and today its height decreased by almost 20 meters because of the compacting and slumping process of the unconsolidated land and because of the wind.

Can I visit Eldfell today?

The island is open to the public today and you can go and see the lava fields and the crater with your own eyes.

It has about 4,500 inhabitants, most of them settled in the area around Vestmannaeyjar, and to get to the island you may take a flight from Reykjavik airport to Vestmannaeyjar Airport located on the island, or you can take the ferry from Landeyjahofn.

Eldfell volcano in Heimaey island Vestmannaeyjar archipelago Iceland

Eldfell volcano in Heimaey island Vestmannaeyjar archipelago Iceland

Once you get to the island, you can choose to spend a few days there to have enough time to explore the area and enjoy some quality time far from any city pollution.

Hotel Vestmannaeyjar Iceland is our recommendation for your overnight stays, as it is conveniently located in the heart of the city, 12 minutes walk from the local golf club.

This beautiful hotel offers a fabulous breakfast (included in the room rate), a sauna, and 2 hot tubs where you can relax after a day full of outdoor activities.

The airport is just 2 kilometers away, while the closest harbor from where all the trip boats leave is just 1 kilometer away.

Eyjafjallajokull from 2010

Located in the southern part of Iceland is a glacier volcano with the highest point 1.665 above sea level.

Based on the written evidence, this volcano recorded major eruptions in 920, 1613, and 1822.

The last eruption, the one that started at the beginning of 1822 lasted for about 14 months and rivers of lava and ash remodeled the landscape.

The most recent eruption was in 2010 and lasted for about 10 months, from January till the end of October 2010, when it was officially declared over after 3 months of inactivity.

Eyjafjallajokull volcano glacier southern Iceland

Eyjafjallajokull volcano glacier southern Iceland

As in most cases, everything started with small and frequent earthquakes that lasted for a few months, from January to March.

Then rivers of lava began to flow from the crater on 20 March 2010, remodeling the landscape and destroying everything on their way down.

The hot lava melted the ice cap that covered the volcano and huge quantities of ice, meltwater, and mud swelled rivers located in the vicinity of the volcano.

Steam and ash were spat into the atmosphere and the wind spread them all over Europe and many European countries closed their airspace and kept on the ground the planes until it was safe to fly again.

Actually, this was the worst air travel disruption since the Second World War and thousands of passengers had to cancel or reschedule their trips.

This volcanic eruption in Iceland caused a massive air travel disruption and for 6 days in April 2010, the European air space was closed.

There are a few reasons why the eruption affected badly the air traffic:

  • The direction of the jet stream was very stable and constantly to the southeast
  • The volcano is located right under the jet stream

The second phase of the eruption happened under the ice cap so a large quantity of water flowed back into the volcano and created a large quantity of steam.

The eruption was so powerful that it inject ash into the jet stream

What is interesting about Eyjafjallajokull is that the eruption process can be split into two different stages:

  • Phase 1: the effusive eruption
  • Phase 2: explosive eruption

Phase 1, which lasts from January to April 2010 is marked by small earthquakes and the appearance of a fissure through where the lava started to flow.

In this phase, the eruption was mainly under the ice cap and huge quantities of meltwater flowed into the volcano and produce important quantities of steam.

Eyjafjallajokull Volcano eruption Iceland

Eyjafjallajokull Volcano eruption Iceland

The second phase started on 14 April 2010 when a huge eruption started and important quantities of lava, ash, and steam were thrown in the air.

The eruption lasted from April till May when the cameras installed around the crater recorded only water vapor thrown in the air.

From June till October 2010 the scientists recorded only small earthquakes and by October a scientist from the University of Iceland declared the eruption over, stating that the volcano might erupt anytime in the future.

Can I visit Eyjafjallajökull today?

Scientists consider that today it is completely safe to visit the volcano and there are some tours on the southern coast that include a hike to the volcano on one of the hiking trails indicated by experts.

You will need hiking equipment if you plan to climb the volcano; it will take you about 1 hour to climb it and about 20 minutes drive to get to the bottom of the glacier, but you will get some amazing photos from the top.

Eyjafjallajokull Volcano eruption Iceland

Eyjafjallajokull Volcano eruption Iceland

Take some water and food with you as you most probably will spend more than half a day in the area.

The closest hotel to the volcano is located very close to Hella village and is called Hotel Eyjafjallajokull Iceland .

Its remote location and beautiful surroundings make this hotel a perfect place to set your camp and explore the area.

At the room rate, you have breakfast included but you can also serve dinner which by the way is delicious.

The rooms are spacious and clean, the beds are comfy while the bathroom is equipped with everything you need for your stay.

