By Jonathan Duffy, Arctic Meta
Iceland is called the land of fire and ice because it literally contains both of them for much of the year. The entire land mass rose out of the sea about 60 million years ago as the result of volcanic eruptions between two tectonic plates, and this behaviour hasn’t stopped since.
Volcanic areas of the world are often very young in comparison to non-volcanic places, and in some ways, Iceland could be described as a very moody teenager; after all, some parts of the country are only 16 million years old.
Much of the world became fixated on Ejyafjallajökull in 2010 when its eruption halted all air traffic in Europe and put fear into the hearts of any newsreader who dared to utter its name. Soon after, the little island nation remained quiet for some time until 2021 brought a fiery show on the Reykjanes Peninsula, not far from the capital of Reykjavik.
Geldingadalir popped up to say hello and periodically put on lava shows for around half a year. The area in which this volcanic activity happened then gave birth to another eruption that was short-lived but equally spectacular.
It’s time to appreciate the magic of Meradalir. So when did this eruption start? When did it finish? What do you need to know if you want to visit the site? Read on to find out more.
How Did the Meradalir Eruption Start?
In the days leading up to the eruption, people on the Reykjanes Peninsula and the greater Reykjavík area started noticing an increase in seismic activity in the form of earthquakes. Seismic activity is very common in Iceland; in fact, the country can experience 100 quakes per day, but most of them are too small for people to notice.
The earthquakes were significant enough for people to start talking about them online, which is normally when the public starts wondering if an eruption is coming. The Icelandic met office was able to trace the source of the tremors to the same area where the Geldingadalur volcanic eruption happened last year.
The met office eventually released a statement saying that it was very likely an eruption would come in the next few days or weeks, and they didn’t have to wait very long at all.
When Did the Meradalir Eruption Start and Finish?
The eruption began on August 3 at 1:30pm local time when magma broke through the surface of the Earth and opened a fissure several hundred metres long. At the time the eruption started, there was also a considerable amount of gas rising from the area. The met office’s predictions were correct, and the site where the magma first broke through was in a lava field that had only been created last year by the Fagradalsfjall eruption.
Is the Eruption Site Safe to Visit?
It is safe to visit the eruption site, provided that you stick to clearly marked areas. As the eruption has currently ceased, the level of danger is quite minimal compared to when it was active, but there are still some potential dangers to look out for. There are some safety precautions to keep in mind listed later on, but, in general, it’s a good idea to pay attention to signs and never get too close.
How to Visit Meradalir Eruption?
Meradalir is located on the Reykjanes Peninsula, just about an hour’s drive from Reykjavík. To get there by car, it’s best to head in the direction of Keflavík International Airport and the Blue Lagoon on Route 41. Instead of heading to the Blue Lagoon, follow the signs to the town of Grindavík. Once you’re in Grindavík, take route 427, and this will eventually lead you to the car park for the site.
The parking site is actually on private property, so there is a cost of 1000 ISK per car. There isn’t really anywhere to pay it in person, so be sure to use the website Parka.is to take care of this. It’s not advisable to attempt to get away without paying for parking. The people of Iceland are very tech savvy, so the charge will eventually find its way to you, and if it’s not paid on the day, it will accumulate penalty fees (even if you’re in a rental car).
From the car park, you will need to walk the rest of the way. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the national search and rescue association, there are marked trails leading up to the site. The hike is around 16km in total out to the site, which means it’s also a 16km hike back, so keep in mind that it’s a bit more than a short stroll.
The people at Visit Reykjanes have created a great online map that clearly displays the parking lots and hiking trails.
Find where to park here.
How Long Did the Eruption Last?
The Meradalir eruption didn’t last very long. Most scientists considered that the eruption was over on August 21, which means that it lasted only 18 days. The previous eruption on this site began on March 19, 2021, and periodically spewed lava until around September 18 of the same year. Before 2021 there hadn’t been a volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes Peninsula in 815 years.
What Do You Need to Know to Stay Safe at the Eruption Site?
Meradalir might have stopped, but the site is still a fascinating place to visit, and although most people would approach it with a great sense of wonder, it’s important to put safety first, so below are some tips to keep in mind so that you stay in one piece.
Follow Local Expert Advice
There are many government officials and geologists who spend countless hours watching, analysing and predicting just to make sure eruption sites are safe to visit, and they should be listened to at all times. If you’re planning to visit, it can also be a good idea to check out the Facebook group called Iceland Geology | Seismic & Volcanic Activity in Iceland. This group isn’t just filled with tourists posting pictures; it’s also a great source of information from geologists who share tips on how to get the most out of your experience without endangering yourself or others.
