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The lava landscapes of Fagradalsfjall resemble Mordor.

Complete Guide to the 2021 Volcanic Eruption in Geldingadalur Valley by Fagradalsfjall Volcano

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Discover all you need to know about the 2021 Geldingadalur volcano eruption in Iceland! Here, you can find a wealth of beautiful photographs and fascinating facts about Iceland’s most recently active volcano!

The Land of Ice and Fire is once again living up to its name; a new eruption is occurring in Iceland! Within Geldingadalur valley, gleaming lava can be found running in molten rivers and spurting in spectacular jets from Fagradalsfjall volcano.

Fagradalsfjall eruption in Iceland, as seen from above .

Making this phenomenon even more exciting is its location. The Reykjanes Peninsula is familiar to all travelers to Iceland, as it connects Keflavik International Airport with the country’s capital, Reykjavik; the region is also home to the Blue Lagoon. It is the most accessible eruption in Iceland since the country has become a major tourist destination.

Of course, whenever such an event happens in Iceland, questions arise as quickly as the magma from the earth. Is the volcano in Iceland dangerous? How long will it go on for? Can you visit Fagradalsfjall and watch the eruption with your own eyes? Answer all your questions here with this complete guide to the Fagradalsfjall eruption in Iceland!

2021 Eruption of Fagradalsfjall Volcano

Starting on March 19th at around 21.30, the much anticipated volcanic eruption at Gelingdalur on the Reykjanes Peninsula began. Initially, it was reported as a fissure up to 700 meters long, with a lava field covering around a square kilometer before it soon formed into an increasingly tall crater.

Although no one knew quite where or when a volcanic eruption would happen, it was inevitable that one would after 53,000 tremors had shaken Reykjavik and its surroundings in the weeks prior. Despite one of these tremors reaching 5.7 on the Richter Scale and several others getting close, there were no major injuries.

Lava spills from a crater at Fagradalsfjall.

Thankfully, Fagradalsfjall is set to be on the same course. Despite its primordial, terrifying presence, appearing more like Mordor than anywhere earthly, it is thought to pose little threat to life, infrastructure, or air travel for two notable reasons.

Firstly, it is an effusive eruption rather than an eruptive one. This means that the lava did not burst from the earth in an explosion of ash, rock, and fire, as happened at Eyjafjallajokull in 2010. Instead, it emerged as an open fissure releasing much more gentle lava flows in the form of molten rivers.

Two jets of fire rise over the lava landscapes of the erupting Fagradalsfjall.

Secondly, the eruption occurred in a sheltered valley. Geldingadalur is largely uninhabited and without significant infrastructure, making it one of the most convenient places it could have gone off in the region.

That is not to say, however, that it's predictable. In fact, Fagradalsfjall has changed several times since it first opened, with new fissures and craters forming as the lava field develops. Furthermore, the fountains of fire have varied greatly in their size, sometimes rising just a few meters in the air, and sometimes shooting so high that they are visible from Reykjavik.

Fagradalsfjall from Reykjavik.

Those with respiratory conditions should show caution if considering a visit, as the fumes coming from the volcano are by far their most dangerous quality. Even those living in the surrounding towns can exacerbate their symptoms if the winds blow from the eruption site’s direction, carrying toxic gases such as sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide.

An interesting note about the Fagradalsfjall eruption - particularly to those fascinated by geology and volcanism - is the qualities of the lava that is emerging from it. According to early data, this is the oldest lava that has emerged in Iceland for 7,000 years. 

This can be attributed to the deep magma chamber beneath it, usually only found at the bottom of ocean rifts.

Visiting Fagradalsfjall Volcano

Cracks of red break the black lava at Fagradalsfjall.

Because of its accessibility and the predictability of its eruption, Fagradalsfjall is a very visitor-friendly site! Although none know how long the eruption here will last - with some estimating it has just days left - certain operators have made the most of the moment and found a way to let guests witness this magnificent natural phenomenon. 

This hiking tour from Grindavik, for example, will bring you to the edge of the ever-growing, ever-glowing lava field, exposing you to breathtaking fountains of fire and vivid orange rivers. As it is conducted in the evening, the site will be even more striking when contrasted with the darkness.

Lava glows at Fagradalsfjall.

Those who want a more personalized, intimate experience can also organize a private day tour

While you can visit without an experienced guide, it is not recommended, as no roads lead directly to the site, meaning you’ll have to hike for several hours; only certain operators have permission to drive closer. This is very challenging for those who are not knowledgeable of the local area, particularly considering the rugged terrain and cold winter weather. 

Lava sputters from a crater in a close-up image of Fagradalsfjall.

Furthermore, Iceland’s tour guides are educated on the risks of a volcanic eruption. They can allow you to get as close as safely possible without relying on oblivious and incredibly dangerous guesswork. Guides also keep themselves informed on any changes to the weather, such as the wind direction and have the training to respond if the situation turns awry.

Photographing Fagradalsfjall Volcano

The lava landscapes of Fagradalsfjall resemble Mordor.

Visiting and marveling over the eruption at Fagradalsfjall is a breathtaking experience that you will want to capture on camera. Videos and photographs of this phenomenon are already inspiring awe to any who seek them out online and promise to provide incredible mementos that you can treasure for life.

Because of the vivid brightness of the lava, almost any camera or half-decent phone will allow you to snap some incredible shots of it. However, those looking for images and footage that are truly extraordinary will want to bring a drone.

An overhead shot of the glowing lava field of Fagradalsfjall during its 2021 eruption.

