Active Volcanoes Iceland

Grimsvotn, Iceland's most active volcano
Grimsvotn, Iceland's most active volcano | Source

Iceland has a total of 35 active volcanoes, both on and around the whole island. The three biggest and most dangerous Hekla, Katla and Grimsvotn, lie along the boundary of the Mid-Atlantic ridge which is where the North American and the Eurasian continental tectonic plates meet.

Tourists flock to Iceland for a glimpse of the spectacular scenery caused by an erupting volcano - whether that be palls of smoke rising into the sky or the incredible site of lava flow as it trundles down the steep mountain sides.

Such is the volcanic activity in Iceland, that a permanent smell of sulphur lingers in the air no matter where you go, and the visitor to Iceland will find that smell clinging to his clothes when he unpacks his suitcase on arrival home, no matter how well his clothes were laundered.

Iceland's  major volcanoes and tectonic plate boundaries
Iceland's major volcanoes and tectonic plate boundaries | Source
Eyafjallajokull volcanic eruption 2010, Iceland
Eyafjallajokull volcanic eruption 2010, Iceland | Source

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge runs form North to South right through the middle of Iceland, and it is around this plate boundary most volcanic activity takes place.

The active volcanoes on Iceland account for an incredible one third of the total lava output globally, and those are as follows:

  • Theistareykjarbunga - one of the youngest volcanoes on Iceland, believed to date back 2,700 years.
  • Krafla - 3,800 years old and one of the most spectacular volcanoes, frequently sending out plumes of fiery lava fountains.
  • Fremrinamurv - 3,800 years old.
  • Askja - 10,000 years old. Last major eruption 1875, but still puts on smaller displays today.
  • Lysuhóll - Iceland's smallest volcano.
  • Tungnafellsjökull - currently dormant.
  • Kverkfjöll - currently dormant - last erupted in 1968.
  • Kerlingarfjöll - currently dormant (but not extinct).
  • Bárdarbunga - last major eruption in 1477 when it produced the largest ever lava flow on Earth. Has erupted as recently as 1902.
  • Loki-Fögrufjöll volcano - dormant at the moment. Last erupted in 1961.

Eyafjallajokull volcanic eruption 2010
Eyafjallajokull volcanic eruption 2010 | Source
Lava flow from Myrdalsjokull and Eyjafjallajokull glaciers
Lava flow from Myrdalsjokull and Eyjafjallajokull glaciers | Source
  • Grímsvötn - most of it is hidden beneath Vatnajökull, Europe's largest glacier. Erupts frequently. Killed a fifth of Iceland's population when it erupted in 1793. Is erupting now, May 2011.
  • Esjufjöll - last erupted in 1927, but currently dormant.
  • Öraefajökull - the highest peak in Iceland, and is arguably it's most violent volcano. It's last eruption in 1727-28 caused widespread damage and fatalities.
  • Hekla - One of Iceland's most active volcanoes with frequent eruptions, the most recent being in 2000.
  • Torfajökull - most recent eruption 1477.
  • Krísuvík - last known eruption in the 14th century, but in 2009 the whole area was uplifted by 3cms, indicating subterranean activity.
  • Brennisteinsfjöll - last known eruption in the 14th century.
  • Katla - one of iceland's most dangerous volcanies, erupting every 50 - 100 years causing widespread damage. Hidden beneath the Myrdalsjökull icecap, it's erupting causes devastating glacial floods. Scientists are watching it closely and believe an eruption is imminent.
  • Eyafjallajökull - erupted in 2010 for the first time in 200 years, causing widespread and caused the greatest closure of European airspace since World War II.
  • Vestmannaeyjar (Heimaey + Surtsey) - a mostly underwater volcano. the island of Surstey only appeared in 1963.

Oraefajokull, the highest peak in Iceland (snow capped in the distance)
Oraefajokull, the highest peak in Iceland (snow capped in the distance)
one of Iceland's hot springs where the water stays at 100 degrees year round, regardless of snow on the ground
one of Iceland's hot springs where the water stays at 100 degrees year round, regardless of snow on the ground

Iceland was first settled by the Vikings in the 9th century, and it's first parliament was formed in the year 930 AD.

