#volcano

Increased indications of volcanic activity in Öræfajökull outlet glacier in Vatnajökull on the south shore has moved the alert state to a higher level.  According to the Icelandic Med Office increased earthquakes, changes in volcanic related chemicals in glacial rivers floating from the glacier, and a new ice-cauldron taking shape on the top of the glacier are all unusual developments.  Not the least when all occur simultaneously.

Öræfajökull glacier on right side seen from Lómagnúpur mountain on the South Shore in Iceland

Are you looking for a place to shake your brain and legs? Are you interested in Iceland and the many active natural forces like earthquakes, eruption and moving glaciers? The new Lava Center is a place you should seriously consider. A unique and highly interesting exhibition center with interactive exhibits located only a few kilometers from the notorious Eyjafjallajökuill glacier/volcano, and other active volcanos.

When you enter the exhibition, you start in a corridor that tells the story of a century of eruptions in Iceland.

 

Bárðarbunga is the second highest mountain in Iceland next to Öræfajökull standing a bit over 2000 meters tall. Like many mountains in Iceland Bárðarbunga has many different faces.  In addition to being a mountain, it is also an outlet glacier placed on the north-west side of the large ice cap Vatnajökull. On top of the mountain is an 800 meters thick layer of ice covering the mountain and its surrounding valleys and canyons.  Picturing the white sight of ice on top of Bárðarbunga is, of course, fascinating and the glacier can be seen in all its greatness from the center of the Icelandic highland. But what lies beneath is probably more interesting and possibly frightening.  Not so deep under the mountain Bárðarbunga waiting patiently is a huge magma chamber with glowing magma eager to surface. So in addition to being a mountain and a glacier, Bárðarbunga is also a volcano. Ad in addition to being the second highest mountain is also the second largest volcano in Iceland with a volcanic system that is 200 kilometers long and 25 kilometers wide. The mountain is a humongous natural force that everyone hopes will never be released.  So when earthquakes begin in Bárðarbunga, everyone should be intimidated.

The scary magma beneath

One of the primary indicators predicting eruption are the earthquakes occurring when the magma is moving around near the surface.  The magma is like a giant red monster of thousand degrees trying to find its way to the surface and simultaneously moving the earth's crust causing collapses and movements. Moving its many arms from the chamber into all the cracks, fissures and crevasses it can find with the intention to surface with its tail extended deep into the earth's core. It is a frightening beast and not without success. The last time Bárðarbunga erupted was only three years ago, in 2014. Fortunately for everyone, the eruption occurred on the sand only a few kilometers north of the Bárðarbunga glacier.  And even though it was just another eruption in Iceland, it was one of the largest one in modern history measured by the volume of lava. If the monster had found its way under the glacier, only a few kilometers south, the story would have been entirely different and more like the Eyjafjallajökull eruption with more massive floods.

Eruptions in Bárðarbunga and nearby places

Although scientists predict devastating floods and even a natural disaster if the beast surfaces under the glacier the effect could be less. In 1996 a short but powerful eruptions occurred near Bárðarbunga in Grímsvötn. The eruption lasted for two weeks and melted a tremendous amount of ice producing a massive flood that found its way to the south shore instead of flooding to the north over the highland. For Icelanders, the flood was a natural disaster with devastating effects for the landscape and roads and bridges were the main victims.  Fortunately, no life was lost.  In addition to this eruption and the 2014 eruption, it is believed that a small eruption occurred in 1797. So we are yet to see a large eruption in Bárðarbunga with devastating effects for the northeast part of the country.

Bárðarbunga is the second highest mountain in Iceland

Most dangerous eruptions in Iceland occur under ice, under a thick ice cap.  The reason is the massive flood that forces its way to the shore as the magma melts the thick ice on the volcano's top.

Scientists are constantly monitoring Bárðarbunga and nearby places

Iceland is an island of many volcanos, and according to one of our most prominent geologists, at least four major volcanos are due.

