Live Eruption (JB)


Júlíana Björnsdóttir's picture

This weekend, I crossed a landmark event off my bucket list.

For as long as I can remember, erupting volcanoes have fascinated me. There is something magnificent, unbelievable and undeniably magical about an erupting crater.

Up until recently, the interior of Iceland north of Vatnajökull glacier, was a desolate place. All there was to see was black sand and petrified black lava with the high-rising glacier on the horizon.

But then, after a series of earthquakes in the vicinity of Bárðarbunga in Vatnajökull, the forces of nature came to life. A crack opened up under the desolate Holuhraun lava field, and hot lava spurted from this seemingly dormant landmass.

My immediate response was excitement. Once again, this incredible land had awoken from its temporary sleep.

The Holuhraun eruption began in the vicinity of the largest glacier in Iceland and is very different in character from the ash-spewing Eyjafjallajökull eruption of 2010.

While bigger than the Fimmvörðuháls eruption of 2010, the Holuhraun eruption, fed by magma from another difficult-to-pronounce volcano, is like that in Fimmvörðuháls majestic and in a safe distance from human residence.

At least for now.

I missed my chance of seeing the Fimmvörðuháls eruption live, so when an opportunity to experience the Holuhraun eruption presented itself, I took it.

I seized the moment to see a volcanic eruption with my own bare eyes and booked a sightseeing flight over the desolate eruption site. A witnessed it through a double-glassed window of a Cessna but nonetheless, I got to come as close to an eruption site as a non-scientist and non-journalist can.

Best of all, I got to share it with my partner Andrew. Together, we watched from above how red-hot lava was being spit high up into the air. We watched the river of lava passing though the new Holuhraun lava field, a blackened lava field that was no doubt still too hot for human touch.

The lava that I had earlier watched creeping forth in incredible video footage was not within reach of my touch, but, oh my, how impressive it was, even from afar.

On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, this old dream of mine came true. And it was worth every króna.

I opted to make a weekend of it. Early on Friday afternoon, my partner and I drove from Reykjavík to Mývatn in Northeast Iceland, leaving our beloved dog Emma in the safe hands of my dad. The drive was long and it took us the whole day including a few stops along the way.

The night was foggy and when we finally arrived at my aunt’s doorstep, she greeted us with her arms wide open. She lives in the incredible and out-of-this-world Mývatn region, where pseudo-craters and an exquisitely beautiful lake dominate the landscape.

As a child, I played in the pseudo-craters, constantly thinking that I would be able run quickly enough to the top of the hill on which the family home stands in the case of an eruption.

I dreamed of rowing out onto the lake and swim in the transparent water among the little islands and pseudo-craters.

These days, I recognize the limitations of that dream and the semi-fantasy and semi-fear of the eruption, of standing on a family hill turned into an island in the midst of a flaming hot sea of lava.

Instead of waiting for the pseudo-craters to erupt, my partner and I booked a sightseeing flight with the local Mýflug Air to a volcanic fissure in the desolate highlands of Iceland, the utterly inhabitable interior.

Saturday was beautiful and sunny—the perfect day for a sightseeing flight.

The media has not been shy to show pictures from the eruption site, both close-ups and aerial footages. My own photos, all taken on my iPhone, are certainly not in league with the quality of the imagery we have seen.

Nonetheless, they mean the world to me. These are the pictures that bring the memory of seeing this eruption live back to me because I took them on an once-in-a-lifetime excursion.

The Holuhraun eruption seen from a sightseeing flight.

For as long as this eruption continues, a sightseeing flight over the site is money well spent.

Truly, it’s an adventure like no other.

Júlíana Björnsdóttir – julianabjornsdottir(at)

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.