When discussing volcanoes, some people may wonder what it feels like to be inside the as cloud of a volcanic eruption, or stand next to the flowing tongues of hot lava, or simply witness the hot fiery burst of ashes and magma forcing its way through the earth’s crust; the whole experience. While most people would probably evacuate and stay away from an erupting volcano, the Icelanders seem to prefer to do the opposite. They appear to like being inside the action.
The world still remembers the volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajokull, a glacier resting on top of a volcano. The event grounded a lot of the western world’s air traffic in 2010. The thrust of magma reacted with glacial water and the sharp cooling caused it to contract and turn into fragmented motes of ash that then spread freely with the wind.
The glacier, which’s name some people still seem to love to struggle to pronounce, then provided an excellent bed for the lava to flow over and rest on and some people might consider some of the images of the scenery breathtaking.
Kristjana Bjarnadottir, an experienced mountain hiker, has a detailed inside story of her hike to the 2010 volcanic eruption on her blog.
“As soon as the news came in that the public was now authorized to walk up to the eruption, we made a decision that our Saturday would be spent on a hike up there” She says in her opening.
“First, we walked up onto a hill where we had a good view over the eruption and the lava that had flowed down.” She says of the initial arrival at the site, later adding “ I felt the immense power of the forces of nature and undeniably, one gets stunned in awe over the fierce forces that burst through over there. I felt as if other people on the site experienced it the same way. People just stood and gazed.
Even though the eruption in itself was astonishing, seeing the flaming hot lava crawl down. Seeing glowing, crackling lava is beyond what words can describe. We spent 2 hours up there, during which the weather was really nice. A gentle breeze and sunshine.”
A while later in the story, she mentions the 1973 eruption of Eldfell in Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands), where a large part of the town, located on Heimaey, the biggest island in the archipelago, was buried under lava, and the remains of the houses at the edge of where the lava came to a stop, can still be seen, sticking half way out. As a side note, Iceland has many active volcanoes.
“Tonight I visited my in-laws, who witnessed the eruption in the Westman Islands, as they lived there during the time. We watched a British documentary on that eruption together and I must say, that compared to that, this one is just a baby eruption. Regardless, witnessing a volcanic eruption with your own two eyes is a breathtaking experience.”
On her blog, Bjarnadottir has stories with pictures of an additional trip to the site just mere days later and then an additional one a few months later, demonstrating the effects on the environment and the progression of it all.
Brothers Ragnar and Erling Kristjansson were also among the insiders of the 2010 Eyjafjallajokull eruption, and Kristjansson shared his story with Guardian Liberty Voice, as he looks back on his experience with the volcano for the first time since 2010.
“The eruption was all over the news and it was the only thing on people’s lips for weeks. My brother was especially interested in the volcano and studied its geography, history and more enthusiastically. Soon he found out that there was a popular trail onto the glacier that’s on top of the volcano, and he was sure that his pickup truck could make the route.
He, his girlfriend and another friend decided to go, and they demanded that I joined them because it was supposedly a once in a lifetime experience that I’d regret having missed out on later. Even though I couldn’t be bothered, I can rarely resist logic, so I acquiesced.
The route wasn’t easy and we got stuck several times, but we had a shovel and larger jeeps were willing to tow us out of the deepest ditches. When we finally reached the flat-highland it was well past noon and we learned that we’d barely make it to the glacier before nightfall, since nightfall at that time of year is around 6 pm in Iceland. We decided that we’d try, and if we couldn’t make it we could at least be happy that we had been on a real glacier.
The highland was flat, vast and covered beyond snow beyond the horizon in every direction. Besides the other jeeps and trucks journeying across the route, it was completely quiet and peaceful; two emotions that city life had made me forget.The mountain air was really fresh, and the snow was actually white and not covered in tar. For a while I actually forgot about all my demons and was at peace. Later, I’ve found that I can experience such cherishing emotions in solitude and intact with nature.
When we reached the eruption itself we got an excellent view only a few kilometers away. I was able to walk quite close to the lava, where the radiating heat kept me warm and all the snow had melted. The wind was in my back as I watched the eruption so there was no ash blocking my view. I and the other travelers were in awe of this wonder of nature. I thought I’d forgotten how I felt, but as I reminisce today, 4 years later, I remember somewhat vividly that the trip wasn’t a waste of time.”
One year later, another eruption occurred underneath Iceland’s biggest glacier, Vatnajokull, and as previously mentioned, active volcanoes are no rare thing in Iceland. Being a very different case from the previous one, this one brought a heavier cloud of ashes that didn’t ground a quarter of the world’s air traffic, probably to the appreciation of the rest of the world. The thick cloud of ashes made it borderline impossible to breathe, and farmers in the regions worst affected by the ash, suffered losses of crops and animals.
I, the author of this article, was present in Iceland at the time, and of course, as enthusiastic as I am about volcanoes, much like many other Icelanders, I got in a car with my friend and my brother, and we drove up there. Closing in on the edge of the glacier, we drove straight into the ash cloud. It only took us about a couple of breaths till we immediately shut the A/C off, but it wasn’t helpful.
We stuck it out for quite a while, in a BMW sedan that was not too appropriate for the terrain, but eventually, as we could almost see the flare of the eruption, that had initially been reported as visible from the edge of the glacier, we had to turn back. Not only was it taking an immense toll on the car, but also piercing our lungs. I remember the burning sensation as I tried to breathe slowly in an attempt to not let the ash scratch up my lungs.
Foolish as we were, we were of course later informed that the stunt we’d pulled was potentially fatal.To us, it was worth the thrill, the experience and the touch with the wildest part of the forces of nature, being face to face with the most out-of-control elements. It made me feel alive. In conclusion, that is my inside experience of volcanoes and their eruptions.
Editorial by Halldor Fannar Sigurgeirsson
Bjarnadottir’s Blog 3/28 (Images)
Bjarnadottir 3/28 (Images)
Bjarnadottir’s Blog 4/4 (Images)
Bjarnadottir 4/4 (Images)
Bjarnadottir’s Blog 6/8 (Images)
Bjarnadottir 6/8 (Images)
Erling Kristjansson via Email Interview