7 facts you (probably) didn’t know about Icelandic Volcanoes
A lot of the photos in this article are borrowed from, and published by kind permission of, the Volcano House in Reykjavík. For all the info on all the volcanoes, visit them on your trip to Iceland.
This article was born out of a collaboration with my friend Morgan Tournadre who recently wrote an article with a similar theme over on My Destination Reykjavik. For even more in-depth details, you can read that article, since he’s an actual geologist. He also publishes a French-language blog about life in Iceland.
An Icelandic volcano is the reason for democracy as we know it
The 1783-4 eruption of Laki, one of the biggest Icelandic volcanoes, was history’s biggest eruption. When it erupted, the ash darkened the sky over all of Europe for years.
It also caused widespread crop failures and the resulting famine all over Europe almost certainly was one of the causes of the French revolution of 1789. When the people ran out of bread and were told by their rulers that they should “eat cake” instead, they revolted, resulting in the first modern democracy as we know it.
Not just one, but TWO of the BIGGEST ERUPTIONS in the recorded history of the world, occurred in Iceland!
Laki was, as I said, the biggest eruption in recorded history, measured by volume of lava. But Iceland was also the site of the second biggest emission in recorded history, just last year: the 2014 eruption of Bárðarbunga.
In just 6 months, Bárðarbunga produced enough lava to cover the island of Manhattan – 85km2. And Laki? That produced 370 km2 of lava – the size of the Gaza strip – in only 50 days!
The famous name Eyjafjallajökull is actually a pretty boring title meaning “The Island Mountains Glacier”
Nothing about the whole “volcano” thing.
The volcano name everyone loves to mis-pronounce, Eyjafjallajökull, is actually an incredibly boring name. Here’s how I think it happened:
From the mountainside there, you can see all the way to the Westman Islands on a clear day. So the mountains were called “the Island-Mountains.” Then there’s a glacier on top of the mountain, so that was named the “Island-Mountains-Glacier.”
The mountains in question then happened to sit atop some volcanic action. However, by the time they realised that, it had already been a long day, and they just couldn’t be bothered to change the name.
There are incredibly many names like this in Icelandic nature, for instance we have the “Glacial River on the Mountains” and the “Pool-Valley-Pool.” They really bear testament to our ancestors’ poetic nature. But then again, other countries have similarly creative and beautiful names like the “Rocky Mountains” and the “Mont Blanc (white mountain)” …
Iceland has the only island scientists have been able to observe and document from the moment of its creation: Surtsey
Surtsey was formed by a volcanic eruption at the bottom of the ocean and emerged from the water on November 14, 1963.
It was immediately granted protection by law and to this day only scientists are allowed to go there, and even they have to get special permission. This means that we have been able to monitor how life settles on a brand-new land from the beginning, and has of course been invaluable to scientists.
1/3 of All the Earth’s Fresh Lava Originated in Iceland!
Let me explain what I mean by fresh. When you’re discussing volcanoes, all concepts that have something to do with time get a bit skewed. For instance, fresh lava means lava emissions on earth since the year 1500.
Icelandic volcanoes are on the move!
Due to changes in on the tectonic level of the earth, Iceland’s volcanoes are actually moving east! Veeeeeeeery slowly.
If you came to Iceland 20 million years ago, (which, granted, is unlikely, but for the sake of argument…) the volcanoes would all have been situated in the West Fjords. If you arrived 50 million years ago, during the Eocene epoch, you would find our volcanoes living happily in Greenland, and 70 million years ago, our volcanoes would have been terrorising dinosaurs somewhere in Canada!
Iceland has a volcanic eruption every 4-5 years!
This isn’t surprising considering the island has somewhere between 150-200 volcanoes, split into different volcanic systems. About 30 different systems are still considered “active” in Iceland, and 13 of them have erupted since the Viking Settlement in 874.
WANT TO GET UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH THE VOLCANOES OF ICELAND?!?
If you want to get up close to a volcano, you could check if there’s an active eruption. There’s none at the time we’re writing this, but that could change at any moment. We have closely monitored eruptions in the past and will update our blog if there’s any activity in future.
To learn more about Icelandic Volcanoes, check out the Volcano House mineral exhibition and see their hour-long documentary about volcanoes.
Other volcano tours to places that (hopefully) won’t be active, include jeep tours to Hekla or Eyjafjallajökull, a Helicopter tour that actually lands in a dormant volcano, a heli tour that shows you the volcanoes of the South Coast or even a volcano hike and glacier walk. For more options, please don’t hesitate to email or livechat us.