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Meltdown II

So, as far as I know there is nothing new on the eruption situation in Iceland.

Just to recap: It started around midnight last night and was most forceful between 7 and 8 this morning. Since then it has subsided a bit. All residents in the area – around 450 people – were evacuated and police closed off roads to all but those who absolutely needed to pass. In other words, no tourists or casual onlookers were allowed.

Incidentally, as many of you will know, the eruption is actually on one of Iceland’s most popular hiking routes – Fimmvörðuháls. This blog has photos of the area before the eruption [taken on a hike] as well as a more detailed map of where it is probably located.

The main concern now is that the volcanic activity will move further to the west, which will place the eruption underneath the glacier and will cause flooding as the ice cap melts. It does, in fact, seem like this may be happening, according to a geophysicist at the Icelandic Met Office. Thus there is still a state of emergency in effect and residents will not be allowed back home just yet.

I got back to my hotel a couple of hours ago and turned on the TV — there was BBC News reporting on the volcano, with phrases like “state of emergency” “powerful volcano” “500 people have been evacuated” and news clips from back home. It all seemed strangely surreal.

But — that’s our Iceland: volatile and unpredictable. Thank goodness the civil defense is better at protecting regular citizens than our government officials have been recently and over the last couple of decades.



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mike March 21, 2010, 9:19 pm

    Look on the bright side Alda – the eruption isn’t coming from Katla which is well overdue for an eruption.

  • alda March 21, 2010, 9:27 pm

    Yes, but it could well move over to Katla. That’s another concern.

  • Mike March 21, 2010, 9:28 pm

    You guys have all the fun 😉

    (sorry, I’m a geologist and I’ve never seen a volcano erupt)

  • Chris March 21, 2010, 9:39 pm

    There are concerns about an eruptions from Katla – there has been a connection between eruptions in Eyjafjallajökull and Katla in the past, according to geologists.

  • Ted W. March 21, 2010, 9:49 pm

    This was passed on to me (in Icelandic), but the gist of it is “almost all eruptions in Eyjafjallajökull are followed by an eruption in Katla.” So, I guess we’ll see one way or the other soon…


  • Joerg March 21, 2010, 9:57 pm

    It is somehow awkward that Icelandair has renamed their planes after Icelandic volcanoes. Even a “Katla” is among them (TF-FIV). I hope, they won’t have to regret it.

  • Max March 21, 2010, 10:19 pm

    I just read the BBC News report online on this (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/8578576.stm). They keep using this annoying spelling convention of turning ö into oe.

  • Andrew (the other one) March 22, 2010, 1:06 am

    “They keep using this annoying spelling convention of turning ö into oe”.

    It is the standard way of rendering those accented characters, if you only have a standard Latin character set to display with. These days most web browsers can cope with extended character sets, so I wonder how long the convention will last.

    I hope that those evacuated from the area are okay and are being looked after. The Icelandic Civil Defence organization seems very efficient. Maybe they should run the banks too 🙂

  • Chris March 22, 2010, 9:19 am

    @Joerg: Hekla and Katla are quite popular girls names.

  • Joerg March 22, 2010, 9:27 am

    Just as the planes have made up the delays caused by yesterday’s disruption of air traffic, the air mechanics of Icelandair are going on strike. It is currently not so easy to fly anywhere via Iceland.

  • alda March 22, 2010, 9:32 am

    It is currently not so easy to fly anywhere via Iceland.

    — Or TO Iceland. I’m due to fly back tomorrow and fear I may not be able to. 🙁

  • Joerg March 22, 2010, 9:56 am

    “Hekla and Katla are quite popular girls names”

    Would be very interesting to know, what’s behind this kind of choosing names. But other planes of Icelandair are named Krafla, Surtsey, Herðubreið, Hengill, Snæfell, Keilir, Eldborg. So, the name-concept seems to be rather about volcanic landmarks than girls names with the promise of a hot-tempered nature. 😉

  • Magga Lukka March 22, 2010, 4:54 pm

    Last comment well said Alda!

  • maría March 22, 2010, 5:10 pm

    I love it. Even Jökull is a name, I can’t rembember whether it’s a boy’s or a girl’s. I’ve always loved that about icelandic names 🙂

  • idunn March 22, 2010, 5:23 pm

    There was a radio news account last night concerning airline flights (Icelandair, I believe) turned back from Iceland due this volcano. One flight originated in Seattle, WA, and was forced to return to Boston, MA. Report said that more recently flights are now allowed into Iceland.

    If distressing one’s home, (or hiking trail), disrupted by a volcano, it must nevertheless be endlessly entertaining, perhaps enchanting, to live on an island that is so alive.

  • The Fred from the forums March 22, 2010, 6:17 pm

    “the civil defense is better at protecting regular citizens than our government officials have been recently and over the last couple of decades. ”

    One of the things that left me with the impression of Iceland as a competent and sane place was the response to the Westmann Islands eruption. From the first person to spot the eruption to the landing of the first evacuation plane from the mainland was only *one hour*. And that was in the middle of the night.

  • Mike Richards March 22, 2010, 6:30 pm

    Naming your children after volcanoes?

    That’s an *awesome* idea. But it might only work for Icelandic volcanoes – I don’t think any child would thank you for calling them Popacatapetl.

    Any news on if the whole of Reykjavik have jumped into their superjeeps, stocked up on beer and gone to watch the lava?

    BTW. Icelandair might not be reporting any delays to flights, but they’ve already got a special deal for anyone wanting to travel to Iceland to see the eruption. (My guess is that you can’t get anywhere close right now).