Grimsvotn from 2011

In 2011, another important volcanic eruption in Iceland put the country on many traveler’s lists.

This time Grimsvotn, Iceland’s most active volcano, was the one that attracted the attention of scientists and volcano lovers from all over the world.

On 21 May 2011, the volcano erupted and an important quantity of ash and steam was spit into the air, 20 kilometers high.

The area around the volcano was immediately covered by ash and everything became dark: the snow, the mosk and all other things located around.

Although the Grimsvotn eruption was as powerful as the Eyjafjallajokull eruption, specialists estimated there would not be any air traffic delays, because of the volcano layout and configuration.

Volcanic Eruptions in Iceland

Volcanic Eruptions in Iceland

Grimsvotn is also a stratovolcano which means it is located beneath the thick ice cap that covers about 14% of Iceland’s surface.

That is why scientists believe that the eruption started beneath the ice on 21 May 2011 when multiple earthquakes were recorded.

A few hours later, the lava penetrated the ice cap and volcanic ash and steam were thrown into the air.

A few days later, the eruption stopped and scientists confirmed that no further eruption will take place.

During the 2 days of the eruption, about 900 flights all across western Europe were canceled and Keflavik International Airport was closed.

Zero people died because of the eruption and the material damages were quite limited as the volcano is located quite far from any human settlement.

Can I visit Grimsvotn today?

Grimsvotn is the name of the area located in the southern part of Iceland in the western part of the Vatnajokull glacier.

It is one of the most active volcanoes in Iceland so you cannot climb the crater and get very close to where the action happens.

It is believed that every 3 to 7 years this volcano will erupt and it is not safe to get close to it anytime this year as the last eruption occurred 10 years ago.

Bardarbunga 2014-2015

Another powerful and large volcano hidden beneath the thick Icelandic ice cap is Bardarbunga, located in Vatnajokull National Park.

It is an extremely active volcano with more than 350 eruptions out of which 23 happened in the last 1,000 years.

The most powerful eruption happened 8,000 years ago and is believed to be the largest known lava flow on Earth from the last 10,000.

Volcano continues to erupt Iceland

Volcano continues to erupt Iceland

Based on the evidence found, scientists estimated that the hot lava traveled more than 100 kilometers to the southern coast of Iceland and went into the ocean.

The last eruption was recorded in 2014-2015 and everything started on 29 August 2014 through the so-called Holuhraun vent.

6 long months lasted the eruption and an important quantity of gases was spit into the atmosphere.

For many days on the row, the volcano continued to spit lava, ash, and gases that reshaped the face of Iceland and polluted the air.

Starting with October the scientists recorded minor changes in the seismic activity and a minor decrease was noticed.

The air quality continued to be affected by the eruption and there was nothing to do but wait for the eruption to end.

By the end of January, scientists issued a report saying that the eruption would probably continue till summer, something that proved to be wrong.

At the beginning of February, the seismic activity decreased significantly, the earthquake was less intense and rarer, but the air pollution was still high, so the area was closed for the public.

The eruption ended on 28 February 2015 not before creating a lava field that measures 85 square kilometers in size, which is the largest lava field in Iceland since 1700.

In March 2015 the volcano area was open to the public except for the new lava field and the area comprising 20 meters around it.

Can I visit Bardarbunga today?

One of the largest volcanic eruptions in Iceland that created the largest lava field in the last 300 years, is now over and the area is open to the public.

You can get to the volcano with a Super Jeep, a special 8WD vehicle driven by an experienced driver, or with a sightseeing flight from Reykjavik.

The volcano is quite far from human settlements so there is no paved road to get you closer to the volcano.

Volcanic Eruption in Iceland start

Volcanic Eruption in Iceland start

Now the area is considered to be safe for visiting, but I strongly recommend you to go there with an experienced guide as in Iceland things change from one second to another.

Get accommodation close to the entrance to Vatnajokull National Park and book a seat at a Super Jeep trip if you want to get close to the volcano.

We chose to stay at Fosshotel Lagoon as it is conveniently located close to Vatnajokull National Park and from there explore the southern part of Iceland, including the glaciers and the volcanoes from the area.

The rooms are clean and spacious, the breakfast is delicious and the staff is friendly and ready to answer all your questions about this magnificent country.

Fagradalsfjall from 2021

Fagradalsfjall is located in Reykjanes Peninsula, about 40 kilometers away from Reykjavik, and is a volcano that was formed in the Last Glacial Period.

Fagradalsfjall area is a place with many fissures, lava fields, and cones located in an active seismic zone right on the place where the North American tectonic plates and Eurasian plates meet.

