Iceland volcano erupts for the first time in 900 years

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Astonishing photos have captured the moment an Icelandic volcano erupted for the first time in 6,000 years last night - sending molten lava spewing into the skies.

Police and coast guard raced to the scene 25 miles from Iceland's capital, Reykjavik, after the eruption occurred near Fagradalsfjall, a mountain on the Reykjanes Peninsula around 9.45pm.

The last eruption in the surrounding area took place 900 years ago.   

The public has been advised to stay away from the area, that is also near the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, a popular tourist destination.

Dramatic images filmed by a coast guard helicopter showed streams of red lava bubbling and flowing out of a fissure in a valley in Geldingadalur. As the lava continued to flow on Saturday, clouds of blue gas were also swirling from the site.

While Iceland's Keflavik International Airport and the small fishing port of Grindavik are only just a few miles away, the area is uninhabited and the eruption was not expected to present any danger.

This image taken by the Icelandic Coast Guard shows the lava flowing from the erupting Fagradalsfjall volcano some 40 km west of the Icelandic capital Reykjavik, on March 20, 2021

Pictured: A close-up shot of the lava flowing from the erupting volcano. As the lava continued to flow on Saturday, clouds of blue gas were also swirling from the site

From Grindavik, steam could be seen rising from the area in between rain showers, an AFP reporter said.

'The eruption is considered small,' the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO), which monitors seismic activity, said in a statement Saturday, adding that the 'eruption fissure' is estimated to be be about 1,640 - 3,280 feet long, and that the lava is estimated to be less than half-a-square mile in size.

Volcanic eruptions in the 'land of fire and ice' are known as effusive eruptions, where lava flows steadily out of the ground, as opposed to explosive ones which spew ash clouds high into the sky. 

Police and coast guard officials raced to the scene 25 miles from Iceland's capital, Reykjavik, after the eruption around 9.45pm, but the public has been advised to stay away from the area

Plumes of smoke rise into the sky after the Icelandic volcano erupted for the first time in 900 years last night 

Lava streams out of the volcano after the eruption which took place just a few miles away from Iceland's Keflavik International Airport

In this still image captured from a hand out video, filmed by the Icelandic Coast Guard, lava flows from the erupting Fagradalsfjall volcano some 50 km west of the Icelandic capital Reykjavik, on March 19

The Krysuvik volcanic system has been inactive for the past 900 years, according to the Meteorological Office, while the last eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula dates back almost 800 years, to 1240.

But the region has been under increased surveillance for several weeks after a 5.7-magnitude earthquake was registered on February 24 near Mount Keilir on the outskirts of Reykjavik.

That quake has since been followed by an unusual number of smaller tremors - more than 50,000, the highest number since digital recordings began in 1991, and a huge jump from the 1,000-3,000 earthquakes registered each year since 2014.

There were no reports of ash fall, although tephra - solidified magma rock fragments - and gas emissions were to be expected. 

Scientists were measuring gas emissions but no information had been disclosed by Saturday morning.

Gases - especially sulphur dioxide - can be elevated in the immediate vicinity of a volcanic eruption, and may pose a danger to health and even be fatal.

Pollution can exceed acceptable limits, even far away, depending on the winds. 

The seismic activity has since moved several kilometres southwest, concentrating around Mount Fagradalsfjall, where magma was detected just one kilometre under the Earth's surface in recent days.

The Reykjanes Peninsula hadn't seen an eruption of any volcano in 781 years, though there had been signs of a possible eruption recently, with earthquakes occurring daily for the past three weeks.

But volcanologists were still taken by surprise because the seismic activity had calmed down before the eruption. 

The Department of Emergency Management said it was not anticipating evacuations because the volcano is in a remote valley about 1.5 miles from the nearest road. 

