From Iceland — 75 Years Ago Today: Hekla Erupts To Devastating Effect

75 Years Ago Today: Hekla Erupts To Devastating Effect

Published March 29, 2022

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Wikimedia Commons

On this day in 1947, Icelanders woke up to find that the volcano Hekla had erupted again. What would follow would end up being the second-biggest lava eruption in the world from 1900 through 1970.

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The event did not exactly catch Icelanders by surprise. The conventional wisdom was that Hekla erupted once every 100 years or so, and the last major eruption happened 1845. That said, the 1947 eruption would end up lasting some 13 months, and devastated wide swaths of the country.

Following a massive earthquake with a magnitude of 6, a cloud of ash arose from the volcano, reaching 30km into the air. The ash cloud drifted south, covering the area between Vatnajökull and Hekla with a layer of ash about a metre think. Lava bombs weighing tens of kilos dropped from the sky. As the eruption continued, ash would end up falling as far away as Helsinki, Finland.

The devastation wrought by Hekla in the area countryside was significant. Numerous sheep died from fluoride poisoning as tephra fell on farmlands, ash covered roofs around the area, and it claimed one life: ecologist Steinþór Sigurðsson, who visited the eruption site to film the scene, and was unexpected splashed by a wall of lava.

After a few months, the explosive aspect of the eruption began to slow down, but lava continued flowing through lava tunnels. Ash, which at times darkened the sky around Hekla, also began to slow down but continued falling.

By the time the lava flow completely stopped, in April 1948, it left a lava field measuring some 40km2 and as thick as 100 metres in some places. When all was said and done, numerous sheep and birds were dead, many homes were badly damaged by ash that needed to be constantly cleaned from them, and the aforementioned scientist had been killed.

Since then, Hekla has proven that volcanoes are anything but predictable; it erupted again in 1970, 1980, 1991 and 2000, but has not erupted since. Not yet, anyways.

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