Eldhraun Lava field and the eruption in Laki
Eldhraun is the name of the lava field located in south Iceland between Vík and Kirkjubæjarklaustur. The lava flowed in the great volcanic eruption called Skaftáreldar, in Lakagígar (Laki) craters about 40 kilometers north of Kirkjubæjarklaustur village.
Eldhraun lava field is a very interesting phenomenon, not only for being a magnificent natural wonder but also regarding it’s history. Skaftáreldar is considered one of the greatest and most poisonous eruption in recorded history. The eruption was a catastrophic event, not only for Iceland but it is also believed it may have contributed the French Revolution.
Formation of Eldhraun lava field
Back in the year 1783 people living in the area around Kirkjubæjarklaustur where looking forward to spring and summer but they did not have any idea about what would happen before the spring was over.
In May that year people living in Skaftártunga started to feel earthquakes, and as time passed the earthquakes were getting more severe and happening more often. This was something people in this area were not used to. In the beginning of June people living in Vík started to feel these earthquakes as well. Than on the 8th of June people started to see black plume rising up to the sky from the mountains north of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, between Mýrdalsjökulll Glacier and Vatnajökull Glacier. There was also about 1000 m high lava plume rising up in the the air.
This was the beginning of the formation of Eldhraun lava field and at the same time the largest natural disasters in Iceland for the past 1000 years.
The fire minister (eldklerkur) Jón Steingrímsson
The minister Jón Steingrímsson was living in the area at the time. He had recently moved there from the farm Hellum nearby the black sand beach at Reynisfjara. He had been living there during the biggest volcanic eruption since the settlement time, that took place in the volcano Katla in 1755. So he was back in action, living the Skaftáreldar volcanic eruption and the formation of the Eldhraun lava field.
Jón wrote a diary called Eldritið (the book of the great volcanic eruption Skaftáreldar). He is believed to be the first person to write about flowing lava. His notes about the Eldhraun and Skaftáreldar are very valuable resource about what happened during that time and has made it a lot easier for us today to understand the behavior and progress for big volcanic eruptions.
The flowing lava from Lakagígar craters did soon start to affect the life of the people living in the area. On the 11th of June the river Skaftá started to dry out as the lava started to flow down the river path and the Skaftárgil gorge. The next day the Eldhraun lava came down through the gorge and out to the low land in the area called Síða and Meðalland, destroying many farms.
In the end of July the lava field was flowing close to Kirkjubæjarklaustur village and down to Meðalland as well.
And it went on, in the beginning of August the same year the river Hverfisfljót between Lómagnúpur and Kirkjubæjarklaustur dried out. Meaning the lava was starting to flow down the mountains on the east side of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, down to the area called Fljótshverfi, destroying more farms and killing more people and animals. The lava was flowing down that area until October that year.
It was on the 7th of February 1874 when the volcanic eruption in Lakagígar stopped. Then it had produced around 15 to 16 km3 of lava and covering area around 580 km2. Making Eldhraun one of the largest lava fields in Iceland for the past 10.000 years.
Móðuharðindi and the French Revolution
Not many people died in Iceland because of the lava flow, but 20% of the population lost their life due to the fallout of ash that blocked the sunlight. It resulted in extremely cold weather that lead to crop failure, disease and famine. This time in Iceland is called Móðuharðindi and they lasted until the summer of 1785. The eruption affected Europe as well and it is believed that it may have contributed to the French Revolution.
Eldhraun lava field today
Today the Eldhraun lava field is a great monument of nature and power. As you drive along the main road between Vík and Kirkjubæjarklaustur you will see Eldhraun covered with green moss everywhere around you, making the landscape magical and mysterious at the same time. If you have time we recommend for you to stop at the parking lot by the main road to get good photo opportunities.
- Do not park the car on the main road! Be careful when turning of the main road, slow down in time and give indicators.
- Please keep in mind that the moss covering the lava field Eldhraun is extremely sensitive so please do not go out of the trails. It can take the moss up to 100 years to grow back.
Justin Bieber and Eldhraun lava field
When Justin Bieber visited Iceland in 2015 he stopped by Eldhraun lava field. He was filming one of his music videos to the song “I’ll show you”, you can see him roll around in the moss in the video. We love Justin Bieber like most people, but we are NOT happy with him rolling around in the moss! Please respect our sensitive nature.
If you watch Justin’s Bieber music video you can see where he visits some of our best known sights in South Iceland, like Skógafoss waterfall, Eldhraun lava field, Dyrhólaey, Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon, Seljalandsfoss waterfall and Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.