On the afternoon of July 10th, the earth opened up.
Three fissures have opened in the northeast at the foot of Litli-Hrútur, a hill in the southwest of the Reykjanes peninsula. Icelandand began to spew columns of lava and gas.
Iceland’s latest volcanic eruption wasn’t a total shocker.
Litli-Hrútur, which means “little ram”, is part of the Fagradalsfjall volcanic area, which erupted in March 2021 and August 2022 after a hiatus of almost 800 years.
In July, the surrounding area shook for several days before the eruption, with more than 12,000 earthquakes recorded.
The fissure initially extended for more than a kilometer and opened three streams of fiery lava. By the next morning, two of those fissures had closed, but lava was still erupting from a long, thin cone that quickly grew into a large crater as the lava accumulated, forming what some call Earth On “The Newest Small Volcano Ever”. “.
In less than a week, the crater had grown to about 30 meters in height and continued to grow every day.
The volume of lava ejected on the first night was enormous (up to 50 cubic meters per second). And traveled in all directions, causing the dry moss covering this barren land to catch fire.
Strong winds spread the flames over a large area, making it dangerous for tourists for the next few days due to volcanic gases and toxic fumes from the moss fires.
The local fire department dispatched helicopters to drop two tons of water directly on the fire site, and distributed water tanks for local firefighters to fight the fire on the ground.
Eventually the fire was brought under control and winds turned to the northwest. On July 17, a road was opened and tourists began to come to see the rare event up close.
How to get to the volcano
Access to the volcano is conditional and varies daily. Local authorities provided an update after assessing whether people could remain where they were.
Currently, tourists can get up close and personal with the crater. A car park has been set up, from where you have to walk or cycle 9km along a mostly flat path to a large viewing area, although the last kilometer is rocky.
From there, visitors are just a kilometer from the erupting crater, which can be seen through thick heat fog. Even at that distance, it’s an incredible sight, especially at night, when the erupting lava fountains are most visible against dark skies, although the area doesn’t really get dark until mid-August.
The trail is currently open from 09:00 to 18:00 local time.
It takes at least five or six hours to walk back and forth, including time on the road and enjoying the scenery. Only those who are fit enough to have water and comfortable walking shoes and clothing should attempt it.
There are no facilities at the scene, but search and rescue teams can be dispatched in an emergency.
Access to watchpoints may change over time because Geologists must ensure no new cracks appear Before tourists were allowed to approach the crater.
In the early hours of July 19, much of the crater collapsed and lava spewed rapidly in the area west of the crater, underscoring the importance of respecting this dangerous area.
During the 2021 eruption, there were many changes in the behavior of the lava, with new cracks opening weeks after the original ones.
The privilege of a new landscape
When I visited the site, I met Jeroen Van Nieuwenhove, a Belgian professional photographer who lives on the edge of a lava field in Iceland. He has been documenting eruptions since Fagradalsfjall’s first eruption in March 2021.
He assures that visiting a volcano is always very special. “Seeing new landscapes take shape before your eyes is a privilege of the very few,” he said.
“I’m delighted that this eruption took place in one of the most photogenic locations in the region, with the picturesque Kellier Peak as a backdrop,” he added.
“While the distance is longer than usual and the walk is tough, it’s all worth it when you get there.”
Laura Wainman, a doctoral student at the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds in the UK, boarded a plane to Iceland “within minutes after the eruption”.
As part of a study of the dispersion of trace elements in volcanic plumes that react with the environment, Weinman collected samples to understand the composition and size distribution of particles emitted by volcanoes and how they are transported through the atmosphere.
The last eruption in Iceland and the formation of this new baby crater was not a surprise, he explained, Because the surrounding area has experienced strong earthquakes for six consecutive days, and the magma is known to be very close to the surface.
“The earthquake that started on July 4 this year was caused by a new magma intrusion in the area between Fagradalsfjall and Keilir, It’s northeast of the eruption site through 2021 and 2022,” Weinman said.
Volcanic eruptions produce different types of lava. This is type a’a, a type of basaltic lava characterized by a rough and brittle surface composed of broken pieces of lava.
As it progressed, fragments fell to the ground, revealing red-hot regions between cooler gray and black lava. As it moves forward, an eerie popping sound similar to glass shattering is often heard.
“Witnessing an eruption is definitely something special,” Weinman said. “After the sampling is done, we always try to take some time to sit and admire the beauty of the volcano. I think that combination of curiosity and mild fear in the face of such a massive force of nature keeps us coming back and makes us want to study volcano.”
The nascent caldera grows larger as lava is ejected and accumulates in the already existing cone.
The current flow of lava is estimated at 9 cubic meters per second, which is similar to the flow during the 2021 eruption but much less than the first night eruption.
“There’s a limit to how high a crater can get before it becomes unstable, So I think that if activity remains high, then we might see more events where parts of the crater wall could collapse,” Weinman said.
“It’s a very dynamic system, but we have a lot of people working on modeling different scenarios where lava flows might flow.”
he also pointed out It is impossible to predict how long the eruption will last. Six months in 2021 and three weeks in 2022.
“So far, the performance of the Litli-Hrutul eruption is similar to that observed in 2021 and 2022,” Weinman said.
“At some point, we’ll start to see a reduction in volcanic activity, and then we’ll probably see something similar to the 2021 eruption, with intermittent periods of volcanic activity before the eruption finally stops,” he added.
“How long will this eruption last? We’ll have to keep watching.”
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