By Corey Sandler
Heimaey is the principal settlement of the Westmann islands, a small, mostly quiet, occasionally very hot place in Iceland.
This is the only inhabited land in the Vestmannaeyjar islands. In January 1973, a volcanic eruption destroyed half the town and threatened to ruin its essential harbor.
At 1:55 in the morning, the middle of Heimaey began to shake, and lava emerged from new fissures that stretched about 1,600 meters or one mile from one shore to the other. Lava fountains spouted as much as 150 meters, or 500 feet high.
Just east of town, a new cone began to build. Because it was near an old church, the locals called the new volcano Kirkjufell (Church Mountain), but the official Icelandic place-naming committee chose Eldfell (Fire Mountain) instead.
Strombolian eruptions deposited thick tephra over the northern half of the island, building a cone of 200 meters or 660 feet.
The lava flow was in some places 100 meters or 330 feet thick. Not something you’d want to try and hold back with a shovel.
It’s not like this is something unexpected. Iceland is by considered the most active volcanic area in the world, sitting astride the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the North American and Eurasian Plates are moving west and east respectively, and also over the Iceland hotspot, a funnel to volcanic matter.
It is estimated that a third of all the basaltic lava in recorded history has been produced by Icelandic eruptions.
We made it through the lava-narrowed mouth of the harbor at noontime, with perhaps 10 meters or 33 feet clearance on each side. And then I went with guests on a very strenuous, very exhilarating hike up Eldfell, the new volcano in town. Here is some of what we saw today:
All photos and text Copyright 2019 by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved. See more photos on my website at http://www.coreysandler.com
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