Iceland is a land of fire and ice, where towering glaciers and bubbling geothermal springs coexist harmoniously alongside active volcanoes. Within this unique country, some of the world’s most active and awe-inspiring volcanoes captivate scientists, rumble alongside everyday life, and draw tourists from around the globe.
Iceland owes its volcanic splendour to its location on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a place where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are moving apart. This process of plate separation creates a hotspot of magma beneath the Earth’s surface. As the magma rises and breaches the surface, volcanoes are formed. With over 300 volcanoes in Iceland, a staggering 130 of them remain active.
The impact of Iceland’s volcanoes extends beyond their captivating displays. They significantly influence the country’s landscape and environment. The sheer force of lava flows has the potential to obliterate roads, bridges, and other vital infrastructure. Additionally, volcanic ash emitted during eruptions can disrupt air travel and cause damage to crops.
Despite these challenges, Iceland’s volcanoes also offer benefits. Geothermal energy harnessed from volcanic activity plays a crucial role in heating homes and businesses, providing a sustainable source of power. Furthermore, the tourism industry thrives on the allure of these volcanic wonders, attracting visitors from far and wide who seek to witness their majestic beauty firsthand.
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Types of volcanoes seen in Iceland
There are 4 main types of volcanoes found in Iceland; shield volcanoes, stratovolcanoes, caldera volcanoes and subglacial volcanoes.
Shield Volcanoes in Iceland
Shield volcanoes are characterised by their gentle sloping profiles and are formed by the accumulation of basaltic lava flows. One example of a shield volcano in Iceland is the Eldfell volcano on the island of Heimaey. Eldfell erupted in 1973, creating a cone-shaped structure with gradually sloping sides.
Stratovolcanoes, also known as composite volcanoes, are tall and steep-sided volcanoes built up by alternating layers of lava and pyroclastic materials. Hekla, located in southern Iceland, is an example of a stratovolcano. With its impressive height and explosive eruptions, Hekla showcases the classic characteristics of this volcano type.
Caldera volcanoes are formed when a volcanic eruption empties the magma chamber beneath a volcano, causing the summit to collapse and create a large depression. Askja, situated in the remote interior of Iceland, is a notable caldera volcano. Its summit features a vast bowl-shaped depression formed during a catastrophic eruption in 1875.
Iceland also has examples of subglacial volcanoes, such as Grímsvötn. These volcanoes erupt beneath thick glacial ice, resulting in explosive interactions between magma and water. Grímsvötn, located beneath the Vatnajökull glacier, is known for its subglacial eruptions and the creation of massive glacial floods known as jökulhlaups.
Litli Hrútur – The newest volcano in Iceland
A new eruption in the area of Fagradalsfjall area started on 10th July 2023. This is an ongoing and rapidly changing area but updates can be found at RUV.is and Visit Reykjanes.
If you want to visit the volcano the hike is 10km in each direction from parking area D, close to the parking areas for Fagradalsfjall. If you would rather go with a guide (which is the best option) then this Troll Expeditions hike is recommended.
For more luxury seeing the site by helicopter is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and can be booked here
Fagradalsfjall, situated in the Geldingadalur Valley on the Reykjanes Peninsula, has recently become a prominent attraction due to its ongoing eruption. This eruption, which began in March 2021, has been captivating the world with its stunning display of nature’s power. Fagradalsfjall allows visitors to witness lava flows up close, providing a rare opportunity to experience the raw energy and beauty of volcanic activity.
In August 2022 a second eruption happened with a second area of lava forming higher up the valley. This eruption only lasted a few weeks but in July 2023 a swarm of earthquakes began indicating that another eruption may take place. On the 10th of July 2023, the volcano started erupting again.
Hekla Volcano, located in southern Iceland, has earned a fearsome reputation as the “Gateway to Hell.” This active stratovolcano has been erupting for centuries, with recorded eruptions dating back to the 12th century. Its name, “Hekla,” translates to “hooded,” likely referring to the cloud cover that often shrouds its summit during eruptions.
Hekla is known for its explosive eruptions, which release large amounts of volcanic ash and pyroclastic material into the atmosphere. These eruptions have had far-reaching effects, impacting not only Iceland but also regions as distant as mainland Europe. it is possible to hike in the areas around the volcano and the lava fields.
