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Iceland‘s most famous volcanos

Iceland is one of the most volcanically active countries in the world, and that is because of its position on the globe.

Iceland is one of the most volcanically active countries in the world, and that is because of its position on the globe.

See, the Earth is made up of tectonic plates and between them are ridges. The Mid-Atlantic ridge lies in the South and North Atlantic Ocean and goes throw the middle of Iceland. Which means that Iceland is both on the North-American and Eurasian tectonic plates and it is being pulled apart.

Iceland black lava sand

So, Iceland is being pulled apart by some 2 centimeters a year (that is almost an inch), and that means volcanic action.

There are about 130 volcanos in Iceland and of those about 30 are active. Additionally, about 33% of all magma that has flowed on land in the last millennium flowed in Iceland. That is pretty impressive!

So, if we have all that magma and all those volcanos, are any of them famous like Mount Etna or Vesuvius?

Maybe not as famous as Vesuvius but we do have the winner of the How-difficult-is-it-to-pronounce-the-name-of-that-volcano-competition.


eyjafjallajökull glacier

The name of this volcano means Island Mountains Glacier and is underneath the icecap of the glacier. That is why it was so explosive; it had to burst its way out from underneath the glacier and spew all its hate over the world. Just kidding. But it was massive, as you might remember. The ash cloud, for example, grounded flights in Europe for days. However, flights from Iceland to the US did not stop. The reason? The wind was blowing the ash cloud towards Europe, so the inhabitants of the capital area and the surrounding towns did not feel the effect of the volcano at all.


Bárðarbunga volcano

Photo by Peter Hartree

This one is not nearly as famous as Eyjafjallajökull, but we had to include because even though it did not win any prizes in the How-difficult-is-it-to-pronounce-the-name-of-that-volcano-competition, it was a contender. Like, Eyjafjallajökull, the Bárðarbunga caldera is also underneath an icecap, but this time it is Vatnajökull glacier, the largest glacier in Europe. In 2014 an eruption started northeast of the actual volcano but in a nearby volcanic system connected to Bárðarbunga.

The eruption lasted for six months and emitted large volumes of sulfur dioxide which made the air in Iceland pretty damn bad but not deadly. It is the fifth largest eruption, size wise, in historical times in Iceland and the lava field is bigger than covers a bigger area than Manhattan.



At the end of the 18th century, Lakagígar started erupting. The ensuing eruption lasted eight months and is the most devastating eruption in the world in historical times. It is the biggest lava flow in the last 1000 years, was 12-14km3 in volume and covered an area of 580km2.

Copious amounts of ash came with the eruption as well as extremely poisonous gases that poured into the upper atmosphere and covered the Northern Hemisphere. Understandably, the effects were worst in Iceland, but about 80% of sheep, 60% of horses and 50% of cattle died as well as about 10.000 people, which was about 20% of the Icelandic nation at that time.

The massive ash cloud caused a drop in global temperatures which then cause crop failures in Europe. It is also possible it caused droughts in North Africa and India and historians now believe the eruption contributed to the failed crops in France, which led to the French Revolution.

Is there a danger of a volcano erupting now?

There is always a small danger of an eruption, but they are not always like Eyjafjallajökull. Since the beginning of the 20th century, there have been 43 eruptions, and Grímsvötn in Vatnajökull glacier, Hekla, Krafla, and Askja are the most active volcanos in Iceland.

These days, volcanologists are looking at Katla, Hekla, and Öræfajökull in Vatnajökull glacier as possible volcanos to erupt soon. Keep an eye on the Icelandic Met Office website for updates.