The red shimmer from magma flowing out from the erupting Fagradalsfjall volcano behind the landmark Blue Lagoon, some 45 km west of the Icelandic capital Reykjavik, on March 19

While Iceland's Keflavik International Airport and the small fishing port of Grindavik are only just a few miles away, the area is uninhabited and the eruption was not expected to present any danger

Images captured by the Coast Guard helicopter showed the lava spilling out of the volcano after it erupted last night

Some four hours after the initial eruption at 2045 GMT - the first on the peninsula since the 12th century - lava covered about one square kilometre or nearly 200 football fields.

'I can see the glowing red sky from my window,' said Rannveig Gudmundsdottir, resident in the town of Grindavik, only 8 km (5 miles) from the eruption.

'Everyone here is getting into their cars to drive up there,' she said.

A fissure 1,600 to 2,400 feet long opened at the eruption site, spewing lava fountains up to 320 feet high, Bjarki Friis of the meteorological office said.

Residents in the town of Thorlakshofn, east of the eruption site, were told to stay indoors to avoid exposure to volcanic gases, Iceland's Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management said. The wind was blowing from the west.  

Volcanic eruptions in the region are known as effusive eruptions, where lava flows steadily out of the ground, as opposed to explosive ones which spew ash clouds high into the sky

A volcanic eruption is seen (rear) near Fagradalsfjall, a mountain on the Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland March 19

Iceland has 32 volcanic systems currently considered active, the highest number in Europe. The country has had an eruption every five years on average.

The vast island near the Arctic Circle straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a crack on the ocean floor separating the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.

The shifting of these plates is in part responsible for Iceland's intense volcanic activity.

The most recent eruption was at Holuhraun, beginning in August 2014 and ending in February 2015, in the Bardarbunga volcanic system in an uninhabited area in the centre of the island.

That eruption did not cause any major disruptions outside the immediate vicinity.

But in 2010, an eruption at the Eyjafjallajokull volcano sent huge clouds of smoke and ash into the atmosphere, disrupting air traffic for more than a week with the cancellation of more than 100,000 flights worldwide and leaving some 10 million passengers stranded. 

Iceland has 32 volcanic systems currently considered active, the highest number in Europe. The country has had an eruption every five years on average

This photo provided by the Icelandic Met Office shows an eruption, centre right, on the Reykjanes Peninsula in southwestern Iceland on Friday, March 19

Pictured: Rescue personnel work at the rescue team station in Grindavik, Iceland, during the eruption of a volcano near Fagradalsfjall, a mountain on the Reykjanes Peninsula, March 19

The land of fire and ice: Iceland's thousands of years of volcanic history

Due to Iceland's location on the Mid-Atlantic ridge, a divergent tectonic plate boundary, and its location over a hot spot, the northern Nordic island country has a high-concentration of active volcanoes. 

Known as the land of fire and ice, the island currently has 32 active volcanic systems, 13 of which have seen eruptions since the settlement of Iceland in AD 874. The most active system is  Grímsvötn.

Iceland is Europe's biggest and most active volcanic region, home to a third of the lava that has flowed on Earth over the past 5,000 years - since the Middle Ages, according to Visit Iceland. 

The vast North Atlantic island borders the Arctic Circle where it straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a crack on the ocean floor separating the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. The shifting of these plates is in part responsible for Iceland's intense volcanic activity. 

Despite being located in the far north near the arctic circle, Iceland's volcanoes can have far-reaching consequences for the rest of the globe.  in 2010, an eruption at the Eyjafjallajokull volcano sent huge clouds of smoke and ash into the atmosphere, causing the biggest air traffic disruption in peacetime until the Covid-19 pandemic.

The disruption lasted for more than a week with the cancellation of more than 100,000 flights worldwide and leaving some 10 million passengers stranded.

Pictured: The Northern Lights are seen above the ash plume of a volcano in Eyjafjallajokull, Iceland, April 22, 2010

934 

The eruption of Eldgja - which means 'canyon of fire' in Icelandic - is the biggest basalt lava eruption the world has ever seen. Part of the same volcanic system as the mighty Katla volcano, the Eldgja fissure is 75 kilometres long, stretching to the western edge of Vatnajokull. The eruption led to two large lava fields covering 301 square miles.

