Oh Yeah! 100 Years Ago Today, Iceland's Katla Erupted - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Oh Yeah! 100 Years Ago Today, Iceland’s Katla Erupted

Photos by
Garðar Ólafsson/Shutterstock

It’s time to celebrate. To be fair, it’s always time to celebrate. But today it’s time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the last major eruption of Iceland’s beloved Katla, a volcano in the south that somehow always manages to make it into the news. No, she still isn’t erupting, but she’s active and if you want an eruption, we’ll give you an eruption. One from 100 years ago, but who really cares about time. It’s a volcano!

Historical stuff

Well, let me give you a little history lesson on this dangerous giant. On 12 October 1918, Katla, underlying the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap, erupted last, extending the southern Icelandic coastline by about 5 kilometres. Et voila, your beautiful black beaches with that ‘surface of the moon’ feel were born. Also, the eruption lasted a whole 24 days.

Particularly dangerous, besides the fact that a huge mountain just went up in flames, was the connection between the eruption and the following glacier outburst. In the land of ice and fire, both extremes are close and most volcanoes have an effect on the glacial landscape of Iceland. So accompanying the lava flow was a huge cloud of ash spreading 60.000 km² around Iceland and, shortly after, massive glacial floods.

Anniversary conference in Vík

Luckily though, there were no casualties, but people were shook for sure. A group of farmers rounding up sheep just escaped the glacial tidal wave coming down the mountain. Pushing their horses to the limits they escaped the lava field. Unfortunately not everyone was as fortunate as the famers in this encounter—the sheep were left behind.

To honour this geographical giant in Iceland’s national history, there will be a conference in Vík í Mýrdal today and tomorrow. The focus of the conference will be Katla and its impact on South Iceland’s nature and society. Leading Icelandic researchers and experts are attending and lecturing.

Recent Activity

When Katla awoke again more recently, in 2011, the bridge across the Múlakvísl river in the south of Iceland were swept away by the sheer power of the streaming water, causing an interruption in the Ring Road leading all around Iceland. If you’ve toured as far south as Kirkjubæjarklaustur, you should get an idea of the volume, and if you’ve road-tripped around the island you can imagine what a struggle it was for people to get to Reykjavík with the main bridge gone. Basically, they had to go the other way – east, then north and then back south or take a plane.

But Iceland wouldn’t be Iceland if it wasn’t prepared of course. Within a week a new bridge was built. It really sucked for the rental car companies though—people that were stuck in the south had to fly out, and left the cars behind.

Anyway, it’s time to think back 100 years and cherish the fact that Katla didn’t kill anyone. Yet.


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