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Eruption Meradalir eruption –  Who, What, Where, When and Why

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Björgunarsveitin Þorbjörn

Who?

Is a volcano a who? If so, this one goes by the name Meradalir, meaning the valleys of the Mare, as in female horse, following the equestrian theme of last year’s eruption at Geldingadalur of Gelding valley (a gelding being a castrated horse). 

What?

It’s a fissure eruption and may be another tourist class eruption, as it’s not disrupting flights or, so far, posing any immediate threat to roads or infrastructure. During a fissure eruption, the lava flows thick and sticky. Unlike an explosive eruption, which sends ash and gasses into the stratosphere, disrupting aviation and producing Krakatoa sunsets. But we can expect lots of nasty gases around Meradalir. On a still day, these can lay low to the ground and pose a threat, especially to small children and pets in the immediate vicinity. 

The magma flow is estimated at 32 m3  per second, or an Olympic pool every 78 seconds. This is 5 – 10 times (volcanos have good and bad days) the volume of magma pumped out by last year’s eruption. For context, Iceland and the Holocene period’s largest lava field was forged by the Eldgjá eruption of 934, which lasted about 10 years and ended up producing a lava field covering 840 km2. That field is covered with ash from later eruptions and difficult to measure, but the best guess for its total volume is 19.8 km2. The What’s On Statistical Department estimated the Meradalir eruption would take twenty years to reach this volume.  

Image Björgunarsveitin Þorbjörn

Where? 

About 50 km south of Reykjavik. The nearest town to the eruption is Grindavík. The eruption occurred in a lava field created by last year’s eruption in the neighbouring valley. This eruption is significantly harder to get to, requiring a difficult 9 km hike. It’s still very early days, and the authorities have requested that people refrain from visiting the site until they have a better picture of events. Reportedly some visitors have been taking shortcuts over last year’s apparently solid lava fields. This is nuts, a phenomenon observed during last year’s eruption was how a seemingly hard black lava field would suddenly, magically transform into a sea of molten lava in 3 or 4 seconds before cooling again to appear solid. 

Early reports indicate there are significantly more toxic gasses issuing from the vents and so far, there’s been one visitor airlifted out with a broken ankle. 

Image Almannavarnadeild ríkislögreglustjóra

When

The first signs of the Meradalir eruption were at 1:30 pm on the 3rd of August 2022. However, as events unfold, it may be that this and last year’s events mark the beginning of a new, protracted period of volcanic activity in the area. Last year’s eruption was the first in almost 800 years, there appears to be an expectation among scientists that there are more to come.

Why?

Iceland is a work in progress. It’s location on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, astride both the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, mean that the island is being pulled apart at a speed of about 2 cm per year (about half the speed your fingernails). 

Stand by for further breaking news.

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