The people have a great history of documenting volcanic activity. Intelligent and educated, Icelandic people today have an amazing 100% literacy rate, which is a world record breaker.

Today, 260,000 people live in Iceland, but in their chequered past they lost a devastating one third of their population to smallpox during the years 1707 - 1709.

Later that same century they lost a fifth of their population when Grímsvötn erupted in 1793. The plumes of volcanic ash settled on the ground and prevented crops from growing, as well as killing wildlife and livestock. Many of the people people perished from starvation.

Iceland became completely independent of Denmark in 1944.

Video of Iceland volcano eruption, giant ash clouds from Grimsvotn, 2011

a pall of volcanic ash hangs in the air in south east Iceland, blocking out the sunlight
a pall of volcanic ash hangs in the air in southeast Iceland, blocking out the sunlight

Grimsvotn Eruption May 2011

May 2011 sees Iceland's most active volcano,Grimsvotn, erupting again, with a giant plume of smoke rising up 12 miles into the atmosphere.

All of Iceland's airports are closed as a temporary measure until scientists can determine whether the type of ash exuded from Grimsvotn is a danger to aircraft.

On this occasion, the ash seems to be heavier and coarser, and is mostly falling to the ground, resulting in large tracts of South east Iceland suffering from reduced visibility and almost total darkness as the the sun's light is being blocked out.

There is some fear that low lying ash could be carried on the winds to Northern Europe over the course of the next few days, although transatlantic flights are unlikely to be affected.

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Comments 16 comments

loriamoore 5 years ago

Last year's Icelandic volcano eruption cancelled my trip to Europe! Stupid volcano! :-)


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

Sorry to hear that, big trip too! Doesn't look like this time will cause any problems.


attemptedhumour profile image

attemptedhumour 5 years ago from Australia

It's one of those countries that would not normally get much of a mention, but it's natural volcanic state has really put it on the map, or maybe off it for tourists. Cheers


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

The exact opposite of what you'd expect is happening - tourists are flocking there in droves. Guess some people like the sense of danger around volcanoes that could erupt at any moment. Spectacular scenery, all the same.


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 5 years ago from The English Midlands

Hi :)

Iceland must be an amazing place to live.

It would be amazing just to visit.

A bit scary, though!


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

My pal lived there for a long time, and it is an amazing place. The people are all so friendly too, but it was her who who me about the smell that is always in the air and on your clothes.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

A very well presented and topical hub.

Here's to many more to share.

Thank you for sharing this one.

Take care

Eiddwen.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

Thanks Eiddwen, I try my best :)


chspublish profile image

chspublish 5 years ago from Ireland

It's great to learn about the many Icelandic volcanoes and the work you put into your hub. As regards the ash fallout, it's a question of here we go again like last year, though as you say, it may not be as disruptive... maybe.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

Fingers crossed this one will not be. Next one may be though, if Katla erupts.


Fay Paxton 5 years ago

I have a friend who lives in Iceland and loves it. I keep threatening to visit and never have. This inspires me to give it some serious thought. up/awesome


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

Iceland is very very expensive which is not so bad for the people living there as their wages are a lot higher too. A bottle of vodka can set you back $90 so if you are going visiting, bring in duty free booze as a gift (if your friend drinks of course).


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

Beautiful information. Again... you describe this topic about active volcanoes very well. I learn much from this hub. Rated up as always. Have a nice weekend!

Prasetio:)


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

Iceland is an incredible place and thanks for commenting :)


expats profile image

expats 5 years ago from UK

Nice hub, Izzy. I must admit I never knew this "the visitor to Iceland will find that smell clinging to his clothes when he unpacks his suitcase on arrival home, no matter how well his clothes were laundered." The power of nature has closed air space in the UK and elesewhere in Northern Europe last year, and to a lesser extent, this year.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

I wouldn't have known either had my friend not told me - it washes out once you are back home but all washing in Iceland keeps the smell because the air is pervaded with it. Not the sort of thing you put in a tourist brochure I suppose - seeing as suphur smells of rotten eggs! lol To me, it makes the place more interesting. Also didn't mention that for some time in winter Iceland is dark day and night and in summer it is light for 24 hours.

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