Meteorologist Diane Kacmark went on a trip to Iceland, where she visited an erupting volcano near the capital, Reykjavik.
In the second part of her volcano trip, Diane describes what it is like to visit this volcano up close.
On June 14th at 8 a.m. we made our way to the volcano. I chose Trail B because I heard that Lava was blocking Trail A. Trail B was a longer and more challenging hike, but we were in no rush.
After using the ropes attached to posts to climb the steepest part, we were near the top of the mountain next to the volcano. We followed the cairns (piles of stones) through the barren landscape of an old, chunky lava field that formed a few thousand years ago. It was filled with moss.
We’re finally close enough to see. Impressive!
A steaming sea of blackish lava with orange flecks filled the vast valley. The cone in the middle was bigger than I thought. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t here two months ago!
Where the end of the path met the edge of the lava field, one could hear something through the wind that sounded like glass was breaking.
Gray-black crust covered the still very hot lava. There were cracks and crevices through which the 1000-degree red-orange lava shone through.
You could not see into the crater from this area. The crooked edge was angled. Occasionally we could see clumps of lava splash out of the rim. We wanted to see more, so we hiked on or stepped carefully, I should say, along the slope above the lava field.
I was surprised that it didn’t smell like anything. I’ve been to hot springs, geysers, and mud pots and know that smell of sulfur.
The magma of this volcano comes deep below the surface, right out of the Earth’s mantle, about 10 miles deep. The mantle doesn’t contain a lot of sulfur.
The gases we had to worry about were carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, which don’t smell. They monitor sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide gases. If these gases are dangerous, the trails will be closed for the day.
This can happen when the wind is very weak. But winds are not often weak in Iceland! It was pretty windy that day.
The wind blew a beautiful pyrocumulus cloud south to the ocean. This is where geology and meteorology meet. Heat and ash rose from the crater and formed a cloud.
This pyrocumulus cloud was blowing south with the prevailing wind. As the cloud cooled down, some light rain fell near the coast.
After many photo and snack stops, we finally reached the end of the Geldingadalur valley. The edge of the encrusted lava field was broken up where Trail A was abruptly cut off by the lava flow.
On the steep slope that flows into the next valley, red-orange lava poured over the edge and flowed like a river down into the next valley. What a sight! We were right next to the current and felt the heat. The people watched, fascinated.
There was a strange barbecue smell here. I suspect it was the moss that burned as the lava approached.
Since there was a flow of lava where the path had been, people were scattered over the steep slope, wobbling and sliding down, trying to get up the hill from Path A or down from above.
After deciding to slide down the rocky slope until the path was left, we followed the edge of the lava and watched it flow like a river or seep out of the canal and set the moss on fire. This type of lava is called Helluhraun in Iceland or Pahoehoe in Hawaii.
Little did we know when we got to the car that this incredible adventure lasted eight hours! I collected a bag full of tephra that the volcano sprayed a few weeks before the trip.
When we arrived at our cute little hut at the harbor in Grindavik, 10 minutes from the volcano, a rainbow greeted us at the end of the pyrocumulus cloud!