Eyjafjallajökull, situated in southern Iceland, gained global recognition in 2010 when it erupted and caused significant disruptions to air travel. This stratovolcano is renowned for its majestic beauty and its impact on both the environment and society.
The eruption of Eyjafjallajökull produced a massive ash cloud that spread across European airspace, leading to widespread flight cancellations and economic consequences. The volcano is surrounded by picturesque landscapes, including glacier tongues, valleys, and stunning waterfalls.
Eldfell, a volcanic cone on the island of Heimaey in the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago, made history in 1973 when it erupted unexpectedly. The eruption of Eldfell caused significant disruption, including the evacuation of the island’s population.
The volcanic activity formed a new cone and unleashed a massive ash cloud, the largest seen in Iceland since 1947. The eruption forever altered the landscape of Heimaey, burying houses and altering the coastline.
Today, Eldfell serves as a reminder of the volatile nature of Iceland’s volcanoes and the resilience of its inhabitants. There is a small museum telling the story of the eruption in the town.
Surtsey, situated off the southern coast of Iceland and part of the Vestmannaeyjar islands, holds the distinction of being one of the youngest islands on Earth. Born from a series of volcanic eruptions that began in 1963, Surtsey emerged from the depths of the ocean and rose above the surface over a period of four years.
This volcanic island showcases the fascinating process of new land formation and offers scientists a unique opportunity to study the colonisation of life in a pristine volcanic environment. Surtsey’s isolation and strict protection measures including being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site have allowed researchers to observe the gradual establishment of plant and animal species. This has provided valuable insights into ecological succession and the resilience of life in challenging environments.
Krafla, located in northeastern Iceland, is a volcanic caldera that holds tremendous geothermal potential. The surrounding area is a hotbed of geothermal activity, with numerous geothermal areas and lava fields. These geothermal areas showcase the raw power and energy beneath the Earth’s surface, with steam vents, boiling mud pools, and colourful mineral deposits.
The geothermal resources in the Krafla region are harnessed to produce clean and sustainable energy, benefiting local communities and contributing to Iceland’s renewable energy portfolio. The Krafla Power Station taps into the geothermal reservoirs, generating electricity and providing heating for nearby towns.
Bárðarbunga, located beneath the vast Vatnajökull glacier, is Iceland’s second-largest volcanic system. This complex volcano consists of a central volcano and a fissure system that stretches over 190 kilometres.
In 2014, Bardarbunga captivated the world with one of Iceland’s longest-recorded eruptions, lasting for six months. The eruption unleashed copious amounts of lava, creating an expansive lava field covering more than 85 square kilometres. Bárðarbunga’s volcanic activity continues to be monitored closely due to its potential for future eruptions.
Herðubreið, often referred to as the “Queen of Icelandic Mountains,” stands out with its distinct flat-topped summit. Located in the northeast highlands of Iceland, Herðubreið is a table mountain or tuya, formed by a subglacial volcanic eruption.
Its unique shape is a result of the interaction between lava and ice during the eruption. Herðubreið is a popular destination for hikers and nature enthusiasts, offering breathtaking panoramic views from its summit. It is a dominant feature on the landscape as you drive across the lava fields on Routes F910 and F905 towards Askja.
Askja, situated in the remote interior of Iceland, showcases the unique feature of allowing visitors to descend into its magma chamber. This caldera volcano, formed during a catastrophic eruption in 1875, contains a lake called Öskjuvatn.
Within the lake lies Víti, a geothermal crater that was formed during subsequent eruptions in the 20th century. Víti’s warm, turquoise waters lure brave souls who venture to bathe in its otherworldly beauty. The drive to this unique volcano is an adventure in itself with numerous river crossings and rough tracks across the lava fields and desert.
Bláhnúkur, located in the Landmannalaugar area of the Icelandic Highlands, is renowned for its vibrant rhyolite rock formations. The mountain’s name translates to “Blue Peak” in Icelandic, derived from the blue hues that adorn its slopes.
Bláhnúkur’s colourful palette is a result of the mineral-rich composition of the rhyolite rocks. This geological wonder attracts hikers and photographers who are captivated by the striking contrast of colours against the rugged landscape.