Katla, on the other hand, can possibly burst with devastating and dangerous consequences.

Katla under the glacier Mýrdalsjökull is an active volcano in the southern part of the Icelandic Highland.  “Active” in a geological sense is measured in tens and hundred of years of an interval between eruptions.  In the past, Katla has had the habit of erupting at least once-twice every century and has erupted twenty times since the Icelandic settlement in the tenth century. It has been a long time since the interval was as long as the current one. That is why Katla is monitored by the Icelandic Met Office and geologists around the clock all year round.

Katla long overdue volcano is roaring and might erupt at any time

If you have a 4WD rent a car while traveling in Iceland, you should consider taking a drive to Elagjá.  The name Eldgjá, or Fire Canyon, refers to a 40-kilometre fissure in the Icelandic Highland stretching from Gjátindur Mountain to a southwest direction, all the way to the glacier Mýrdalsjökull, and under the glacier reaching the much-feared volcano Katla. It is a geological wonder and in its essence, a volcano and much of the surrounding lava and vast lava carpets south of the fissure came from Eldgjá centuries ago. The name was given to the fissure by Iceland's first geologist Þorvaldur Thoroddssen at the end of 19th century.  Today and for the last half a century the term Eldgjá has most often referred to a part in the middle of the fissure, the large and impressive canyon and natural wonder located at the Highland Road Fjallabaksleið Nyrðri.  

A canyon with one of our most impressive waterfalls

The canyon Eldgjá is approximately 5 kilometers long and around 600 meters wide.  The cliffs and slopes framing the magnificent natural wonder are more or less 200 meters high. In the middle of the canyon, the river Nyrðri Ófæra (The impassable northern river) falls into the canyon in one of Iceland's most impressive waterfalls, Ófærufoss (The impassable waterfall). From the mouth of the canyon beginning at the parking lot is a marked hiking trail. The walk to the waterfall is about 30 to 40 minutes. You can also walk up to a viewing deck by the middle of the waterfall to get up and personal with Ófærufoss waterfall, quite spectacular if I might say so.

Access to Eldgjá requires a 4WD vehicle

Eldgjá is part of the Icelandic Highland. Like all other places in the Highland in Iceland, it is only accessible during the opening time of the Highland Roads, from early July until the middle of September. Like most Highland Roads it also requires a 4WD vehicle as the road is a bit rugged and on your way to Eldgjá you need to cross unbridged rivers. The best way to access the road is from the Ring Road some 23 kilometers west of the village Kirkjubæjarklaustur.  Here you take a turn north on Road nr. 208 and drive approximately 16 kilometers until you take a left turn and enter the Mountain Road F208 Fjallabaksleið Nyrðri. On this road, you need to drive about 26 kilometers to reach Eldgjá.  

Below is the location of Elagjá on the map of Iceland

The walk to the waterfall is about 30 to 40 minutes

 

The crater Eldborg is extraordinary for many reasons. It has a beautiful shape and is quite noticeable as it stands alone and rises 100 meters above sea level, high over its surroundings. You just can't miss it when driving road 54 at Snæfellsnes.  The crater has a regular oval form with a length of 200 meters and a depth of 50 meters. The sides are quite thin and steep on the inside and outside.  It is an amazing natural structure, like a fortress or a castle, protecting the 32 square kilometers of lava that it delivered from the magma below.

Eruption in historical times

The crater erupted in historical times, right about when people were first coming to settle on this challenging island, around twelve hundred years ago. The eruption is even mentioned in our Book of Settlement telling a story of a farm that the fire consumed right where the crater stands today. And then the lava started cooling and begun to foster all kinds of plants moss and small trees. 

