Determining the influence of volcanoes to Iceland’s existence would be similar to determining the influence of eggs in an omelet. Iceland formed from an eruption on the ocean floor 20 million years ago, and is still one of the most volcanic hotspots in the world. This is due to the island’s location along the Mid Atlantic Ridge where the N. American and European tectonic plates are being pulled apart, causing continuous volcanic activity.
On average, Iceland experiences an eruption every five years, but fortunately only rarely where anyone lives. It has been estimated that a third of the planet’s total lava flow over the past 500 years comes from Iceland.
There are over 100 volcanoes on the island, 35 of which are active. From strato-volcanoes to the shield variety, almost every type of volcano exists here and southern Iceland has the highest concentration of sub-glacial volcanoes in the world.
Icelanders have learned to constructively coexist with their fiery friends by harnessing volcanic geothermal power to produce clean, renewable energy to heat homes, businesses and of course lovely outdoor swimming pools.
Although it would take some time to describe all of Iceland’s 100+ volcanoes, there are a few worth mentioning including several ways you can safely interact with volcanoes in interesting ways:
Although dormant for more than 4,000 years, Thrihnukagigur offers a unique experience for travelers wanting to see a volcano from the inside. Open for the first time in 2012, descent is made into the dried out magma chamber via cable car
The glacier-capped volcano is most famous for the April 2010 eruption that put European air traffic to a standstill. Today, Thorsmork Glacier Valley behind Eyjafjallajokull is a popular volcano hiking tour.
Askja is a volcano situated in Iceland’s remote interior highlands that last erupted in 1961. The powerful 1875 eruption created the lake-filled crater ‘Viti’ which courageous visitors can hike up to and swim in the warm waters.
Eldfell was thought extinct when it erupted in 1973, forcing the evacuation of Heimaey in the Westman Islands. Although no lives were lost, a third of the town was buried under lava and ash. Today, visitors can feel the still warm ground around the volcano and see an excavation exhibit where homes are being dug up from the volcanic ash.
Surtsey burst from the North Atlantic in a dramatic series of ocean floor eruptions that began in 1963 and lasted four years. Today, Surtsey (UNESCO) is a nature reserve being studies by scientists that can be viewed by an enjoyable boat ride around the Westman Islands
Located underneath Vatnajokull, Europe’s largest glacier, Grimsvotn last erupted in May 2011. It is highly active with approximately 70 eruptions in historical times.
The most active volcano in Iceland last erupted in 2000, with more than 20 eruptions since 874. In ancient times Hekla was believed to be the entrance to hell which is where the phrases, ‘Go to Heck’ and ‘What the Heck?’ originate from.
Located underneath Myrdalsjokull glacier in South Iceland, Katla volcano is highly active and long overdue. Since 1721, it has erupted five times at 34-78 year intervals, but it hasn’t erupted since 1918.
Laki is extinct today but the terrible eruption in 1783 produced the largest amount of lava from a single eruption and the poisonous gas wiped out a fifth of the Icelandic population and half its livestock. The atmospheric effects were felt all over the world.
Krafla volcano near Lake Myvatn experienced a massive eruption which lasted from 1724 until 1729. Two centuries later the volcano wreaked havoc on the region again with the ‘Krafla Fires’ of the 1970s and 1980s.
Iceland’s tallest volcano last erupted in 1727 but the terrible explosion in 1362 buried almost a third of the country under gravel and forced the abandonment of farms all along the south coast.
The icy cone shaped peak of this glacier capped volcano on Snaefellsnes peninsula hasn’t erupted since in 250 AD but it can be seen from Reykjavik on a clear day and is featured in Jules Verne’s’ novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth, as the entrance to the netherworld. Today it is a popular spot for glacier hikes and snowmobiling.
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