Happy 55th Birthday To Iceland's Youngest Island: Surtsey - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Happy 55th Birthday To Iceland’s Youngest Island: Surtsey

Andie Fontaine
Photos by
Public Domain

Iceland’s southernmost island, Surtsey, poked its head above the surface of the water on this day in 1963.

On November 14, 1963, a fishing boat from the nearby Westmann Islands noticed a tall plume of smoke rising from the sea, accompanied by explosive eruptions that sent large boulders flying up to a kilometre away. It soon became apparent that a new island was being born, prompting a great deal of attention from volcanologists. Other volcanic peaks rose from the sea during the same eruption, but were quickly reclaimed by the ocean.

The eruption raged on until June 1967. At that point, Surtsey was just under 3km2. While initially barren, it did not take long for seabirds to take notice of the brand new nesting real estate, and in their wake, plant life soon began to emerge. It was declared a nature reserve in 1965, and remains inaccessible to tourists; only scientists may visit Surtsey today.

There has not been much by way of human impact on the island. There is only one permanent structure—a hut with a few bunk beds and a solar power generator. A weather station has also been set up there, along with a webcam. Apart from that, human influence on the island has been strictly limited. Young boys once planted potatoes on the island, but these were quickly dug up, and later, an improperly handled outdoor pooping resulting in the sprouting of a tomato plant, which was also destroyed.

Surtsey has been shrinking; in 2012, its surface area was measured to be 1.3km2, and it is subject to wave erosion. However, it is likely that Surtsey will remain above the surface of the sea for another century, give or take.


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