You know the one! The towering glacier-capped strato volcano Eyjafjallajokull is probably the most famous volcano in the world today.
Eyjafjallajokull, the volcano with the name that no one outside Iceland seem to be able to pronounce. Have you tried it? Can you say Eyjafjallajokull three times really fast? There aren’t many non-Icelanders that can, but all the more respect to those who can, right?
Eyjafjallajokull is one of the smaller ice caps of Iceland. The volcano has erupted relatively frequently since the last glacial period, most recently in 2010. Eyjafjallajokull consists of a volcano which is completely covered by an ice cap. The ice cap covers an area of about 100 square kilometres (39 sq mi) and it has many outlet glaciers. The main outlet glaciers are to the north: Gigjokull that flows into Lonid, and Steinholtsjokull which flows into Steinholtslon. The mountain itself stands 1,651 metres (5,417 ft) at its highest point. It has a crater 3–4 kilometres (1.9–2.5 mi) in diameter that opens to the north.
The eruption that stopped the world
On March 20, 2010 Eyjafjallajokull began spewing molten lava in an uninhabited area in south Iceland, after being dormant for 180 years. On April 14th, 2010, after a brief intermission, the volcano resumed erupting from the top crater in the center of the glacier. The renewed eruption caused massive flooding, which required an evacuation of 800 people. This second eruption threw volcanic ash several kilometers up in the atmosphere. That led to air travel disruption in north-west Europe. The disruption lasted for six days, from April 15th to April 21st, that stranded thousands of travelers.
It happened again in May, which resulted in the closure of airspace over many parts of Europe. The eruption also created electrical storms. On May 23rd, the London Volcanic Ash Advisory Commission declared the eruption to have stopped. The volcano continued to have several earthquakes daily, with volcanologists watching the mountain closely. As of August 2010, Eyjafjallajökull was dormant.
Today the aftermath of the volcanic eruption can be seen in Thorsmork Glacier Valley, the natural oasis that lies just behind the volcano. You can also see a part of the ice cap is still covered in ash, though that is slowly disappearing under layers of snow. Perhaps you would like to go on a snowmobile tour on the ice cap and see the crater, which also offers you a great view of southern part of Iceland. We fully recommend it, and don’t worry, it’s completely safe.
What type of volcano is Eyjafjallajokull?
Eyjafjallajokull is a strato volcano. It is a conical volcano built by many layers of hardened lava, tephra, pumice and volcanic ash. Strata volcanoes are among the most common volcanoes. Due to the glacier on top of Eyjafjallajokull eruptions are explosive and contain much ash.
A large magma chamber under the mountain feeds Eyjafjallajokull. The chamber derives magma from the tectonic divergence of the Mid-Atlantic ridge. The volcano is a part of the chain of volcanoes that stretch across Iceland, including volcanoes like Hekla, Katla and Grimsvotn. Eyjafjallajokull and Katla, neighbouring volcanoes, are believed to be related.
Eruptions of Eyjafjallajokull have usually been followed by eruptions of Katla, which is a far larger and more powerful volcano than Eyjafjallajokull. As former president, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, said referring to Katla: “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”
Eyjafjallajokull and the South Shore of Iceland
Eyjafjallajokull and neighbouring Myrdalsjokull dominate the landscape in South-Iceland and can be seen miles away. We recommend that you make a stop at viewpoints and admire the volcanoes from afar. There are a few along the road.
Making a stop at Seljalandsfoss waterfall is almost mandatory and walk behind the waterfall. In the summer the waterfall can be a bit crowded, just as Skogarfoss waterfall, since both are popular tourist attractions. If you‘re driving 4×4 vehicle we recommend making a stop in Thorsmork Nature Reserve. It is more than worth it, since the small valley is beautiful, serene and peaceful. If you do stop there, make the hike to the top of Valahnukur, which is about 1.5 miles long. The hike offers a superb and panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and Thorsmork Valley.
How to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull? What’s Eyjafjallajokull’s meaning?
There are many words in Icelandic that sound strange and alien to native English speakers. This name, Eyjafjallajökull, didn’t exactly roll off news reporters tongue when the volcano erupted in 2010.
The word is a compound of three different words. First, Eyja which means islands, but that refers to the Westman Islands just off Iceland’s coast. Then, fjalla which means mountains, and last jökull, which means glacier. So the compound itself means the Glacier on Island Mountains, which is rather transparent, don’t you think?
You can try it for yourself, it isn’t so hard to pronounce if you just follow this simple guide. Just a quick tip, perhaps you should try this first alone, for even seasoned news reporters seemed to struggle with it.
How to get there?
Driving along the South Shore brings you close to Eyjafjallajokull. The Mountain Range is visible as soon as you drive east following road 1 from Reykjavik and you pass Hellisheidi heath. There you can find Hellisheidi Geothermal Power Plant, which is visible from the road.
You will see many volcanoes tower over the southern part of Iceland, among them mt. Hekla and mt. Katla, which are both active and powerful volcanoes. Eyjafjallajokull is between the two, standing high not far from the village Hvolsvollur, where you can visit the beautiful Saga center.
If you follow Road 1 eastwards along the South Shore you will eventually pass a great exhibition, where you can learn a great deal about the 2010 eruption. The Exhibition is at Þorvaldseyri visitor center, which is a family run exhibition about this massive and intersting volcano. Make sure you don’t miss it.
Here are a few great tours we recommend where you can explore Eyjafjallajokull to the fullest:
Explore the South Shore in a Super-jeep and get closer to the area of the magnificent 2010 Eyjafjallajokull eruption. Your driver-guide will take you across fertile farmlands, where Njall’s Saga, one of the greatest Icelandic medieval stories, took place. Continue towards the glaciers Eyjafjallajokull admiring the surrounding panorama.
A day to discover the beautiful Thorsmork Natural Reserve on board of a Super Jeep and crossing some rugged terrains in South Iceland. On this classic Iceland day tour for nature’s lovers, you will board a Super Jeep and head to Thorsmork Natural Reserve driving across the Icelandic south shore.
Check out our complete guide to the South Coast.