Katla, located in southern Iceland, is a powerful volcano notorious for its potential to cause significant flooding. This subglacial volcano lies beneath the Mýrdalsjökull glacier and is one of Iceland’s most closely monitored volcanoes.
Katla’s eruptions are often accompanied by massive glacial floods, known as jökulhlaups, which can devastate the surrounding areas. Due to its history of eruptions and the risk it poses, scientists maintain a vigilant watch over Katla, employing various monitoring techniques to track its activity and assess potential hazards.
Lakagigar, also known as Laki Craters, is a volcanic fissure system located in the southern highlands of Iceland. In 1783, Lakagigar unleashed one of the most significant lava flows in recorded history. The eruption lasted for eight months, releasing a vast amount of lava and toxic gases, including sulfur dioxide.
The consequences of the Laki eruption were far-reaching, with environmental and societal impacts felt across Europe. The release of sulfur dioxide led to widespread crop failures and a “haze” that affected the global climate.
Today, Lakagigar stands as a stark reminder of the immense power and global implications of Iceland’s volcanic activity.
Snæfellsjökull, a glacier-capped volcano located on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, gained international fame through Jules Verne’s novel “Journey to the Center of the Earth.”
The iconic stratovolcano serves as the entry point to a fantastical subterranean world in the novel. The mystique surrounding Snæfellsjökull extends beyond literature, as it is believed to possess powerful energy and mystical properties.
Thrihnukagigur, located near Reykjavík, offers a unique opportunity to explore its volcanic wonders. Unlike most volcanoes, Thrihnukagigur allows people to descend into its magma chamber through a 120-meter-deep open shaft. This extraordinary experience provides an up-close view of the colourful rock formations and geothermal activity within the chamber.
As you descend into Thrihnukagigur’s colourful chamber, you’ll be transported to another world. The magma chamber’s walls are adorned with vibrant hues, ranging from deep reds to vibrant yellows and subtle blues. It’s like stepping into a surreal painting created by nature itself.
What’s truly remarkable is that Thrihnukagigur has been dormant for over 4,000 years. So, you can marvel at this extraordinary spectacle without worrying about an unexpected eruption. It’s a rare chance to witness the sheer magnificence of Iceland’s volcanic past safely and in all its glory.
There are a number of tour operators that offer trips to Thrihnukagigur. The tours typically last for a few hours and include a guided descent into the magma chamber.
Grímsvotn, located beneath the Vatnajökull ice cap, is known for its distinctive “flood basalt” eruptions. These eruptions occur when magma interacts with glacial ice, resulting in explosive eruptions and the release of vast quantities of meltwater.
Grímsvotn’s subglacial eruptions often trigger jökulhlaups, powerful glacial floods that rush downriver, carrying massive amounts of sediment and reshaping the landscape. These events provide valuable insights into the dynamic interactions between volcanoes and glaciers, showcasing the interconnected nature of Iceland’s geology and the constant interplay between fire and ice.
Öræfajökull, located in southeast Iceland, is often referred to as the “Wasteland Glacier.” This powerful volcano lies beneath the vast Öræfajökull ice cap, which blankets its summit.
Öræfajökull gained notoriety in 1362 when a catastrophic eruption caused massive glacial floods and devastation across the region. The name Öræfajökull translates to “deserted area glacier,” reflecting the barren landscape left in the wake of the eruption.
Today, Öræfajökull remains closely monitored due to its potential for future eruptions, and scientists continue to study the volcano to better understand its behaviour and potential hazards.
Tours to the Volcanoes in Iceland
While it is possible to visit some of the volcanoes in Iceland alone, it is always much safe to visit with a guide. It is also much more informative as the guides can tell you about the landscapes that you are seeing and the history of the volcanoes.
Hiking Tour to Fagradalsfjall – This hiking tour with a geologist will take you to the most recent eruption site. Along the way earlier lava fields will be seen and a full account of the eruptions and the underlying geology will be provided.
Hike to Snæfellsnjökull – Starting from the small fishing village of Arnistapi, this hike will take you close to the summit of the volcano with an amazing hike across the glacier. This is not an easy hike and not for those who are unfit.
Into the Volcano – Nowhere else in the world can you drop into the crater of a volcano. This amazing experience will see you descend into the colourful world of the crater close to Reykjavík.
