Eldhraun Iceland: The Wondrous Lava Fields and Their Explosive History

Eldhraun Iceland

From its dramatic landscape to the myths behind it, Eldhraun is a wonderland.

Yet, behind its beautiful veil lies catastrophe.

Why?

Both death and climate change make iceland‘s biggest lava flow of great geologic and historical importance.

Indeed, Eldhraun’s lava field was one of the most devastating eruptions since the ice age.

Pressure had built up below the surface of the volcanic island. It caused the Laki volcano to give way, and release vast amounts of poisonous gas into the air.

Such gasses included:

  • Steam
  • Basaltic
  • Lava bombs
  • Ash

Soon afterwards, a series of volcanic vents erupted.

In the 8 months that the Lakagígar eruption continued, the volcano covered 599 km²  (231 sq miles). It killed many plants, domestic animals, and people throughout Iceland and Europe.

Yet, most shocking is the role of Eldhraun Iceland in shaping the political sphere. Not only in Iceland but all Europe and the New World.

In fact, you may need to thank the Eldhraun lava fields for the political freedoms you enjoy today.

Before we get into that, however, let’s bring you right up to speed on Eldhraun’s amazing features.

All of these features you’ll enjoy when you visit this part of South Iceland.

4 Breath-Taking Features and Plants You’ll See in South Iceland’s Eldhraun Lava Field

The Woolly Fringe Moss

Iceland has a smaller variety of vegetation than other countries. This is because of its hostile climate and rocky surface.

Yet one resilient plant variety, the moss, has thrived in the Eldhraun Lava Field. The plants have formed a spectacular thick green carpet over the field.

This carpet softens the jagged terrain, giving it a serene appearance.

However, while the plants can brave the cold temperatures of up to -54°F (-30°C),  walking on them is discouraged.

Instead, to enjoy the glowing thick green moss, park in the designated parking lots. These are near the main roads.

Then, use your binoculars or hand lens.

Alternatively, walk on the marked trails.

The Volcanic Rocks of the Eldhraun Lava Field

You’ll also see different-sized black lava rocks in the Eldhraun Lava Field. These rest beneath the moss covering.

While the sharp and intriguing basalt rock formation may seem solid, be wary.  The ground below is unstable.  The volcanic rocks have well-concealed crevices. Such crevices pose a danger to the people walking on them.

To study these rocks safely, walk along the marked trails.

Igneous rocks
Source: commons.wikimedia.org

The Craters of South Iceland

With 135 craters, the Lakigigar is easily the longest crater row you’ll see in your life.

The Eldhraun lava field crater row is 25km (15.53 miles) long. Green moss covers most of the craters, creating an enchanting landscape.

To get a better view of the craters, hike to the top.

The Tjarnargígur crater is a favourite among hikers. This is due to its water-filled crater complex.

Iceland Kerid
Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Eldmessutangi (Fire Sermon Point)

What makes Eldmessutangi intriguing is the theories explaining it. For example, why one branch of the Eldhraun lava flow suddenly stopped at it.

One theory amid the devastation of the Laki disaster involves a pastor: Reverend Jón Steingrímsson. He implored God to stop the lava.

Although many people don’t support this argument, it’s agreed that Reverend Jon was the first person to write about lava flow.

In his book, he described the lightning, thunder, lava, ash, and earthquakes that characterised the Laki eruption. He recounted the devastation the lava brought upon the people of South Iceland.

Another theory is that the Skaftá river cooled the lava, causing it to stop.

However, in 2018 lava boiled away Hawaii’s Green Lake, making this implausible.

Science is yet to unravel the true mystery behind this event.

Interesting Statistics Related to the Largest Lava Flow in the World

  • The mossy lava field is 599 km2  (231 sq miles)
  • The Eldhraun lava field’s violent past led to the death of over 6 million people.
  • The lakagígar eruption released 400-500 million tons of poisonous fumes into the air.
  • In 1783, ash from the eruption reached a height of 3.1 miles (15 km), and lava reached 4593 ft (1400m).
  • Despite being the largest lava field, the Eldhraun lava field covers less than 1% of Iceland.

Now, let’s dive into some more intriguing facts about this lava field and its role in Europe’s Politics.

The Lakagígar Eruption and French Revolution

One reason why the eruption was significant to the world was its effect on Europe.

In Iceland, the super-heated gasses, lava flow, toxic gasses, and ash killed a fifth of the population.

However, this was just the tip of the iceberg.

Soon afterwards, the colossal ash clouds covered Europe. Even some parts of the northern hemisphere.

Exposure to the poisonous gasses killed a huge amount of the human population in Europe. The ash clouds led to acid rain, a cycle of extreme weather, crop failure, and famine.

Following this, historians believe that the climatic and social issues brought about by the eruption triggered the French Revolution.

The revolution forced the French rulers to embrace certain principles. These include equality, liberty, and democracy.

Later, France would influence other governments in Europe, and implore the new world to do the same.

Proposed Trails When You Visit the Eldhraun Lava Field

If you want to make the most of your trip, choose trails allowing close views of the lava flow.

Mount Laki Summit Trail. Get an Aerial View of the Lava Field

Walking along this trail will lead you to the top of the Laki crater. It’ll allow you to explore the moss-covered lava without destroying the vegetation. You’ll also see the fissures that lie on the Northern and Western slopes of the Eldhraun lava field.

From the summit, you’ll enjoy a spectacular view of the Vatnajökull glacier. Even the row of craters disappearing into the horizon.

The fairly steep climb will take 90 minutes, but the route makes for a grand adventure.

Tjarnargígur – Eldborgafarvegur Crater Trail. See the Craters of the Eldhraun Lava Field

If you’re more interested in the craters, the Tjarnargígur – Eldborgafarvegur Crater Trail allows a closer view.

The trail will take you around 120 minutes, but it’s pretty easy.

The Craters Trail at the Foot of Laki. Study the Formation and Layout of the Lava Rocks Beneath the Green Moss

The trail will lead you to the low slopes of the lava flow, allowing you to see how the ground erupted.

It’s also the easiest trail.

Visiting the Eldhraun Lava Field: The Dos and Don’ts

What to Do Before and While Visiting the Lava Fields What to Avoid During the Visit
Buy and use a map for easy navigation. Don’t speed along the main road as it can cause accidents.
If you plan to go hiking, make sure your shoes are comfortable.  They should have thick soles to avoid being injured by the stones. Don’t lie or walk on the moss-covered lava. Instead, stay on the main road or marked trails to avoid destroying the flora.

One More Must-Do Before Visiting the Lava Field

Before packing your bags, read these weather travel tips. Ensure that you carry weather-friendly clothes.

Also, get to know other places you can visit during your tour to the lava field. Other destinations include the Golden Circle and the Blue Lagoon.

When touring the Eldhraun lava field, we suggest avoiding the coldest months:

  • January- The average days are 4.5 to 7 hours. The temperature ranges from -4ºC (24ºF) to 1ºC (35ºF)
  • February- The average days are 7 to 10 hours. The temperature ranges from -2ºC (28ºF) to 3ºC (37ºF)

During these months, the field is covered with snow, and hiking is difficult.

Our most recommended months are July and August when the Iceland weather is warm, and the green moss is glowing.

Featured Image from: Flickr by César López