South of Iceland are the Westerman Islands. In the early 1960’s a new island rose from the sea in an eruption that lasted several years. When lava erupts under the sea the contact with the cold water causes it to shatter into cinder and pumice, which is ejected. Eventually enough of this material makes an island and the magma is no longer entering the water directly. Now it flows and hardens into basalt. The island of Surtsey was so formed and became the southernmost point of Iceland. Because it is mostly made of cinders the island has eroded significantly over the past 50 years, though it will take longer for the basalt core to wear away.
The largest of the Westerman islands is Heimaey. I’m sure it was very exciting to have another island appear right next door, but nothing prepared the 5000 inhabitants for what happened on a January night in 1973. There was an earthquake and then people on one side of town saw a fissure tear open the earth and an eruption was underway. Bad weather had kept the fishing fleet in the harbour and everyone fled in the night with what they could carry and took to the boats. Everyone was successfully evacuated, but as the eruption proceeded through the cinder, gas and lava phases over 400 homes were destroyed. By the time it was all over in July there was a new mountain in town, a changed harbour entrance, a bigger island and a huge clean up ahead.
The new mountain of Eldfell is protected from the sea by its lava flow so it remains, just asking to be climbed. So of course we did.
View from the summit looking toward town.
Brave souls walking out to the very furthest point.
After having climbed 400m in the howling wind I decided that was a few steps too far.
Did I mention that it was really windy?
That was a long walk up!
In the town they have excavated one of the buried houses and built a remarkable little museum around it.
The house during the eruption – eventually it was completely buried in ash and cinders.
The house today, within the museum. You can look in and see beds and cupboards and the toilet.
The neighbours house is partly excavated.