...and Eyjafjallajökull Isn’t Even Iceland’s Biggest

No 4

Eyjafjallajökull is the little volcano that caused big problems. When it erupted in April 2010, it sent a plume of ash 35,000 feet into the air and a veil of dark cloud eastward over Europe that grounded flights for weeks. Never had a natural event disrupted international air travel on so large a scale. Some compared the impact to World War II.

By Icelandic standards, though, Eyjafjallajökull is pretty harmless. It's smaller and less volatile than its forbidding neighbor, Katla, one of the so-called “Angry Sisters.” And its recent outburst was child's play compared to a nearby 1783 eruption so large that it brought record snowfall to America's eastern seaboard and caused a drought in Egypt.

Located at the overlap of the North Atlantic and Eurasian continental plates, Iceland is defined in large part by tectonics—and by ice, for nowhere on earth does a ring of fire lie in such close proximity to frigid glaciers. This unique contrast adds to the landscape's austere drama of lava plains, billowing steam, and crumbly volcanic stone. A frozen crust sits atop many of the country's active volcanoes, including Eyjafjallajökull. This ice cap blows off when the hot stuff spews forth, resulting in a flood of melt-water that sweeps out to sea. When it blew, Eyjafjallajökull also covered the surrounding areas in a thick layer of ash. Such upheavals are mere blips on the geologic timescale. And in the short term, they aren't all bad. Iceland's headline-hogging volcano deposited so much iron in the North Atlantic that experts are saying it's fertilized a plankton bloom.


  • Photographer - Lane Coder
  • Text - Darrell Hartman

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