A volcano erupts in Iceland

By Rannveig (rannveig) on March 25, 2010

Just before midnight on Saturday, March 20th 2010 a volcanic fissure opened on a mountain pass between two glacier covered volcanos in the south of Iceland. The fissure is located near one of Iceland's most popular hiking trails in an area that hasn't seen any volcanic activity for several thousand years. It's been described as a small and tidy tourist eruption. But if it triggers an eruption in the mighty Katla volcano nearby, there won’t be anything small or tidy about that.



The fissure is located on the mountain pass Fimmvörðuháls, between the glaciers Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull, where thousands of people hike each summer, only a mile from one of the mountain cabins on the trail. It is very fortuitous that this happened in the off-season, especially considering that there was no warning before the eruption started. The trail starts at the beautiful waterfall Skógarfoss and ends in Þórsmörk, one of Iceland's most precious nature pearls, nestled behind the glaciers. It is about a 10-hour hike. The road leading to Þórsmörk crosses a few un-bridged rivers that can be very hazardous so it is only accessible by bus or large SUVs.

Click here to view a map showing the location of the erupting fissure between the two glaciers.

Eyjafjallajökull last erupted in 1821-1823 and the volcano Katla in the adjacent glacier, Mýrdalsjökull last erupted in 1918. The area has been very seismically active for the past weeks so scientists have been keeping a close eye on it. They were anticipating an eruption in the area but did not know exactly where or when. It took them by surprise how discreetly it started; the start of the eruption went undetected by all the fancy measuring equipment monitoring the area.

An eruption beneath either one of the glaciers would cause a huge glacial burst that would flood a large area. Therefore, evacuation plans are in place and have been rehearsed a few times in recent years. When the eruption started on Saturday night, scientists were not sure of the exact location and therefore nearby farms were evacuated as a precaution in case of flooding. About 500-600 people had to leave their homes. The evacuation went smoothly; in fact, authorities held a meeting only last week with the residents in the area to go over the evacuation plans. Fortunately, the fissure is located right between the two glaciers so there is no danger of floods at this moment. People have now returned to their homes, but scientists are still closely monitoring the area in case of a sub-glacial eruption. The main crater of Eyjafjallajökull is still expanding and could very well erupt. Officials are confident that the area will be evacuated quickly if the need arises after a successful “dress-rehearsal” evacuation on Sunday night.

This is a fairly small eruption; the fissure is less than 1 km (half a mile) long, with hardly any ash fall reported so far. According to scientists, the eruption is still going strong and could last a few weeks or months.  A sizable hill has already built up around the fissure; the lava is slowly spreading and has started flowing down a gorge on the north side of the mountain. As the hot lava started to melt the ice and snow in its way, a large plume of steam formed and flow in the glacier-fed river increased. At first scientists were worried that the fissure had reached beneath the glacier but fortunately, that was not the case. Where the lava pours into the gorge a lava fall has formed, some 200 m (650 ft) tall, a truly unique nature phenomenon never before seen anywhere in the world. With the current rate of lava flow, the lava will reach Þórsmörk in about 2-3 days. Let us hope there will be minimal damage to the natural birch forest in the area, which makes Þórsmörk a true oasis in the otherwise stark landscape.

What scientists worry about now, is how this current eruption could affect Katla, which is a much bigger and more powerful volcano. This current eruption is considered a part of the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic system. The three known eruptions in Eyjafjallajökull have all triggered a series of eruptions in Katla. And when she blows, it will not be pretty.

Links to footage of the eruption:



Article in English:








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Iceland, volcano

About Rannveig
Born and raised in Iceland, I found a deeper appreciation for my country after spending 6 years of my teens in the US (Florida). I've been a garden enthusiast since my childhood and love the challenges of gardening in Iceland ..... well, most of the time. I have to admit that slighly longer, warmer summers would not be a bad thing.

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