Top 10 Icelandic Volcanoes
Iceland is often nicknamed the land of ice and fire, or volcanoes and glaciers.
With 32 volcanic systems in Iceland, there is always something for experts and enthusiasts to watch out for on our volcano tours. Since the Bárðarbunga eruption ended on 28th February 2015, there have been no volcanic eruptions in Iceland. Geothermal activity is just a part of life in Iceland, however. Without it, we wouldn’t have hot springs or geothermal pools to enjoy.
Visiting an island packed with active volcanoes might sound scary at first but once you realize how well Icelanders know their volcanoes, monitor them and execute eruption plans in only minutes you will know that there is nothing to worry about. The pro to having so many active volcanoes is not only their beauty but also the knowledge that they have brought us!
Now let’s find out which are the best ones and should be on your volcano bucket list for when you visit Iceland!
Herðubreið is one of those sneaky volcanoes in Iceland which will at first just look like a pretty mountain standing alone but once you learn the truth is a powerful volcano with quite an impressive history. It is located in the North-Eastern part of Iceland and you will pass it if you drive the Ring Road. Many locals link the volcano with Iceland’s most famous outlaw Fjalla-Eyvindur who lived with his wife and children in the area for 20 years.
It is of the type tuya and is not considered to be an active volcano as its last eruption took place during the Pleistocene era roughly about 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago. Still, just knowing that this mountain-stunner once erupted brings a somewhat admirable feeling when you look at it.
The highest peak of Herðubreið is 1,682 m (5,518 ft) and it is very steep, so much so that even though Icelanders were climbing most of the surrounding mountains and very aware of Herðubreið’s existence they left it alone until 1908.
Eldfell is the volcano in Heimaey, Vestmannaeyjar e. Westman Islands which last when off in 1973 causing the island to have to be evacuated. The lava just kept flowing and had, in the end, enlarged the island by quite a bit. It is in this eruption the renowned Elephant Rock is thought to have been formed. During the erupted many houses on the islands were swept under the magma which was eventually cooled down and stopped with sea water. Never before had a volcanic eruption be stopped in this way but it was an idea from one of the local islanders. A few brave men stayed on the island to save the town and they succeeded! Today about 4500 people live on the island!
There is quite a lot of volcanic activity in the area, some of which famously created a new island in 1963. The island was named Surtsey and is still today almost untouched, only used for research purposes. You can learn all about Eldfell and the effects of its ‘73 eruption at the Volcano Museum in Westman Islands. It is truly an extraordinary museum and well worth the visit!
Bláhnúkur is located in the geothermal wonderland of Landmannalaugar in the southern highlands in Iceland. Surrounded by volcanoes, glaciers and colorful mountain layers this peak somehow manages to stick out. Its incredibly unique coloring and beautiful form are what gives the volcano its name but Bláhnúkur would translate to Blue Peak.
Bláhnúkur is a popular volcano to hike with a zig-zagging trail leading all the way to the top. There will encounter views that will truly stay with you a lifetime. Nothing but vast open scapes and an array of naturally produced colors you just can’t believe.
Bláhnúkur is not as active as it’s adjoint volcano sister Brennisteinsalda but she last went off in 1961. She is multicolored in a whole different way with a range of red, orange, and pink tones. But her most significant feature is the dark lava pillar that sticks out on one side. You can’t help but be amazed. Brennisteinsalda is the mountain that people walk up when starting the Laugavegur trail.
If you speak Icelandic you might be a bit confused to learn that Grímsvötn is a volcano as the name actually means Grím’s lakes but in reality, this is still the case. Grímvötn is a volcano in South East Iceland located inside Vatnajökull ice cap, the largest glacier in the whole of Europe.
Grímsvötn is the first of its kind on the list but it is actually a volcano caldera with a magma chamber located right beneath it. It has the highest eruption frequency out of all the volcanoes in Iceland. It’s most famous eruption to date occurred during the years 1783-1784 when the Laki fissure opened up creating a system of volcanic craters and causing a massive climate-impact not only in Iceland but well into Europe.
Due to Grímsvötn volcano location, underneath a voluminous glacier, its eruptions often cause substantial flooding usually running down the South Coast. The most memorable eruption in Grímsvötn in the 21st century took place in 2011. On the 21st of May at precisely 7:25 pm an eruption began swirling a 12 kilometers long (7 mi) plume up into the sky. Following the eruption were extraordinary numbers of earthquakes which combined with the eruption itself ended up being the cause of numerous flights being canceled not only in Iceland but also in Greenland, Ireland, Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom.
Hekla is the volcano you are most likely to see when driving the South Coast as it starts to pop out around Selfoss. Hekla is the most active volcano in Iceland, with over 20 documented eruptions since 874 and is therefore often called the Queen of all Icelandic Volcanoes.
Hekla, which is a popular female name in Iceland, is an extremely powerful volcano. In 1159 her devilish eruption hurled 7.3 cubic meters of ash into the atmosphere cooling the climate in Europe considerably and causing crops to fail. People have therefore always been a bit threatened by Hekla which sparked the nickname “The Gateway to Hell” in the middle ages.
Another ancient mention of Hekla is from an English poem in the 11th century but there Judas is said to be kept in the volcano! Last eruptions took place in 1970, 1980, 1991 and again in 2000. Who knows when she will decide to appear about Iceland’s volcano eruptions have not proven easily predictable.
