The Eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull Volcano

Halting air traffic across Europe in 2010, Eyjafjallajökull's volcanic eruption became Iceland's most famous volcano. The ash cloud stranded tens of thousands of air travellers for days, and ash rained down on farms and villages surrounding the volcano. But 2010 was the first year Eyjafjallajökull erupted; it has happened four times since Iceland's settlement.  

What Type of Volcano is Eyjafjallajökull?

Eyjafjallajökull is a stratovolcano that reaches 5,417 ft at its highest point. A magma chamber under the mountain feeds the volcano, part of a chain of volcanoes stretching across Iceland. The top of the volcano features an ice cap responsible for the enormous ash cloud that transpired in the 2010 eruption. 

When did Eyjafjallajökull Last Erupt?

The entire volcanic event began on March 20, 2010, and ended on June 23, 2010. In March, lava shot out several hundred meters into the air, and ash ejection at the time was small. However, in April, the eruption began ejecting fine glass-rich ash to over 26,000 ft into the atmosphere. By the end of June 2010, the eruption had ended. 

Eyjafjallajökull Eruption Fallout

When Eyjafjallajökull's ash cloud disrupted air travel, it was due to several factors, including that the volcano is directly under the jet stream, and the direction of the jet stream was atypically unstable at the time of the eruption. Also, the volcano erupted under 660 ft of glacial ice, where meltwater flowed back into the volcano, significantly increasing the eruption's power. The lava cooled quickly, creating an ash cloud that drifted directly into the jet stream. 

Eyjafjallajökull Eruption History

Since Iceland was settled in the year 874, Eyjafjallajökull erupted in the years 900, 1612 and from 1821 to 1823. 

Here is a timeline of Eyjafjallajökull's notable eruptions:

  • 900: This is the first known eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in the historical record, but details are sparse due to the era
  • 1612: An eruption was documented, but little information exists about the scale or exact impact of this event
  • 1821-1823: This eruption lasted for more than a year and was followed by several years of aftershocks. It caused significant flooding and damage, but no human lives were lost
  • 2010: This was one of the most significant eruptions, laster from April 14th to October 20th

It has been said that the 1821-1823 eruption released an enormous amount of fluoride, which is believed to have negatively impacted the health of humans and farm animals at the time. 

Is Eyjafjallajökull Safe to Visit?

As of June 2023, Eyjafjallajökull is safe for travellers to visit and is seen on most South Coast tours. In the town of Hvolsvöllur, a visitor's centre focuses on a family farm, Þorvaldseyri, which was one of the many destroyed by the floods, lava, and ash of the most recent eruption. It is improbable that Eyjafjallajökull will erupt again any time soon, as there are typically hundreds of years between each eruption. 

Experiencing an Eruption

Although Eyjafjallajökull is not erupting at the moment, visit Perlan’s Force of Nature Exhibit for an immersive experience. Using a combination of cutting-edge interactive technology and comprehensive scientific information, this exhibit offers a first-hand experience of the sheer power of natural forces such as earthquakes, wind, and notably, volcanic eruptions. 

Eyjafjallajökull FAQ

How many people died in the Eyjafjallajökull eruption of 2010?
There were no deaths from the eruption. There are warning systems in place, and people that were in the area evacuated. The most damage came from the ash cloud that darkened the area, drastically dropping the air quality. 

About 800 people were evacuated in fear of dangerous glacial floods, which have destroyed Icelandic towns in the past. Locals were ordered to keep their animals inside, and those with respiratory problems were told they should also stay indoors as the air quality was very poor.

How do you pronounce Eyjafjallajökull?
For Icelanders, it was amusing to hear foreign news anchors struggle to pronounce the volcano's name on the nightly news. Clips were regularly shown on Icelandic television, and Icelanders ate it up. For the record, it's pronounced EYE-ya-fyat-lah-YOH-kuht.

How many flights were cancelled because of Eyjafjallajökull?
More than 95,000 flights were cancelled all across Europe during the 6-day airspace ban, with later figures estimating 107,000 flights were cancelled during eight days. This accounted for an astonishing 48% of total air traffic and roughly 10 million passengers.

How big was the Eyjafjallajökull eruption of 2010?
In Iceland, it was a catastrophic event for the area around the volcano. Ash rained down on farms and villages surrounding Eyjafjallajökull; the area was dark and full of ash and extremely poor air quality. 

The 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption is the second largest volcanic eruption of the twentieth century it had a VEI of 6, the equivalent of 200 megatons of TNT. This event was about 13,000 times more potent than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in Japan during World War II.

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