The Land of Ice and Fire is once again living up to its name; a new eruption is occurring in Iceland! From Geldingadalur valley, just south of Fagradalsfjall volcano, gleaming lava can be found running in molten rivers and spurting in spectacular jets.
Starting on March 19th 2021 at around 21.30, the much anticipated volcanic eruption at Geldingadalur on the Reykjanes Peninsula began. Initially, it was reported as a fissure up to 700 meters long, with a lava field covering around a square kilometer before it soon formed into an increasingly tall crater.
Although no one knew quite where or when a volcanic eruption would happen, it was inevitable that one would after 53,000 tremors had shaken Reykjavik and its surroundings in the weeks prior. Despite one of these tremors reaching 5.7 on the Richter Scale and several others getting close, there were no major injuries. ?
Thankfully, Geldingadalur is set to be on the same course. Despite its primordial, terrifying presence, appearing more like Mordor than anywhere earthly, it is thought to pose little threat to life, infrastructure, or air travel unlike the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010 and Geldingadalur is much more pronunciation friendly for non-Icelanders!!! Making global news presenters happy ?
Why this eruption can be viewed so safely the public:
Geldingadalur eruption is an effusive eruption rather than an eruptive one. This means that the lava did not burst from the earth in an explosion of ash, rock, and fire, as happened at Eyjafjallajökull in 2010. Instead, it emerged as an open fissure releasing much more gentle lava flows in the form of molten rivers.
Secondly, the eruption occurred in a sheltered valley. Geldingadalur is already largely uninhabited and without significant infrastructure, making it one of the most convenient places it could have gone off in the region. Thank you, Mother nature! ?
However, those with respiratory conditions should show caution if considering a visit, as the fumes coming from the volcano are by far their most dangerous quality: sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide. There are search and rescue team members on-site monitoring the gas emission during the times the site is open to the public.
An interesting note about the Geldingadalur eruption – particularly to those fascinated by geology and volvolcanici— the qualities of the lava that is emerging from it. According to early data, this is the oldest lava that has emerged in Iceland for 7,000 years. This can be attributed to the deep magma chamber beneath it, usually only found at the bottom of ocean rifts.
Because of its accessibility and the predictability of its eruption, Geldingadalur is a very visitor-friendly site!
In late March 2021, thousands of people in Iceland hiked into the Geldingadalur valley to watch fiery lava splatter and spill from the crater of the Fagradalsfjall volcano after it erupted for the first time in nearly 800 years. As white ash clouds puffed above trails of glowing, molten rock inching through craggy black stones, some visitors took photos, others sat in quiet awe, and a few toasted marshmallows over the lava flows.
You have to work a bit to get to the eruption site, it is not just park and snap a photo. There are 4 car parks close to the hike start point site, overseen/managed by the Icelandic search and rescue team, the land is private, local landowners have very kindly agreed to allow parking at these different locations to help organize the vast influx of traffic to the area.
Hiking paths lead from the designated parking areas to the main trail leading to the eruption site. Approx 1.5 Hr hike from the main starting point. The terrain is uneven, but the trail is marked with poles. There is a steep ascent before you reach a level plain and 10 mins further on you see Geldingadalur in all its glory
I visited the eruption with my family over the Easter Break. Having parked, with little hassle/waiting time we started off on our adventure.
Given we have been all affected by COVID restrictions over the last year + it was so refreshing to be outside in a vast area, with so many other people. Families, friends, tourists. We heard a variety of languages as we hiked towards our quest, excited exchanges and talks of what was to come. French/Spanish/Polish/Dutch/English/Chinese/Icelandic … There was a real festival feel which added so much to the experience ? Young and old had made their way to see this amazing event, smiles and chatter, gasps and endless photographs. It was beautiful to see so many people sharing the same level of excitement / joy.
We arrived at the eruption site at around 19:00, our plan to see the eruption in both daylight and darkness.
I must say the first glimpse of the eruption was a WOW moment, spellbinding. As you sit above the site it takes several minutes to take in what is in front you, breath-taking, fountains of fire and vivid orange rivers. After sitting on high ground for well over an hour and enjoying the spectacle we made our way closer to the edge of the ever-growing, ever-glowing lava field. You could hear it moving, tinkling like glass as it pushed cm by cm forward . It reminded me of listening to the Icebergs ‘singing‘in Greenland as they were gently rocked by the sea.
The atmosphere changed as the light dimmed, the glowing magma came into sharp focus as twilight fell and darkness surrounded us. Much of the crowd had moved off, wanting to make the hike back in daylight, the site generally had become a lot quieter, less chatter and people were sitting and taking their time to watch the ever-changing landscape in front of them.
Some people were cooking hot dogs / foil wrapped sandwiches on the glowing lava, children squealing with delight as they heard the sizzle of the food cooking!
We sat watching, directly in front of us less than 3 meters away, a flow of gorgeous molten red/orange lava flowing out like liquid toffee, forming a new channel from the blackened lava field. With heat on our faces, I felt small, hypnotized, in awe of Mother Earth and the vision of the life force of our planet causing out in front of me.
The site was to close for 22:00 , allowing the search and rescue teams to be certain everyone was out of the area and on their way home by 00:00. All of the members of this society are volunteers, as a nation applaud them for their tireless efforts in helping make this event accessible and safe to all.
We adorned our headlight torches and started our reluctant walk back, it was hard to tear yourself away. Glazing back as we walked off into the night, the black sky was backlite by a soft red glow. We could follow the path quite easily, but it was reassuring to have a trail of firefly like lights ahead of us and behind. We arrived tired but elated back to our car where we took a moment to savour what we had just seen.
I shall treasure this experience for life, to be able to have shared such a thing with my family was priceless. We hope to have the opportunity to visit Geldingadalur again as it is continually changing and evolving, long may it last!!
Geldingadalur is being live-streamed around the world.
Live link can be found on followoing: https://www.mbl.is/promos/elgosid-i-beinni/
If seeing an erupting volcano is on your bucket list, it’s always good to keep an eye on Iceland.
The Icelandic Met Office (IMO) noted that a fourth eruptive fissure opened on 9 April at about 03:00 local time. Located between the second and third eruption site, the new fissure vent started to erupt another basaltic lava flow. Preliminary measurements indicate that the lava flow’s discharge rate likely will increase. The all lava flows traveling to Geldingadalur and Meradalir valley.
Visiting the eruption
Iceland’s tourist industry is certainly picking up. Already now, hundreds if not thousands of visitors have been flocking to the eruption site every day, mostly on foot on a several-hours hike from Grindavík or other places accessible by road, but also by helicopter and small aircraft.
Volunteers have marked a shorter and safer hiking path up to the eruption site, which only takes about an hour and a half for well-prepared hikers, being 3.5 km away or 7 km in total length.
How long might the eruption continue?
Nobody can know for sure how long this eruption can continue, but most scientists are currently thinking that it might be several weeks or months. It largely depends on how much magma is available (and able to reach the surface), and how long the magma resupply into the dike continues, and how long the current magma pathways are stable (and not changed by new earthquakes, opening of fractures etc).