1783

The eruption of the Laki volcanic fissure in the south of the island is considered by some experts to be the most devastating in Iceland's history, causing its biggest environmental and socio-economic catastrophe: 50 to 80 percent of Iceland's livestock was killed, leading to a famine that left a quarter of Iceland's population dead.

The volume of lava, nearly 15 cubic kilometres (3.6 cubic miles), is the second-biggest recorded on Earth in the past millennium.

The meteorological impact of Laki's eruptions had repercussions for several years in the Northern Hemisphere, causing a drop in global temperatures and crop failures in Europe as millions of tonnes of sulphur dioxide were released.

Some experts have suggested that the consequences of the eruption may have played a part in triggering the French Revolution, though the issue is still a matter of debate.

The volcano's 130 still-smoking craters were placed on UNESCO's World Heritage list in 2019, along with the entire Vatnajokull national park to which it belongs.

Pictured: Laki Volcanic cones left behind after its eruption in 1783. The volume of lava, nearly 15 cubic kilometres (3.6 cubic miles), is the second-biggest recorded on Earth in the past millennium

1875

Virtually unknown at the time, Askja, Iceland's second-biggest volcano system, erupted in three distinct phases. Two of the three ash clouds rose more than 20 kilometres (12 miles) into the sky. 

The toxic fallout across Iceland, which in some places reached a thickness of 20 centimetres (eight inches), killed livestock, contaminated the soil and sparked a wave of emigration to North America. 

Isolated in a plateau and far from civilisation, Askja is today a popular tourist attraction and its lava fields were used to train astronauts for the 1965 and 1967 Apollo missions.

1918

Considered one of Iceland's most dangerous volcanoes, Katla's last eruption added five kilometres of land mass to the country's southern coast. 

Located under the Myrdalsjokull glacier, when Katla erupts it ejects large quantities of tephra, or solidified magma rock fragments which are disseminated in the air and carried by the powerful glacier flooding caused by melting ice. 

Averaging two eruptions per century, Katla has not erupted violently for more than 100 years and experts say it is overdue. 

Satellite image of Katla Volcano situated in Iceland. Image taken 20 September 2014. Considered one of Iceland's most dangerous volcanoes, Katla's last eruption added five kilometres of land mass to the country's southern coast

1973

In one of the most dramatic eruptions in the country's recent history, the island of Heimaey in the Westman Islands awoke one January morning to an eruption in a fissure just 150 metres (yards) from the town centre.

The eruption of the Eldfell volcano occurred not only in a populated area - one of the country's then most important fishing zones - but it also surprised locals at dawn. A third of homes in the area were destroyed and the 5,300 residents were evacuated. One person died.

2010

2010 In April 2010, enormous plumes of ash billowed into the sky for several weeks during the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, causing the biggest air traffic disruption in peacetime until the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Some 100,000 flights were cancelled, leaving more than 10 million travellers stranded. 

Pictured: Horse graze as a cloud of volcanic matter rises from the erupting Eyjafjallajokull volcano, April 16, 2010 in Fimmvorduhals, Iceland. A major eruption occurred on April 14, 2010 which resulted in a plume of volcanic ash being thrown into the atmosphere over parts of Northen Europe, disrupting air travel. Some 100,000 flights were cancelled, leaving more than 10 million travellers stranded

2011 

The Grimsvotn volcano, also located under the Vatnajokull glacier, is Iceland's most active volcano. Its latest eruption was in May 2011, its ninth since 1902. 

Over one week, it spouted a cloud of ash 25 kilometres (15 miles) into the sky, causing the cancellation of more than 900 flights, primarily in the UK, Scandinavia and Germany. 

2014 - 2015 

The awakening of Bardarbunga, a volcano located under the Vatnajokull glacier - Europe's largest ice cap - in the heart of southern Iceland's uninhabited highlands, was the most recent eruption before Friday's.

The volcano erupted for five months, both under the ice and breaching the surface in a fissure at the Holuhraun lava field, creating Iceland's biggest basalt lava flow in more than 230 years but causing no injuries or damages.

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