Iceland's history is inevitably connected to its volcanoes and Eyjafjallajökull is one of the most famous around the glove, here's why!
Remember Eyjafjallajökull? You still might not
be able to pronounce it, but we bet you won’t have forgotten this once-obscure,
now extremely famous volcano. When it erupted back in 2010, it sent a plume of
ash into the sky which disrupted transatlantic flights and dominated the
headlines for weeks.
If you’re planning a visit to Eyjafjallajökull, our handy guide is just what you need! Don’t leave Iceland without setting foot near this iconic site.
Most of Iceland’s volcanoes sit on or near a plate boundary that
runs diagonally across the country. This is where the North American and
Eurasian plates are pulling apart, which means the magma is able to rise up
into the gap.
Eyjafjallajökull is one of them, measuring a whopping 1,651 meters (5417ft) high. It is classed as a stratovolcano, or a cone-shaped hill with a crater that’s over 3 km wide.
Like some of Iceland’s other active volcanoes, Eyjafjallajökull is hidden from sight under a glacier. It's covered by an ice cap covering an area of 100 square kilometers (40 square miles). Surprisingly enough, this ice cap is actually on the smaller side, as others in the country are massive in comparison. However, Eyjafjallajökull is arguably the most famous of them all thanks to its most recent eruption.
Believe it or not, 2010’s eruption wasn’t the first for Eyjafjallajökull. Since Iceland was first settled more than1200 years ago, three eruptions have occurred, each of them spaced a few hundred years apart. The previous one occurred between 1821 and 1823.
The ash cloud spread across Iceland and was then blown east
across the Atlantic, covering Northern Europe and creating a considerable risk to
air traffic in the process. As a result, a large majority of European airspace was
closed for five days, from 15th to 20th April. Additionally, almost 100,000 flights were canceled,
affecting around 10 million passengers.
Fortunately, due to Iceland’s speedy response, no human lives were lost in the 2010 eruption, though some people had short-term respiratory problems. The locals were just as concerned about the impact of the floodwater, but luckily most of it flowed into rivers rather than through the area’s farms.
Within a month, Eyjafjallajökull volcano’s activity had subsided. Small eruptions continued into June, but activity lessened through summer. By October, the eruption was declared to be over and, miraculously, there were still no deaths recorded. The area, however, is still seismically active, which means that Eyjafjallajökull erupting again in the future is not unrealistic.
1. In the past, an eruption of Katla has typically followed activity on Eyjafjallajökull. This much larger volcano lies underneath the neighboring Mýrdalsjökull glacier, and the two are thought to be linked.
Scientists speculated that an eruption of Katla was imminent following the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, but the years have passed relatively quietly. However, there was a small eruption in 2011 with tremors recorded in 2016 and 2017. Nowadays, Katla is being closely monitored, as are all dormant volcanoes in Iceland.
2. Fagradalsfjall was another dormant beauty until very recently. There’d been no volcanic eruption in this part of Iceland for 800 years, but an earthquake swarm was a clear warning sign that something was amiss. In the three weeks leading up to 19th March 2021, over 40,000 tremors shook the area. A fissure opened up, commencing an eruption of steadily flowing lava which would last until September and attract tens of thousands of sightseers.
3. Snæfellsjökull is another glacier-topped volcano, located at the tip of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. On a clear day, you can see it from Reykjavík which is over 100 km away, or drive around the glacier to get a peek of it up close. The national park that surrounds it is well worth exploring, too. The volcano below the glacier hasn’t erupted for nearly two thousand years but is still classed as dormant.
4. Eldfell is a volcanic cone that’s an easy road trip from the capital, found on the island of Heimaey, in the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago. In 1973, a fissure split the island and covered most of it, including the town, with lava. Every resident of Heimaey was required to evacuate for several months until it was safe to return.
Today, you can hike up Eldfell’s cone which stands only 200 meters (ca. 656 ftft) tall. The rock is red, which is appropriate as Eldfell means ‘Hill of fire’ in Icelandic. It’s also possible to take a boat trip that circumnavigates Surtsey, Heimaey’s tiny island neighbor which was created by a volcanic eruption that lasted from 1963 to 1967.