A group of scientists and amateurs in the Icelandic Glaciology Society drove up onto the Vatnajökull glacier and into the Grímsvötn crater which erupted last year. The Grímsvötn volcano is one of the most active volcanoes in the world with recent eruptions in 1996, 1998, 2004 and 2011. What makes it particularly interesting is that it sits below the mighty Vatnajökull glacier, Europe’s largest glacier. Because of the warmth from the volcano, a deep lake sits inside the crater, deep below (hundreds of meters) the surface. However when it erupts, it melts even more water and breaks its way up to the surface. The craters which you see on the pictures are sort of like islands in this deep lake.
Also check out previous pictures from Grímsvötn and the 2011 eruption.
Scientists maneuver between crevasses at the caldera edge.
Icelanders often drive on the glaciers in specially modified vehicles.
Boiling water high up on the glacier
The boiling lake in the caldera. This is the center of where the eruption was in 2011.
Pretty crazy that this crazy place can be visited. There is even a hut on the brim of the volcano. Naturally to make use of the geothermal energy, there is both a hot shower and a sauna :)
Askja is a unique volcanic crater in the northeastern part of Iceland. Since Askja is a very active volcano, it has caused great attention that the ice has melted off of the lake in the middle. This is quite unusual for this time of year and is not in line with other nearby lakes.
Askja has had several known eruptions, the last one was in 1961. This eruption was reasonably small and caused no trouble. However, in 1875 there was a major eruption which made the crater well known. The tephra and ash from this eruption caused widespread death of livestock and resulted in a famine across northern Iceland and Scandinavia. These events also sparked Iceland’s greatest emigration to North America.
Today there is a very large lake which fills nearly half the crater. This was until a couple of years ago Iceland’s deepest lake at 220 meters (Jökulsárlón is now deeper). There is also a small lake which you can’t see on these pictures. It is situated in another small crater inside the Askja crater. Its name is Víti (E. Hell) and it never freezes (ever heard of Hell freezing over?). This lake is in parts boiling, while other places are perfect for a hot bath, making it one of the most popular places to visit in the Icelandic highlands.
Whether the fact that the ice has melted is an indicator of an upcoming eruption, nobody knows. It is however known that there was an increase in temperature before the 1961 eruption. So scientists are following the volcano closely, analyzing seismic graphs and yesterday they flew over the lake with thermal imaging cameras to try and identify new heat sources.
Askja is clear of ice in its snowy landscape. The picture below is a satellite image of the northeastern corner of Iceland. Askja is the black dot in the middle of picture. Nearby lakes, Mývatn and Hagalón are still frozen. Here’s Nasa’s high resolution version.
Just off the southern coast of Iceland lies a small archipelago called Vestmannaeyjar. Since I’ve been out skiing for the past week and neglecting the site, i’ll give you a good post today. Vestmannaeyjar is one of the most interesting places in Iceland and often overlooked, since you either need to fly or take the ferry.
The archipelago consists of 15 islands and around 30 islets. Several of the islands were inhabited permanently or seasonally in the past, but today only the main island Heimaey (E. Home Island) is inhabited. Just over 4000 people live in the town on Heimaey.
Vestmannaeyjar is loaded with history. The name which means “Islands of west men” is thought to be derived from Ingólfur Árnason. Ingólfur who came to Iceland in the year 874 is generally considered the first settler of Iceland. The tales of him will have to wait for a later post. However, his first winter he put up camp on the cape of Ingólfshöfði (close to Skaftafell), while his brother Hjörleifur Árnason camped on Hjörleifshöfði (close to Vík). The following spring Ingólfur sailed west and discovered that his brother had been murdered by his slaves. From Hjörleifshöfði you can see Vestmannaeyjar, and he correctly assumed that the slaves were hiding there. Naturally, being a viking he chased them around the islands and killed them all. Several places in the islands bear the name of the slave killed there. Since these slaves were Irish, they were called Vestmenn (E. West Men) by the Scandinavians and hence the name Vestmannaeyjar.
The islands have been inhabited at least since the 10th century, but the population has thrice been cut down considerably. First by pirates, second by sickness and finally by an eruption.
In 1627 about half the population (242 people) were abducted by pirates in an event called Tyrkjaránið (E. The Turkish Abductions). Many more were taken in other parts of the country. This event caused great fear in Iceland and lives strongly in the collective memory of Icelanders. An Icelandic urban legend says that after the abductions, it was legal to kill all Turks in Iceland, until somebody noticed that the law was still in place when Turkey played in the Handball World Cup in Reykjavík in 1995. That’s probably not entirely true and would be quite unfortunate, especially since the pirates weren’t really Turks. They were mostly Moroccans and Algerians under the command of a Dutchman acting on orders of the Ottoman Empire. Some of the people eventually managed to return to Iceland. The most famous of them was Guðríður Símonardóttir who later married one of Iceland’s most renowned poets, Hallgrímur Pétursson.
The second cut in the population occurred in the 18th century when lots of people got sick and died. That’s not as interesting as violence and volcanoes, so let’s turn to the next one.
On the 23rd of January 1973 the people in Heimaey were awaken by an eruption. At first people thought it was a grassfire lit by some kids, but it actually turned out to be a large eruption. More than half of the towns houses were destroyed or severely damaged. Many houses caught fire as molten lava rocks were scattered across the town, others collapsed under the weight of ash on the roofs and about 300 houses were completely engulfed by lava. My mother in law’s house for example is buried deep under the new mountain. Fortunately nobody died during the eruption. Bad weather had preceded the eruption and all the ships were in harbor. This made evacuation very easy for the small fishing community. What is actually most amazing is that people fought the volcano. Many houses were saved and most importantly, the opening of the harbor was saved, by pumping seawater onto the glowing red lava. By doing this they were able to cool down sections of lava and direct the lava rivers out into the ocean. The battle went on until the volcano quieted down five months later. Many people, having lost their homes, never returned to Vestmannaeyjar and the population shrank from 5.273 to just over 4.000.
If you want to go to Vestmannaeyjar, there are basically two choices. You can fly from Reykjavík (ca. 25min) with Ernir or go with the ferry. Once you are there you can go on all sorts of boat tours, the volcano museum, “The Pompeii of the north” or just explore the island on your own. If you don’t bring a car with you, you can rent a scooter and see the whole island.
Oh and if you are still not convinced, check out these great panoramas that Ivan Dasko posted to Iceland in Pictures facebook wall recently. The photographer in this panorama is standing on top of the new lava field with several houses beneath him. The other panorama looks across the town and the Herjólfsdalur valley. Herjólfsdalur is famous for attracting roughly 10.000 people for the annual Þjóðhátíð (E. National Holiday) every August. It’s not really a national holiday of any sorts, but it is Iceland’s largest outdoor party. Both of the panoramas feature the new volcano, Eldfell (E. Fire Mountain). It is the red sloping peak which has little vegetation on it.
You might also want to check out some previous posts about Vestmannaeyjar. Check out a video by National Geographic about children rescuing puffins, an awesome picture of the 1973 eruption, the Heimaklettur cliff or Iceland’s most popular youtube video, featuring a fishing ship battling a crazy storm on its way into the Vestmannaeyjar harbor.
Icelandic emergency services were surprised to receive several reports of a possible eruption beginning in the Katla volcano. Both locals and volcano nerds around the world who keep an eye on the Katla webcam reported peculiar lights high up on the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which covers the volcano. Although the earthquake monitors have shown a lot of activity recently, nothing interesting was showing up at this moment. After a bit more research, they discovered that the lights were from the film crew of Game of Thrones who were filming up on the glacier.