Monitor the Weather Forecast
There’s an old saying in Iceland that if you don’t like the weather, just wait ten minutes, and it’s pretty accurate. The weather conditions in Iceland can change in an instant. The sky could be clear for one minute, and then you can easily be surprised with a snowstorm, fog, hail, rain or even all of them at once.
Keep in mind that if you’re heading out to the eruption site, you will be out in the open and a considerable walking distance away from shelter. It’s always a good idea when visiting anywhere in Iceland to check the weather conditions before you go. The easiest place to do this is with the Icelandic Met Office, which always keeps the most up-to-date information available to the public and issues weather warnings.
Check Wind Conditions
Wind is also a significant factor when visiting the site. In Iceland, it’s not unusual for winds to reach speeds of more than 100 km/h (70 mph); this is, of course, during storms. On an average day, the wind is commonly still quite fast, anywhere between 25 km/h (16mph) and 40km/h (25mph). The speed and direction of the wind can play an important factor when dealing with things like debris and other nasty stuff that could be hazardous to your health.
Avoid the Direction of the Poisonous Gases
Volcanoes don’t just spew out lava; they also emit many toxic gases that can kill people and animals. Always avoid any clouds of gas that are coming out from the ground or fissures. Never breathe them in, and in some cases, it can be advisable to bring a gas mask, but usually, officials will close off an area if the gases have built up too much to be considered safe.
Avoid Standing in Valleys
There are two main reasons why you should avoid standing in a valley near a volcanic eruption site. The first reason is that it’s always better to remain on higher ground if possible so you can keep an eye on lava flows. Even though Meradalir has stopped flowing, the site could awaken again at any time, and the last place you want to be is downhill from a wave of lava. Debris and ash will also follow gravity and settle in valleys.
Another reason to avoid valleys is so that you don’t run the risk of being caught in a gas cloud if the wind stops or changes direction. The buoyancy of the gases from a volcano tends to make them settle in lower points.
Bring Water and Food For the Hike
As mentioned earlier, it’s not a short hike out to the site and back, so even in the most optimal conditions, you will be travelling for a considerable amount of time.
Remember that although the volcano has stopped erupting, there is still a lot of heat in the area, which will naturally dehydrate people. Combine this with the walk, and you will run out of fuel pretty fast.
Even if you’re not a snacker, it’s still a good idea to bring food. You can’t predict what events might happen, so it’s always better to come back to the car with no food eaten than to be stranded in a lava field without a single morsel.
When visiting a volcanic eruption site in Iceland, it’s important to dress for the occasion, not just to impress the volcano but to also make sure that you are safe and comfortable. Even on a warm day in Iceland, the temperature rarely goes above 18°C (64°F), but it normally hovers somewhere around 12°C (53°F). If you were to get wet in these temperatures, it wouldn’t be long before you run the risk of developing hypothermia.
It’s a good idea to wear layers so you can cool down and warm up as you please. It is essential to have a waterproof outer layer. The wind in Iceland renders umbrellas quite useless, so a nice waterproof coat is everyone’s best friend.
For hiking, it’s important to have sturdy, waterproof shoes with good grip. The terrain out to the site is uneven and can be prone to becoming muddy or flooded depending on the weather.
Something that will really make things easier for you is if you can bring a waterproof backpack. This will eliminate the threat of waterlogged belongings. Make sure you keep your devices fully charged, and it’s also worth bringing a flashlight just in case a storm brings some darkness.
Follow the Advice of Local Safety and Police Officers
This is kind of a no-brainer. Local police and safety officers are there to protect the public. If they tell you not to go somewhere or to leave, don’t ask questions.
Evacuate the Area Safely if Asked to do so
Meradalir is part of a volcanic system that is still considered to be active, so new fissures could open up at any moment. Most geologists believe the area will most likely experience another eruption in the future, so if that happens, visitors would be asked to evacuate. In the event of an evacuation, it’s important to remain calm and just get on the move.
How Long is the Walk to the Meradalir Eruption Site?
It’s at least an hour and a half each way for experienced, fast hikers; then there’s the time you will take looking at the site and taking pictures. It’s best to block off an entire day when visiting the eruption site.
Who Should Not Visit the Meradalir Eruption Site?
There are only a few kinds of people who shouldn’t visit a volcanic eruption site. Generally, if you have breathing difficulties or cannot walk long distances unassisted, it’s not advisable to visit an eruption site. Young children and pets are unfortunately off the list as the conditions that are considered safe are normally calibrated to healthy human adults.
The eruption may have finished, but it is by no means the last that Iceland will see. Iceland generally has at least one volcanic event at least every five years, so it won’t be long before the ground opens up again and a new red hot feature is added to the Icelandic landscape.
Most people will never get the chance to see a volcanic eruption or even the site of a recent one, so if you’re coming to Iceland soon, you should definitely add Meradalir to your list of must-see sights.