Approaching Holuhraun and the dying eruption

It was a tale as old as Iceland itself. The eruption started out with a small outlet of lava, through a small fissure in no-man’s-land, far away from towns and people. But they were nevertheless affected by it. Gravely so at times. 

My last flight over to Holuhraun was on February 27. It was actually the first flight in almost three months to the site, so I knew the sight would not be the same. It had always been a bit different from time to time, with new fissures opening – and closing. New lava started flowing to the northwest of the main crater, Baugur, and the buildup of lava around the crater was getting higher every time. 

By time, it was astonishing to see the huge crater filled with bubbling lava, sometimes bursting up like geysers, other times boiling like water. Like water, molten lava flows by the path of least resistance by gravitational pull downward. In amazement I watched how incredibly fast the river of lava flowed out of the crater to the east, making its way through the new lava that had settled. Scientists estimated that this flow amounted to around 100 m³ per second – around the same discharge rate as some of the bigger glacial rivers here. What a sight!

The easternmost part was still venting steam as the lava met the river

A tale it surely was, perhaps more of a fairytale. Being able to get up close and personal over one of the largest eruptions here since Iceland was settled, was simply put, unbelievable. Not everyone was happy though. The Civil Protection Agency closed the area off for ground vehicles and evacuated people from places like Herðubreiðarlindir and Askja, mainly because of flood risks. Airplanes were OK though, just not allowed to land in the vicinity. So if you wanted to see this for your own eyes, you’d have to go by air or get a special permit restricted to the press and scientists. Why did the authorities act this way, you might ask. Well, mainly because of concern for the public of course. Maybe they shouldn’t have been that strict. Hind vision is always 20/20. 

It became the 'Elite-eruption' where the majority of people couldn't go see it with their bare eyes. Just those belonging to the exclusive club of travel guides, the press, or scientific community. And pilots of course + friends. 

The crater Baugur - now devoid of any flowing lava

But now it’s over. And the Met Office issued a statement the day after my flight, on February 28, stating that no visible lava was flowing anymore, so it was officially over. It was a relief to their staff of scientists. It was probably also good news for the people that have been affected by the poisonous gasses emitting from the eruption. Those same nasty gasses I’ve written about in a previous post. 

So am I happy now? Well, no eruption has ever affected my happiness levels in a negative way (so far). In my view, the only negative thing about this eruption was how far it was away from Reykjavik (a good thing as well). It takes forever to fly over there! And through at least three different weather systems that all had to allow for flying through the 500 km. journey to and fro. It didn't matter for me though, because in my case, flying is seldom about the destination, but the journey itself. 

The tale is over. It was engaging and enjoyable, inspiring and awesome. It was, therefore, a melancholic feeling flying over there the last time, seeing the ‘empty’ crater, devoid of any glowing lava. No glowing orange river. Just lava.  Still, it was a very special feeling being one of the first ones there after it was over. That’s a sight to remember. 

The new lava is still warm, melting the snow as it sets, making its contours clearly visible.

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