Helicopter to Eyjafjallajökull – This is an experience not to be missed. Take a helicopter trip to the glacier that lies close to the volcano that caused havoc in Europe in 2010.
Discover the Geothermal Areas around Krafla and Lake Myvatn – Enjoy the warming benefits of geothermal energy at Myvatn Baths before heading out to discover the geothermal landscape around Krafla on this one-day tour.
Where to learn more about volcanoes in Iceland
If you only have a short period of time in Iceland and want to learn more, but do not want to adventure out to the volcanoes then there are two places where you can learn more about the volcanoes. If you are heading out to the volcanoes without a guide make sure you check for current safety information and weather.
Before you explore any volcanic areas in Iceland make sure you check the current status of the area. Safetravel.is is the best website that provides current information and is run by ICE-SAR — The Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue.
You can also find current information about earthquakes and current safety warnings at the Icelandic Met Office website Vedur.is
Perlan is a prominent landmark in Reykjavík where you can learn about the country’s most famous volcanoes, their eruptions, and their impact on the landscape. The museum is a fantastic place to learn more about the geology and landscapes in Iceland in general and is a good option when the weather is not so good.
Book your Perlan tickets
Lava Show in Vík
This interactive museum combines state-of-the-art technology with captivating displays to offer a really good understanding of Iceland’s volcanic and geological history. Through 4D experiences including flowing lava, interactive exhibits, and informative presentations, the Lava Centre brings the dramatic volcanic forces to life.
Plan your visit to the Lava Show
Eldheimar Museum, Heimaey
Eldheimar Museum, located in the town of Vestmannaeyjar, offers a unique and immersive experience centred around the volcanic eruption of Eldfell in 1973. Through a combination of multimedia exhibits, personal stories, and preserved houses buried by volcanic ash, Eldheimar Museum allows visitors to witness the impact of the eruption on the local community.
Impact of volcanoes in Iceland
Volcanoes in Iceland have a profound economic and social impact on the country, offering both challenges and opportunities.
One of the significant advantages is the utilization of geothermal heating and energy derived from volcanic activity. Iceland’s abundant geothermal resources are harnessed to heat homes and businesses, providing a sustainable and cost-effective energy solution. The reliable and renewable nature of geothermal energy contributes to Iceland’s energy independence and has a positive effect on the country’s economy.
Furthermore, the tourism industry in Iceland benefits greatly from the allure of volcanoes. The dramatic volcanic landscapes, mesmerizing lava fields, and impressive geothermal features draw visitors from all over the world.
Tourists come to witness the raw power and natural beauty of Iceland’s volcanoes, creating a significant source of revenue for the country. The revenue generated from tourism helps support local businesses, create jobs, and boost the overall economy.
Lava flows and Ash clouds
However, volcanic activity can also present challenges for Iceland’s economy and society. Lava flows can destroy infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and farmland. Ash clouds from volcanic eruptions have the potential to disrupt air travel, leading to cancellations and financial losses for airlines and tourism-related businesses. Moreover, ash fallout can harm agricultural crops, impacting local farmers and food production.
Despite these challenges, Iceland has shown resilience in managing and adapting to volcanic activity. The country has developed advanced monitoring and early warning systems to mitigate risks and ensure the safety of its population and visitors.
The proactive approach towards volcanic hazards has helped Iceland maintain a balance between harnessing the benefits of volcanic resources and minimizing potential negative impacts.
Iceland Volcano Questions Answered
Is there a volcano erupting in Iceland right now?
The volcano at Fagradalsfjall on the Reykjanes Peninsula started erupting on 10th July 2023.
What are the most active volcanoes in Iceland?
The most active volcanoes in Iceland are Hekla, Katla, and Eyjafjallajökull. These volcanoes have erupted frequently in recent history, and they pose a significant risk to the country’s infrastructure and economy.
What is the history of volcanic activity in Iceland?
Iceland is a volcanically active country, and it has been shaped by volcanic activity for centuries. The first recorded volcanic eruption in Iceland occurred in 871 AD, and there have been over 100 eruptions since then.
What is the impact of volcanoes on Iceland’s economy and society?