The eruption began on the morning of March 19 2021 after more than 800 years of inactivity.

The volcanic eruption at Geldingadalir Fagradalsfjall Iceland

The volcanic eruption at Geldingadalir Fagradalsfjall Iceland

6 months later, the volcano is still erupting and the pyroclastic show is indeed amazing and the good news is that you can see it with your own eyes.

Reykjavik: Fagradalsfjall Volcano Hike offers the unique experience of getting close to the volcano and witnessing a live volcanic eruption.

The tour lasts for about 6 hours and in the tour price, you have included the transfer from Reykjavik to the volcano.

You will hike to the volcano accompanied by a professional guide that will provide you with all the useful information about the volcano and its seismic activity.

The hike lasts for about 1.5 or 2 hours, depending on the group speed, and has a medium degree of difficulty.

Reykjavik Fagradalsfjall Volcano Hike Guide

Reykjavik Fagradalsfjall Volcano Hike Guide

The volcano is located under a thick ice cap so the heat of the lava caused the ice to melt and rivers of water flow from the river.

This eruption reinvigorated Iceland tourism and thousands of people from all over the world rushed to see this outstanding show live.

The cameras installed close to the fissure transmit live on the internet images of the volcano eruption, while tour companies rushed to sell helicopter tours around the volcano.

Magma Lava at Fagradalsfjall Volcano Iceland

Magma Lava at Fagradalsfjall Volcano Iceland

It is a massive event and we should take advantage of this unique opportunity and include Iceland in our next travel plans.

The volcano continues to spit lava, ash, and gases and new lava flows from the main crater for more than 6 months now.

Can I visit Fagradalsfjall today?

The area around the volcano is considered to be safe for visiting, but we strongly recommend you to go accompanied by a professional guide.

It is not just for your own safety, but you will also find a lot of useful and interesting information.

Closeup Lava Magma at Fagradalsfjall volcano in Iceland

Closeup Lava Magma at Fagradalsfjall volcano in Iceland

The volcano is conveniently located close to Reykjavik so it is very accessible and easy to reach even if the weather conditions are not the best.

Book a few nights at Midgardur By Center Hotels in Reykjavik and from there do day trips to Fagradalsfjall, Blue Lagoon, and even the Golden Circle.

I know you will love this magnificent country and you will like the hotel a lot not only because of its great location but also because of the services, cleanliness, and hospitality of the employees.

Conclusion

Volcanic eruption in Iceland is quite common and some of them might cause air traffic delays because of the ash spit into the atmosphere.

Seeing an eruption live is something indeed amazing and you definitely have to rush to Iceland to see this beautiful show that might end from one moment to another.

Fagradalsfjall volcanic eruption in Reykjanes Reykjavik Iceland

Fagradalsfjall volcanic eruption in Reykjanes Reykjavik Iceland

Generally, all volcanic eruptions are a major tourist attraction and people rush to see this amazing show with their own eyes.

The eruption of Fagradalsfjall is one of the very few occasions when you can get so close to an active volcano, so you definitely don’t have to miss it!

Can I visit Fagradalsfjall today hot lava magma

Can I visit Fagradalsfjall today hot lava magma

What are you waiting for?

Pack your bags and hit the road to witness this unique and spectacular phenomenon while the volcano is still spitting lava and the volcanic system is so alive!

Logistical tips and tricks for your trip

Book your accommodation

We always use Booking.com as they have the best price-quality ratio and they offer a wide range of hotels, guesthouses, apartments, and villas to choose from.

You will find here all types of accommodations, from the cheapest ones to the most luxurious.

Don't forget travel insurance

We never leave home without HeyMondo Insurance or Safety Wings Insurance as they offer the best services and a good value for money, plus COVID coverage.

Travel insurance will always protect you against unexpected events and cost like illness, COVID, injury, theft, or travel cancellation.

We never go on any trip without travel insurance and there were many cases when we had to use it.

Renting a car
We like to explore a country on our own and a car gives us the mobility and freedom to do that.

We always rent our car from Discovercars as they have free cancellation 48 hours prior to starting date and a wide range of car rental companies and options to choose from all over the world.

Tours and attractions
When we are looking for some adventure or we simply want to break up the monotony and discover new places, we always use GetYourGuide.

We love it because we always find the most amazing experiences, with free cancellation and a large variety of activities and tours to choose from.

Airplane tickets and holiday packages
Expedia is our ally when searching for the best price for airplane tickets as it works as an aggregator for a huge number of airlines and we always find the best price for our flights.

Travel tip: use Expedia when you are searching for holiday packages as they have many last-minute offers and great discounts for hotels, flights, and even the whole holiday packages.