Iceland after the eruption
An aerial view shows the plume of ash that rose from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano in 2010. (Brynjar Gauti/Associated Press)
This year marks the second anniversary of the volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, the vast ash cloud that grounded flights across Europe and stranded millions of travellers for several weeks.
For now, the mountain is at rest – a disarmingly peaceful, ice-capped backdrop to a farm near Iceland’s southern coast.
The family of Guðný Valberg and her husband Ólafur Eggertsson have tended the land here for more than a century. I met Guðný at the Þorvaldseyri Visitor Centre, established in April 2011 in a shed that once housed the farm’s tractors. Here, her family’s tale of survival is told in a 20-minute documentary as dramatic as any Hollywood action movie: lurid plumes of lava streak across the night sky, helicopters carrying film crews buzz perilously close to the clouds of ash, and Guðný’s family nervously wait to see if billions of gallons of melt water from a glacier that lies over the volcano will sweep their farm away.
As it turns out, ditches built by Ólafur’s grandfather in the 1920s managed to divert the floods from the farm. Lumps of molten rock known as lava bombs (‘Some were the size of jeeps,’ says Guðný) fell all around, but somehow missed the farm buildings.
Once the eruption passed, the family was swift to return to caring for their livestock and planting crops. ‘We would not let this stop us,’ says Guðný. ‘A five-centimetre layer of ash covered everything. The ash absorbs heat, warming the ground. Barley and grass grow better here now – last year, we didn’t need to use any fertiliser.’
The moment of calm may be fleeting. Next along the seismic chain is Katla, a volcano far larger than Eyjafjallajökull. Historically, it has erupted every 40–80 years. ‘We have waited 90 years for Katla,’ warns Guðný. ‘Some say its moment is near.’
This article was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.