Discover 8 of The Most Infamous Icelandic Eruptions

Last updated: Jul 5th, 2023

Looking for some explosive power to back up that geography lesson? Then discover 8 of the most infamous Icelandic eruptions.

What can we say about Iceland that hasn’t been said before?

Well, we’ve decided to focus on the incendiary side of this artic circle nation and listed some colossal volcanic moments in its history.

Read on in awe and discover 8 of the most infamous Icelandic eruptions.

Eyjafjallajökull Volcano in Iceland

Eyjafjallajökull, 2010

Let’s start at the magma chambers of the now globally known Eyjafjallajökull. In 2010, this fiery behemoth blew it’s top so vigorously that pretty much all European air travel was grounded because of the titan-sized ash cloud it produced.

Also, some have even considered this mighty lava upturn as the impetus for international Icelandic tourism.

However, this eruption is relatively small in volcanic activity – it’s not even the biggest on this list.

Skaftáreldar “Fires of Skaftá” Volcanic Ridge in Iceland

Skaftáreldar “Fires of Skaftá” (1783-84)

If we need a benchmark for Icelandic eruptions, then Skaftáreldar is the geological dragon we look to. The Lakagigar fissure and Grimsötn volcano erupted for roughly 8 months in 1783, causing global disruption.

The legendary episode caused over 50% of Iceland’s livestock to pass away, European crop failures and may have caused droughts in India as well as North Africa. Plus, it released 120 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide into the Northern Hemisphere and led to a drop in the Earth’s overall temperature. Later, some commentators believed it a contributing factor to the French Revolution of 1789.

Hekla Volcano in Iceland

Hekla, 1947

Spewing lava for centuries, Hekla is one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes and as formed around 10% of the nation’s landmass all by itself.

With reference to the massive eruption of 1947 – it was the second largest since the land of fire and ice was first settled 874 AD. Also, it was a reminder of the awesome power of nature to a world recovering from WWII.

A mind-splitting 24,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide entered the atmosphere, lava flows covered 40 squared kilometres of land and around 98 farms were damaged in the mammoth upheaval.

Katla Volcano in Iceland

Katla, 1918

Broodily sitting under the ice-cap glacier Mýrdalsjökull on Iceland’s south coast, the foreboding giant Katla resides.

With magma chambers thought to be closely linked with Eyjafjallajökull, eruptions from this caldera usually follow 10 years after. Because of its glacial mass duvet, explosions often hurtle ice, ash and rock for miles around.

Usually tallying 2 eruptions a century, the 1918 blowout lasted for 24 days and extended Iceland’s coast by 5km. Further, lesser flare-ups have been rumoured in the 20th and 21st centuries, with the next impending outburst overdue.

Cliffside of Surtsey Island formed by Surtsey Volcano in Iceland

Surtsey, 1963

In 1962 Surtsey didn’t exist. Named after a mythical Icelandic race of fire giants, the landmass was formed over the course of three and a half years from submarine volcanic activity. So unexpected, the plume of fiery smoke was noticed by a passing trawler.

Today Surtsey is forbidden land to anyone except scientists who are researching the island’s animal and plant life. Pictured are the cliffs of the island.

A view of Eldfell Volcano behind a small Icelandic Town

Eldfell, 1973

Heimaey is part of the Westman Islands and in January 1973 residents suddenly experienced a terrifying tear in the Earth’s crust right under their feet.

Fire, ash and rock blew out of the fissure as Eldfell exploded without warning. Fortunately, a southerly wind prevented the town’s immediate ash blanket. The town’s folk evacuated the island, with only service people staying behind.

The eruption lasted until the 28th June, with nearly a third of the island’s buildings destroyed.

Volcano erupting in Iceland

Bárðarbunga Volcano, 2014

Where fire and ice meet, the majestic stratovolcano Bárðarbunga sits neatly under Iceland and Europe’s largest glacier – the Vatnajökull ice cap. The second highest mountain in the country, the subglacial caldera erupted in August 2014 until February 2015.

The biggest effusive eruption since the legendary “Fires of Skaftá”, magma oozed through volcanic vents in the surrounding Holuhraun lava field. With preceding swarms of seismic activity, huge amounts of sulphur dioxide were emitted and the remote area was closed off from the public.

Fagradalsfjall Volcano erupting in 2021 in Iceland

Fagradalsfjall, 2021

Situated within the Reyjkanes Peninsula, this tuya volcano sits within the its own volcanic system around 40km from Reykjavik. Flat-topped and steep-sided, these rare but iconic shaped fire mounts erupt lava through thick ice sheets.

The 2021 March eruption followed more than 40,000 small earthquakes and almost 800 years of silence until it’s effusive episode. The fresh lava flowed for months before stopping in September 2021.

So, there we are – we hope you’ve enjoyed our article ‘Discover 8 of the most infamous Icelandic eruptions’. 

Because there’s so many volcanoes in the land of fire and ice there’s much more to choose from. So, if you have one that you think ranks let us know. 

Also, if this list has piqued your curiosity and you want a deeper dive into Iceland give us a call or email. Or, if you’ve feeling brave you can hop over to our wonder of a webpage by clicking here.