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.

You’re welcome…

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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!

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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)” …

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

Volcanoes can keep erupting for over a year

Holy macaroni! For some reason, I always thought that an eruption would last several hours, max. Turns out these bad boys can just keep spewing destruction for months on end! And here you go thinking only your mother-in-law brings misery for a hell of a long time. Nope. Turns out so can volcanoes.

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It’s almost impossible to predict when a volcano will erupt

There are plenty of active volcanoes in Iceland, but nobody knows when they will go off. It might be tomorrow, might be in 8000 years. Well, let’s just make that in 8000 years then okay? Not tomorrow. Tomorrow I have plans not involving volcano eruptions.

You could literally be walking on lava

Well, perhaps technically is a better word but it turns out that lava isn’t only collected in volcanoes’ magma chambers, it could also be right underneath your feet as well (at least when you’re strolling around in Iceland, not if you’re enjoying iced tea in Germany). Of course, there is a thick crust of earth on top of all that lava, but it’s still pretty cool that only a few kilometres beneath you, there are bubbling pools of liquid rock. I guess this gives the ‘floor is lava’ game an entirely new dimension.

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Fun fact: this means it can come out anywhere

Well, not anywhere. You’re still safe drinking your iced tea in Germany. In Iceland however, the lava can be so widely spread underneath you, that the eruption won’t necessarily come out of a cone-shaped mountain like most of us think. The pressure of the lava will seek a weak point in the earth where it can push itself through, making it hard to predict the exact location. That’s exactly what happened in 1973 when an eruption suddenly started up in the middle of the night, right in the middle of an Icelandic fishing town!

Icelanders are pros in using a volcano eruption for sustainable purposes

Go Iceland! Instead of falling apart when faced with destructive natural disasters, they start the clean-up as soon as possible and even think about how to use the eruption to their benefit as well. For example, the Icelanders laid a pipeline, filled with water, through the lava from that 1973 eruption in order to provide households with naturally heated water. Talk about making the most out of nature!

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Icelanders actually seem okay with all this

Icelanders just don’t seem too bothered by living with around 130 volcanoes in fairly close proximity to urban areas, and a volcanic eruption every 4-5 years. Maybe it’s because they seem to have the experience and knowledge to deal with them when they erupt. Icelanders have been living under these circumstances for years on end and have therefore grown extremely rich in information over time. Don’t feel unsafe coming here, you’ll be in the best of hands, even in the event of an eruption! If anything does happen, you’ll  not only  be completely fine, but also have a great story to tell.

Rögnvaldur "Reggie" Guðmundsson
Rögnvaldur "Reggie" Guðmundsson

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