  • Joerg March 22, 2010, 6:58 pm

    Good news for you, Alda, from the Icelandair website:

    “Last modified: 22.03.2010 18:53

    Icelandair flights up and running – strike is over March 22”

    Unless the volcano strikes again…

  • alda March 22, 2010, 7:14 pm

    Joerg – thank you. It is indeed a relief. Stockholm is nice and all, but I need to get home.

  • Andrew (the other one) March 22, 2010, 8:44 pm

    “Naming your children after volcanoes?”

    Etna and Vesuvius maybe?

  • kevin oconnor,waterford ireland March 22, 2010, 9:06 pm

    Can Reykjavik ever be threatened or has been threatened before by volcanoes ,I know that there was a big one in 1789 whatever but people tended to be mostly rural in those days. ie could the place end up like Pompei ?

  • Mike March 22, 2010, 9:38 pm

    @ kevin oconnor,waterford ireland

    Reykjavik is built on lava, but none of it is recent. The active part of the Mid Atlantic ridge runs SW – NE along the Reykjanes peninsula from close to the airport at Keflavik. This section has erupted several times since the 13th Century. It curls inland around Hengill and to Thingvellir eventually petering out in the middle of Iceland.

    Further to the East is a second extremely active rift which begins offshore SW of Vestmannajaer and comes ashore in the vicinity of Hekla and Katla (where the current eruption is happening). The rift then moves north-eastward to Laki (the colossal 1783 eruption you were thinking of) and then to the very active Grimsvotn under Vatnajokull. From there it runs roughly northwards to Askja, Krafla (a very active volcano in the 1980s) and Myvatn (active in the 18th Century). It then disappears offshore to rejoin the Mid Atlantic Ridge.

    Icelandic volcanoes are rarely very ashy like Vesuvius so Reykjavik is unlikely to go that way. They do produce lots of cinder so nearby settlements can be buried as happened when Eldfell erupted in the early 1970s on Heimaey. Fortunately they rarely produce huge explosions and the devastating pyroclastic flows that incinerated and buried Pompeii – although Hekla’s last eruption in 2000 seems to have produced some flows.

    The real threat from Icelandic volcanoes is that the cooling lava produces toxic gases including sulfur dioxide and hydrogen fluoride which choke and blind you and if you’re lucky – kill you – if not, they rot your skin, bones and teeth. The Laki eruption released an enormous cloud of these gases across Iceland which destroyed the crops and livestocks, eventually killing one quarter of the population. there’s some evidence the cloud eventually covered much of Western Europe and contributed to a huge excess mortality in 1783 – 1784. Another eruption like Laki is inevitable, but this isn’t one of them.


  • sterna March 22, 2010, 10:33 pm

    As far as I know, the volcanoes are named after people — women — more than the other way around. There’s an old idea at work there about nature being female, and not in a girly-girl way.

  • James March 23, 2010, 12:14 am

    “choke and blind you and if you’re lucky – kill you – if not, they rot your skin, bones and teeth”

    But McDonald’s left Iceland last year…

  • Andrew (the other one) March 23, 2010, 6:43 am


    Thanks for that explanation  of the volcanic eruptions. I used to use hydrofluoric acid in some of my experiments in the lab. It is the most totally evil chemical in the universe, and scared the…, well, let’s say I was very nervous…! It goes through flesh and attacks the bone (forming calcium fluoride). Very nasty and very difficult to treat.
     I do hope we won’t be seeing anything like that!

  • alda March 23, 2010, 7:41 am

    Gah!! With those descriptions I’m seriously wondering whether I’d be better off staying here. Hmm. Wonder if the hotel has a vacancy for the next 50 years …

  • kevin oconnor,waterford ireland March 23, 2010, 8:10 am

    @Alda I read that Icelandair mechanics are on strike you are flying icelandic express are you not ?

  • kevin oconnor,waterford ireland March 23, 2010, 8:16 am

    @Mike thanks for that intro to volcanology,at least I know that if I go to Reykjavik I wont end up getting excavated 2000 years after being found in the foetal position in my perfectly preserved hotel room ha ha.

  • alda March 23, 2010, 9:09 am

    kevin – nope, Icelandair it is. The strike has been declared illegal, though, with emergency legislation. Wonder why they can’t make emergency legislation to, say, freeze the assets of the oligarchs. Strange.

    So I will get home today, but a little later than planned as there are some delays.

  • Mike Richards March 23, 2010, 9:54 am

    If anyone wants to read the history of the Laki eruption it is well worth digging up a copy of Reverand Jón Steingrímsson’s ‘Fires of the Earth’ which is available in English from everyone’s favourite online bookseller.

    Steingrímsson was the parish priest of the nearest town at (deep breath) Kirkjubæjarklaustur (nope, not a clue how to say it) and he wrote a day by day diary of the eruption. It’s the first modern account of a volcanic eruption and it’s incredibly vivid. He then goes on to talk about the effects of the fog and the subsequent famine.

    For those with access to the BBC, there was an episode of the Timewatch history series called ‘The Killer Cloud’ originally broadcast in 2007 which explored the possibility the same acid haze had a huge effect in Britain. The theory is very controversial amongst vulcanologists, but the programme is excellent with lots of period writings.

  • Joerg March 23, 2010, 1:12 pm

    I had tried to buy Jón Steingrímsson’s book ‘Fires of the Earth’ about the Laki eruption on my last visit to Reykjavik but failed as neither Mál og Menning nor Eymundsson had it in stock. Bóksala Stúdenta might have had it but were closed at this time.

    I had taken particular interest in this book after staying in Kirkjubæjarklaustur for a couple of days and doing a hiking tour along the river Skaftá last summer.

    Fortunately, I could borrow it from a friend, so I would recommend it, too.