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Iceland’s Majestic Volcanoes

Known as the land of ice and fire, Iceland is filled with more than 130 volcanoes, many of which are still active. Some stand tall among the mountains, while others lurk under giant glaciers. Iceland’s volcanic landscapes are as interesting and diverse as they come.

3 mins read

What created Iceland’s volcanoes?

Straddling the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Iceland is a hotbed of seismic activity. The eastern territories sit on the European tectonic plate, while the western side is on the North American plate. When these two enormous plates rub, segments of the earth's crust are thrust upward, creating Iceland's volcanic geography. The country experiences a large eruption about once every five years. Luckily, most of the country is uninhabited, and it rarely affects the local population. Plus, the activity that creates these potentially threatening but attractive geological features also provides the country with unlimited, clean geothermal energy and hot springs across the nation.

Amazing Iceland volcano facts

Iceland is home to around 130 volcanoes in 30 different volcanic systems. Thankfully, only 18 have erupted since 871 AD, when the country was first inhabited by humans. However, the active ones erupt regularly, often under glaciers — known as subglacial eruptions. They often create what’s known as a glacial flood, in which the hot magma and cold ice create an extraordinary lake of molten liquid.

Eyjafjallajökull Volcano

Eyjafjallajökull, located in Suðurland, shot to fame in 2010 when a subglacial eruption caused plumes of smoke and ash to drift over Europe, canceling most regional air travel for several weeks. The eruption was larger than earlier ones, and keen onlookers were advised to stay away. This tremendous eruption formed two new mountains, named Magni and Móði after Thor's sons in Norse mythology.

Thrihnukagigur Volcano

Thrihnukagigur, located halfway between Reykjavik and the Golden Circle, is popular with locals and visitors alike for one enchanting reason — it's the only volcano in the world that you can actually enter. Inside the little crater is a monstrous magma chamber that was once filled with boiling-hot lava. The chamber itself is roughly the size of a football pitch, and you can explore the maze of subterranean caves, which reach a depth of 650 feet.

Laki System

This system of volcanoes in southern Iceland is considered the country’s deadliest. The subglacial volcanic system is incredibly powerful, bellowing out smoke, ash, and lava when it erupts with immense force. When the Lakagígar (literally "craters of Laki") erupted back in 1783, 10,000 people — a fifth of the population then — died from its effects, including extreme famine and poor air quality.

Hekla Volcano

Known infamously as hell’s gateway, Hekla is just a short drive from the capital in southwestern Iceland. Its unpredictability and close proximity to Reykjavik mean that it could have a devastating effect on Iceland. While its eruptions tend to be large, the last eruption in 2010 was quite mild, and little damage was caused.

Despite their potential danger, the feeling toward Iceland’s volcanoes is one of admiration, mainly because of the stunning landscapes they create. This hugely active and diverse region reigns as of the world's top geological hot spots and makes a trip to the land of ice and fire a unique and captivating experience.

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Penguins perched on the ice of Cuverville Island, Antarctica. Credit: Espen Mills / HX Hurtigruten Expeditions

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