Ike’s Icelandic volcano special

After 3000km of driving around the country with Helen & Traff, Ike finally made it to the new volcano in Iceland – even though it is only 33 km from the airport! Helen & Traff thought they would take the long route, or maybe they just got really lost…

Ike initially saw the volcano from the plane. First, he could see the smoke coming from the cone and then the lava field was clearly visible as well.

The new volcano is on the Reykjanes peninsula and is the first volcanic activity here for nearly 800 years. But you can see plenty of evidence of earlier activity, especially the large basaltic lava fields between the airport and Reykjavik.

The current seismic activity started 20 October 2020 when the Icelandic Meteorological Office registered an earthquake of 5.6 magnitude. This was followed by over 1000 aftershocks. Then on 24 February and 1 March 2021 there were more quakes over magnitude 5 and satellite images were showing a pronounced uplift in the ground.

On 19 March at about 19:45 local time, the eruption began 15 km northeast of Grindavík. It is usually known as Fagradalsfjall (meaning ‘beautiful valley mountain’) and the lava field Fagradalshraun (‘beautiful valley lava’). It is also called Geldingadalur (‘gelded horse valley’) after the valley it began in.

Since it began it has gone through many different phases of activity, including shooting lava so high that it could clearly be seen in Reykjavik over 30km away. More information about the eruption can be found on the Wikipedia page for Fagradalsfjall and the main Icelandic TV station (RÚV) and newspaper (mbl.ís) have live webcams on YouTube showing different views. There are also maps and 3D views available that are updated regularly.

On arriving at the site it was obvious from all the cars and camper vans that this was a popular activity in Iceland at the moment. In fact, Icelanders call this type of eruption a ‘tourist eruption’ as it is relatively small, unlikely to threaten populated areas and is easy to get to. Although there are still risks so Ike read the rules before setting off and there was also a ranger on site who could answer any questions.

As the eruption has evolved there have been different routes to the site. The original ‘A’ route was closed off when lava spilt over the path on its way into the next valley. The ‘B’ route takes you to a view over the main cone but is up a very steep slope so Ike, Helen & Traff took the ‘C’ path to the lava field.

Then the photos really began. This lava is in the Nátthagi valley, which is the last valley before the road and eventually the sea. Although barriers have been erected to slow the lava down it will eventually reach the road if the eruption continues. In preparation for this, a telecoms cable that runs along it has been reburied deeper than before.

The lava itself is a blue-black colour and although it appears to be hardened there are still areas where you can feel the heat, and see its effects! There can also still be molten lava flows under the surface that form red hot pools unexpectedly. Even though Ike is very light he set a good example and did not stand on the lava. Unfortunately, there are humans that do not follow this rule, hopefully, no one will learn the hard way about how dangerous this is…

As the weather was pretty foggy and the webcams were showing that the actual eruption was quiet, the travellers decided not to continue to the cone but to drop into their favourite cafe in Grindavík for a bowl of lobster soup to warm up, with one final view of the lava from the road.

And that was another trip to Iceland over. There was only time for a quick goodbye to the Iceland rainbow to wish for a return one day, masks on and back to real life for Helen & Traff. Although no doubt Ike will soon be off on another adventure….