As a reminder that travel can and will always bring the unexpected, a volcano in a glacial region I am planning to visit in Iceland recently erupted. Maybe you saw the headlines about it, maybe not. It is the volcano beneath the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in South Iceland, near the coastal town of Skogar.
At first, authorities evacuated residents in the surrounding farmland because of fears the eruption and spewing lava would melt parts of the glacier and cause flooding. However, no flooding has occurred and most residents have returned to their homes. Tourists have even been allowed back into the area to witness the beautiful display of lava formations up to 30 feet in height.
When I first saw the news about the eruption, my gut reaction was worry – if the volcano remains active, how will that affect my travel plans to the area in 2011? Domestic flights between the capital city Reykjavik and cities in North and East Iceland were cancelled and people evacuated out of the area. According to National Geographic, geologists warned that the recent tectonic activity and aftershocks could trigger one of the most dangerous volcanoes on the island – nearby Katla – to reawaken. So I have legitimate concerns.
However, a larger part of me is excited. As of today, the volcano continues to spew lava, but Katla so far seems to slumber and tourists are allowed to witness the lava display from a safe distance. Of course, scientists continually monitor the situation, but maybe this will turn out to be a unique chance for me to see a volcano in action. News reports today quoted scientists as saying that this moderate level of volcanic activity may continue for weeks, months, even up to two years.
Iceland is located on two tectonic plates that are pulling apart. The island is a hotbed of geological activity – geysers, natural geothermal pools, volcanoes, and boiling mud pots. I plan to visit the dormant Krafla volcanic crater, hike around the geological wonders of the Myvatn region, and try a guided glacier hike in Skaftafell National Park. Maybe I will be able to add witnessing a volcanic eruption to my experiences.
I am endlessly fascinating by geology. I grew up in a hot spot of tectonic activity and heard the stories of Mt. Saint Helens erupting in Washington State in 1980, which my parents witnessed as they drove home from church. Dad has a glass jar of St. Helens ash he scooped from the backyard in his home office and I went on weekend hikes with my best friend through the dormant lava caves of the volcano. I have lived through minor earthquakes and stared down into the blasted-out side of St. Helens. Skied down the slumbering Mt. Hood and hiked through the lush rainforest of the Columbia River Gorge, carved out by glaciers during the last Ice Age. Maybe this is why I am so intrigued by Iceland.
So here’s hoping the current eruptions of Eyjafjallajokull continue to safely inspire our imaginations. I would love to see in person what National Geographic has caught on film. The photos are truly poetic.