It’s no wonder Icelanders are such active people. With 30 active volcanic systems on the island, we have learned to stay on our toes and boast a robust civil defense system that’s fully prepared for any volcanic events. The largest, and most famous, recent eruption in the country was in 2010 when Eyjafjallajökull erupted and became the bane of every newscaster’s and traveler’s existence who struggled to pronounce its name correctly or catch a flight. Iceland is a relatively new country, geologically speaking, and its location on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the Icelandic hotspot means it is highly volcanically active which has contributed to our spectacular and unusual landscape. Here are a few of the most interesting volcanoes in Iceland.
Let’s get the infamous out of the way first shall we? Eyjafjallajökull famously erupted in 2010, disrupting air travel all over the world. In fact the volcano is one of the most active in Iceland, erupting frequently ever since the last glacial period. The Eyjafjallajökull volcano is completely covered by an ice cap that covers an area of over 100 square kilometres. The volcano‘s activity level is listed as moderate but no activity has been detected since the 2010 eruption.
Located in south Iceland, Hekla is also one of Iceland‘s most active volcanoes. In fact, with its high activity rating Hekla might be the next one to erupt, although scientists can‘t say for sure if or when that might happen. Hekla is part of a volcanic ridge that kind of looks like an overturned boat, with its keel a row of craters. Hekla is responsible for the largest amount of lava in the world, around 8 km3 in the last millennium. In Icelandic Hekla means “a short hooded cloak” and the volcano is thought to derive its name from the hood of cloud that usually covers its peak. Hekla is also a popular girls name in Iceland.
Vatnajökull is not only Iceland’s, and Europe’s, largest glacier but it also has an active volcano. The stratovolcano located under the glacier is Iceland’s second highest peak, Bárðarbunga. Bárðarbunga is part of a huge volcanic system, around 100 km long and 25 km wide. Bárðabunga used to erupt infrequently, around every 50 years, but no eruptions have been detected in the last 1000 years. However, in the last seven years, seismic activity in the volcano has increased steadily and Bárðarbunga is now listed as a highly active volcano.
Another very active one, with twenty eruptions documented between 930 – 1918, although it hasn’t erupted violently in 100 years. Which must mean, you guessed it, that we’re due another one. Due to recent seismic activity, Katla is now on high alert. Katla is also one of the largest volcanoes in Iceland, bigger than its neighbour Eyjafjallajökull, and partially covered with ice. Katla is named after a folkloric figure, a housekeeper thought to be a witch. After murdering a worker who stole her pants she fled to the glacier and immediately caused a flood with her witchcraft.
Krafla is a caldera of around 10 km in diameter with a 90 km long fissure zone. The volcano has been quiet since a volcanic episode in 1975 – 1984 and is only listed as a moderately active volcano. Located close to the gorgeous Mývatn, the Krafla region steaming vents and craters that lend the area an otherworldly feel. The nearby Mývatn Nature Baths let you soak in natural geothermal waters as you watch the steam rise from the ground around you.
Askja is located in the Icelandic highlands and the area is so remote that it was used to train astronauts for lunar missions during the Apollo program. Aska is really a complex of nested calderas in the Dyngjufjöll Mountains (Askja means box or caldera in Icelandic). Askja hasn’t erupted since 1961 but has seen some increased activity in the recent years and is listed as moderately active. Öskjuvatn is a lake that fills most of the smaller caldera and is the second deepest lake in Iceland. The lake is normally frozen over for most of the year, but due to the recent activity scientists believe that the lake is heating up.
If you thought Vatnajökull glacier only has one volcano under it, think again! Grímsvötn is a basaltic volcano located on the northwestern side of the glacier. It has the highest eruption frequency of all volcanoes in Iceland and the catastrophic Laki eruption in 1783-1784 was part of the same fissure system. Grímsvötn is a high activity volcano and the last eruption occurred in 2011. It is very closely monitored due to the fact that when it erupts the pressure can cause the ice cap to rise, allowing huge quantities of water to escape rapidly and causing what’s known as jökulhlaup.
Vestmannaeyjar – Eldfell
Eldfell is a volcanic cone that was formed in the surprise eruption in Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands) in 1973. The eruption began with no warning and would go on for five months, destroying around 400 homes on Heimaey Island and nearly causing its permanent evacuation. After the eruption islanders used the heat from the lava to provide hot water and generate electricity. Today, there’s an interactive museum on the island where you can learn all about the effects the eruption had on the locals, who still celebrate Gosloka hátíð (End of Eruption Festival) every year. The volcanic is listed as moderately active, although scientists say that it is on the low end of activity and not likely to erupt anytime soon.
The only dormant volcano on this list, Þríhnjúkagígur is also the only volcano you can actually go inside of! Discovered in 1974, tours are now operated in the volcano where you can take an elevator down into the magma chamber itself and experience the stunning array of colors within. Definitely a once in a lifetime experience that shouldn’t be missed!