Sunday, 21 March 2010

Eruption in Iceland

Icelanders rarely forget they live on a groaning, fiery land-mass astride two of the earth's giant plates, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (pictured above, the plain caused by the plates pulling apart). But in case they do, a volcano erupts to remind them.

Last night's eruption happened not from a snow-capped crater but from a crack in the earth about 1.5km long, near the Eyjafallajoekull glacier. If it erupts again – and a relatively small eruption like this often precedes a bigger one – the glacier could melt, causing devastating floods. Worse, nearby is Katla, one of the country's largest, most dangerous volcanoes. When there is activity nearby, it often starts to move.

Even in a country used to volcanic activity, it's exciting. When they heard the news, young men left their Saturday night beers to jump into 4x4s and head off for a closer look. All the roads were blocked by police cordons.

How do Icelanders feel about their volcanoes? Greipur Gíslason, one of the organisers of Iceland's second design festival, HönnunarMarsthe reason I am here – says volcanic eruptions, unless they are life-threatening, are reassuring. "It's really good," he said this morning, wearing the smile of a secretly proud father whose naughty child has just come top of the class. "It reminds us our little island is working properly."

"The earth has reminded us that its creation is still going on, and that we are not its creators," Iceland's president, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, told us today, as we sipped white wine at his home outside Reykjavik. "These ever-present, but unexpected events have a strong influence on the mindset of the country."

"We're excited," a young woman told me. "Katla has been sleeping for too long. Her last eruption was nearly 50 years ago so she is behind schedule." (Volcanoes, by the way, are gender neutral, but the most powerful have female names).

I experienced some of Iceland's awesome energy yesterday on a trip to see Geysir, the hot bubbling spring that erupts every 15 minutes or so (below).


It was awe-inspiring. But I fell in love with the tiny bubbling spring nearby...

I swam in an outdoor pool heated by geothermal energy. And I've showered every morning in piping hot water from the ground. On my flight from London, I sat beside a man who sits on the board of an Icelandic renewable energy company. The country produces more energy than it needs, he told me, but it doesn't know what to do with it. I hope they find a solution: if they do, Iceland will become very rich again.

5 comments:

  1. Hannah, thank you for commenting on my blog, and thank you for linking here to Homebodies! I'm so glad you wrote about your experience there during the eruption. How fascinating! I wish I was there with you. Iceland is truly a magical place, and I'm dying to go back. Hope you travel back safely! Will keep an eye out here for more extraordinary tales from you... xo

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  2. nice to know you, and glad to find such a good artical!.........................

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