The most famous Icelandic volcano, well at least in literature. Snæfellsjökull is a stratovolcano (volcano topped with a glacier) on West Iceland, more specifically on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. In 1864 the French novelist Jules Verne wrote about the stratovolcano in his book “Journey to the Center of the Earth” where he spoke of Snaefellsjokull as the entrance to the center of the Earth, hence the name. The personas in the book even went in to explore it!
Scripts and later films have been made from the book but the latest one starring Brendan Fraser and the Icelandic actress Anita Briem!
On a clear day, the can often be spotted all the way from the next peninsula which means from the capital, Reykjavík. It is a beautiful volcano with a glacial top and stands out very clearly on the otherwise lava covered peninsula. Snaefellsjokull is one of the glacier/volcanoes in Iceland, which is the most popular with hikers and other nature enthusiasts as it can easily be summited in just one day.
Askja and Víti are most commonly talked about as a volcanic duo but these amazing calderas as located in the North Eastern part of Iceland near Mývatn and other geothermally active areas. They are easily accessible and definitely a must-visit attraction when exploring the North or East Iceland. Askja’s bright blue waters have made the caldera a photographer’s favorite, no matter the season she is sure to up your Instagram game.
Askja’s last known eruption took place in 1961 but the biggest and most tragic was the once that occurred in March 1875. It brought heavy ashfall which eventually killed livestock and poisoned land and water. Strong winds then carried the ash to Scandinavia but fortunately carried less effect. The eruption in 1875, perhaps not surprisingly, sprang an enormous emigration wave from Iceland many of which moved to Canada, Australia and even Brazil.
Öræfajökull not only has the most ill-pronounceable name in Icelandic language but is also the tallest mountain found in Iceland which the highest peak measured at 2110 meters or 6,920 ft, it is called Hvannadalshnúkur. Öræfajökull is like Grímvötn located within the Vatnajökull glacier barrier but is actually a glacier on its own and a stratovolcano such as Snæfellsjökull.
The last eruption to take place was in August 1727 and went into the next year. Another smaller eruption was again recorded in the year 1362 but little is known about it. Eruptions in Öræfajökull are known to cause floods but none have been as severe as the ones from the eruption in 1362 when the volcano erupted explosively. This violent eruption spouted hefty amounts of tephra which along with the floods entirely destroyed the region surrounding it, farms and peoples’ homes. Furthermore, the fumes and ash reached Europe and ruined farmlands. The fumes from the eruption were so massive that sailors all across Northern Europe could barely guide their ships through it. The area remained completely uninhabited for 40 years after!
The volcano that put Iceland on the map. The 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull was probably the most surprising eruption of the 21st century, especially since the volcano usually goes off right after the neighboring Katla. Yet this time neither Katla nor another neighbor, Hekla, had shown any signs of an eruption when the Eyjafjallajökull suddenly started erupting famously stopping all air traffic for days. The saying “all publicity is good publicity” seems to have proven true in this case as Iceland received far more visitors after the eruption than they had before.
The 2010 eruption lasted from the end of March to the end of May with some less active moments in between. The volume and the pillaring air-traffic-stopping smoke was unlike anything Eyjafjallajökull volcano had produced before but its last documented eruptions were in 920 and 1612.
Eyjafjallajökull is a stratovolcano which means that it is a volcano located beneath a glacial ice cap. It is located in South Iceland about 1,5 hours away from the capital.
Katla is one of the most famous volcanoes in Iceland and most likely the most fun to visit as the glacier it is found it now sports a year-round dazzling ice cave! The volcano last erupted in 1918 and quite unbelievably two photos of this eruption are around!
Katla’s name literally means a kettle, which is very describing of this ever-ready to go of volcano! The worst fact about Katla is that it is one of the largest volcanic sources of Co2 (carbon-dioxide) on this planet, believed to be responsible for up to 4% of total global volcanic carbon-dioxide emissions but thankfully has moved more into smaller eruptions in recent centuries. From settlement to 1918, 16-20 eruptions have been documented but only tiny ones since!
Volcano Eruptions in Iceland
Volcanoes are simply apart of living in Iceland. Not many years go by without some volcanic activity. Everyone is aware of the power of volcanoes, and Icelanders are taught in school how to react in the event of an emergency. Search and Rescue teams, the government and the police force have responder plans that have been tested time and again and even proven their excellence in actual eruptions. Iceland has a stupendous safety record when it comes to handling eruptions and glacial floods.
Whenever geologists measure unusual geological activity, they meet with officials to formulate a specific Civil Protection Plan. Plans differ in the event of a volcano eruption and whether that volcano is under a glacier, which may result in a glacial flood (jökulhlaup). When an eruption happens, the emergency action plan works like clockwork.
So how can you prepare for a visit to Icelandic volcanoes? If there is any geothermal activity, you’ll know it — it’ll be all over the Iceland news. Stay up to date with local news channels (often given in English). If there is any risk to eruption, simply avoid the area and visit another part of Iceland.
With 32 volcanic systems in Iceland there is always something for experts and enthusiasts to watch out for. Since the Bárðarbunga eruption ended on 28th February 2015 there have been no volcanic eruptions in Iceland. This certainly doesn’t mean things have been quiet and unexciting. Earthquakes patterns and the many other signs earth scientists measure are always happening. Since late summer 2017 and through the autumn there has been an upsurge of volcano news.
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