Volcanoes have both positive and negative impacts on Iceland’s economy and society. On the one hand, volcanoes can damage infrastructure and disrupt air travel. On the other hand, volcanoes also provide geothermal energy, which is a clean and renewable source of energy.
How can I safely visit volcanoes in Iceland?
There are a number of things you can do to safely visit volcanoes in Iceland.
- Always check the status of volcanoes before you visit.
- Be aware of the risks associated with volcanic activity, such as lava flows and ash clouds.
- Follow the instructions of local authorities and tour guides.
What are the different types of volcanoes in Iceland?
There are three main types of volcanoes in Iceland: shield volcanoes, stratovolcanoes, and caldera volcanoes.
- Shield volcanoes are the most common type of volcano in Iceland, and they are characterized by their broad, gently sloping flanks.
- Stratovolcanoes are taller and more explosive than shield volcanoes, and they are often associated with ash clouds and lava flows.
- Caldera volcanoes are formed when the summit of a volcano collapses, creating a large, bowl-shaped depression.
How do volcanoes form?
Volcanoes form when magma, which is molten rock, rises to the surface of the Earth. Magma is created when the Earth’s tectonic plates move apart, and it rises to the surface through cracks in the crust. When magma reaches the surface, it erupts and cools to form lava.
What are the signs of an impending volcanic eruption?
There are a number of signs that can indicate an impending volcanic eruption. These signs include increased seismic activity and ground deformation or uplift. If you become aware of an impending volcanic eruption or an area is being monitored it is important to stay away from the area and follow the instructions of local authorities.
What are the dangers of volcanic eruptions?
Volcanic eruptions can be dangerous, and they can pose a number of risks to people and property. These risks include lava flows, ash clouds, pyroclastic flows, and mudflows.
- Lava flows can destroy homes and businesses, and they can also block roads and disrupt transportation.
- Ash clouds can travel long distances and can cause respiratory problems.
- Pyroclastic flows are fast-moving clouds of hot ash, gas, and rock that can travel at speeds of up to 700 kilometres per hour.
- Mudflows are caused by the sudden release of water from a volcano, and they can be very destructive.
How can I protect myself from volcanic eruptions?
There are a number of things you can do to protect yourself from volcanic eruptions.
- Stay informed about the status of volcanoes in the area you are visiting.
- Be aware of the risks associated with volcanic activity, and you should know what to do in the event of an eruption.
- Follow the instructions of local authorities and tour guides.
More about volcanoes in Iceland
- Hiking Fagradalsfjall and Litli Hrútur will take you to the newest lava fields in Iceland. With the eruption ongoing the landscape changes day by day.
- Lava fields to explore in Iceland can add to any road trip around the country. Look out for the vast expanses of moss-covered lava fields, especially along the south coast.
- Exploring Krafla Volcano will take you to bubbling mud pools and steaming lava fields as well as seeing the geothermal power plant.
- Kerið Crater is a unique volcano where the magma chamber has collapsed. Now filled with a deep blue lake the colour contrast is stunning.
- Askja Caldera and Askja Víti are located in the remote Highlands. The drive to this volcano is an adventure in itself. It is currently being monitored so check before heading out.
- Hverfjall is a crater with a crater in the centre. Close to Lake Mývatn, this crater is a short but worthwhile hike.
Iceland volcano summary
Iceland is a volcanically active country, with over 130 volcanoes and 30 volcanic systems. These volcanoes have shaped the landscape of Iceland, creating mountains, glaciers, and lava fields. They have also played a significant role in the country’s history, with eruptions causing widespread destruction and disruption.
The most active volcanoes in Iceland are Hekla, Katla, and Eyjafjallajökull. Hekla has erupted over 20 times in the past 1,000 years. Katla is a glacier-capped volcano that has erupted every 50-100 years. Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010, causing widespread disruption to air travel in Europe.
Volcanoes in Iceland are a source of both danger and beauty. They can be destructive, but they can also create stunning landscapes. If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, be sure to learn about the country’s volcanoes and how to stay safe around them.
- The largest volcano in Iceland is Askja, which is 780 meters (2,560 feet) tall.
- The most recent eruption in Iceland was at Fagradalsfjall on the Reykjanes Peninsula, which started on July 10, 2023.
- The most active volcanic period in Iceland’s history was between 900 and 1300 AD when there were over 200 eruptions.
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