How to find and go to Eldborg

Eldborg is easily accessible although it takes a bit of an effort. You take a left turn if you are driving from Reykjavík and coming from Borgarnes to the farm Snorrastaðir, road S610.  There is a parking lot by the farm which offers accommodation as part of the Icelandic Farm Holidays. Here the walk to the edge of the crater is around 3 kilometers or approximately 40 minutes walk.  So if yo decide to take this excellent walk through a beautiful lava up to the crater, expect two and a half hour or more, depending on the time you spend taking photos. 

Below is the location of Eldborg on the map of Iceland

The crater Eldborg at Snæfellsnes is extraordinary for many reasons.

 

Eyjafjallajokull glacier is probably Iceland's best-known glacier. One of the main reasons is the volcano buried under the ice cap that spreads some 100 square kilometers by the south shore.  Eyjafjallajokull glacier stands 1651 meters at its highest point, and the volcano has a crater of 3-4 km in diameter that opens towards the north. The volcano Eyjafjallajökull last erupted in 2010 grabbing the world's attention as it severely disturbed flight schedules in Europe and the northern hemisphere.  The mountain is in proximity to some of Iceland’s most impressive and beautiful natural wonders like Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, and Þórsmörk.  The mountain's south face was once part of Iceland's Atlantic coastline, but across the millenniums the ocean has retreated as glacial rivers have carried billions of tons of sand to the shore, leaving sheer cliffs to display magnificent waterfalls.

Eyjafjallajokull is first and foremost a glacier

Although in its substance Eyjafjallajökull is a mountain and a volcano it is primarily a glacier.  It is the seventh largest glacier in Iceland and has been a spectacular white landmark by the south shore for centuries.  Even though the 2010 eruption caught much attention, the volcano is never viewed as one of Iceland’s main volcanoes. It is not likely to erupt anytime soon again.  The glacier has two spectacular outlet glaciers or glacier tongues, Gýgjökull and Steinholtsjökull.   Both are part of the fascinating north slopes of the glacier and part of the drive to the oasis Þórsmörk.  Gýgjökull is right below the crater and is where water and ice came with force into the river Markarfljót during the eruption.  The slopes are also packed with fascination wonders like waterfalls and mystical canyons.  From Seljalandsfoss all the way to Þórsmörk, a 30-kilometer drive, it is a world of history and landscape packed in one. 

Eyjafjallajökull during eruption in 2010

Eyjafjallajökull during eruption in 2010

Iceland's favorite hiking trail Fimmvörðuháls

Iceland's favorite hiking trail over the mountain pass Fimmvörðuháls leading into the lower part of the Highlands passes between Eyjafjallajökull glacier and Mýrdalsjökull glacier. One of the reasons for this popularity is the magnificent and unusual landscape along the way exposing new lava, beautiful mountains, ice, and highland vegetation.  It starts by Skógafoss just by the Ring Road and ends in the oasis Þórsmörk.  Today the track provides an excellent view of the new lava and both ice caps.  The trail was closed down for some time after the eruption but has been reopened much to the Icelander's joy.

Eyjafjallajokull eruption and airplane crash history

Although not a major player in the continuing history of eruptions in Iceland, Eyjafjallajokull had erupted on regular bases since settlement about twelve hundred years ago.  The volcano erupted in 920, around 1612, in 1823, and then again in 2010.  Eyjafjallajökull also seems to have a bit of a troubled history with aircraft. In 1952, a U.S. rescue plane, carrying five aboard, crashed into Eyjafjallajokull. One died instantly, but the other four survived only to perish on the vast glacier. Twelve years later one body was found and a ring from another. The glacier tongue delivered the last three bodies in 1966. Then, in 1966 an American couple crashed into the icecap and was instantly killed. When you drive the Ring Road in Iceland, you can not miss Eyjafjallajökull glacier or ice cap when you approach the magnificent waterfall Seljalandsfoss and continue the south coast.  It is quite visible less than an hour after you leave Reykjavik the capital of Iceland.

Below is the location of Eyjafjallajökull on the map of Iceland

Iceland's best-known volcano nowadays is by far Eyjafjallajokull