Before just rushing to the site with all your technical equipment, it is important to know the rules of flying drones in Iceland. While we have an article where you can learn about this in-depth, the main restrictions for their use at Fagradalsfjall are below:

  • The drone must be marked with your name, address, and phone number
  • The drone cannot exceed 25 kilograms
  • Keep the drone below 250 meters
  • Do not fly over the crowds
  • Keep your drone away from other drones and far away from any manned aircraft

How does Fagradalsfjall Volcano Compare to Other Icelandic Volcanoes?

Holuhraun's rivers of lava gleam a vivid orange.

Despite its epic beauty and awe-inspiring power, Fagradalsfjall is not just small compared to Iceland's recent eruptions; it is practically minuscule. Its predecessors had been pretty dramatic in its defense, but it is a classic example of a minor volcanic event in the country. 

Out of all the eruptions that have happened here since 2010, it most resembles Holuhraun; both were effusive eruptions that opened in a lava landscape rather than beneath a glacier. Holuhraun produced the largest lava field that Iceland has seen since 1783, covering an area of over 85 square kilometers and thus absolutely dwarfing its more recent cousin.

Eyjafjallajokull and Grimsvotn, meanwhile, have very little in common with Fagradalsfjall. Both of these were enormous, explosive eruptions that occurred under ice caps, producing a different range of much more serious dangers. They released vast ash clouds that grounded flights and poisoned crops and triggered evacuations in the surrounding areas due to the risk of glacial floods and pyroclastic flows.

Fagradalsfjall spills lava from its craters.

Although the above eruptions were greater volcanic events than Fagradalsfjall, they lacked easy accessibility. Holuhraun and Grimsvotn are both in the central Highlands, and while Eyjafjallajokull’s South Coast location isn't hard to reach, its ash cloud stopped many prospective admirers from getting to it!

Fagradalsfjall's eruption site, meanwhile, is less than an hour’s drive from Reykjavik, less than half-an-hour from Keflavik International Airport, and around fifteen minutes from the Blue Lagoon. Thus, it is central to three sites all travelers to the country are very likely to see regardless of its activity.

Formation of Fagradalsfjall Volcano

The Reykjanes Peninsula is covered in moss-coated lava.

The Fagradalsfjall volcano is a relatively ‘young’ part of Iceland; all of the Reykjanes Peninsula is. This means that it was only formed by magma rising from the core of the earth recently - that is to say, over the past seven million years. The oldest parts of Iceland in the Westfjords are 16 million years old by comparison, and the oldest exposed land on earth in Australia dates back an incomprehensible four billion years.

This can be explained by the fact that Iceland was formed by a weakness in the Mid-Atlantic Rift, the separating divide between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. As these plates pull apart, magma rises to the surface and creates new land.

The Mid-Atlantic Rift is best seen at Thingvellir National Park in Iceland.

The closer to the Mid-Atlantic Rift, the newer the land, and this valley runs right along the length of the narrow Reykjanes Peninsula. In fact, the region is home to the ‘Bridge Between the Continents’, where you can walk from one plate to the other. 

As such, Reykjanes is incredibly volcanic, and this activity is written all over its landscapes. Very little vegetation can grow on the endless plains of lava; geothermal areas seethe and bubble in many different spots, and cone-shaped volcanoes dominate the horizon. Eruptions occur very regularly - although, again, we are speaking in geological terms, as the last was 800 years ago. 

Fagradalsfjall's effusive eruption creates a gentle flow of lava.

Geldingadalur had not erupted for around 6,000 years before 2021, although there has been a magma chamber beneath it all that time. Many of Iceland’s volcanoes exist this way, lying dormant until an unexpected fire and fumes release.

The eruptions that have formed the Reykjanes Peninsula landscapes have defined the region’s way of life for centuries. It became a center of the country’s fishing industry for early Icelanders as settlers could not grow food or feed livestock on the lifeless terrain. 

Lava spills from a crater at Fagradalsfjall.

More recently, the volcanism of Reykjanes has led to a great number of attractions for tourists to the area.

For example, you can embark on adventures into lava tunnels, quad bike across black sand beaches, and enjoy relaxing, guided sightseeing tours!

Fagradalsfjall Volcano Since Settlement

The Reykjanes Peninsula has a haunting ambience, created partially by the region's volcanic activities.

Fagradalsfjall has remained largely uninhabited since settlement; the nearest town is Grindavik, about seven kilometers away. This is because of steep-sloped valleys, which largely prevent the area from being easily accessible. Furthermore, its inland location was useless to the fishing communities who relied on the seas to survive.

Despite this, little-explored places such as Geldingadalur have had a large impact on the history and culture of the Reykjanes Peninsula. The region’s folklore of elves, ghosts, and witches are heavily inspired by the misty, desolate, and dangerous landscapes that the volcanoes have created. 

Lava shapes the stunning Reykjanes Peninsula.

Places such as the ruins of Selatangar, the hot springs of Gunnuhver, and the troll pool of Brimketill are all steeped in such fascinating fables. 

Aside from its current eruption, Fagradalsfjall does have its own story in Iceland’s history, although the tale is both true and tragic. In 1943, during the Allied occupation of the country during World War Two, the famous bomber plane ‘Hot Stuff’ was caught in bad weather during a mid-Atlantic fuelling stop and crashed into mountainside. 

Fourteen of the fifteen passengers on board died, including Frank Maxwell Andrews, a founder of the US Army Air Forces and a decorated Lieutenant General.

Andrews has plenty of monuments to his name across the world for his work in both World Wars, and there is one dedicated to him and the plane’s other victims at Fagradalsfjall, erected in 2018.

Future of the Fagradalsfjall Volcano

Red lava and green moss contrast at the Fagradalsfjall eruption.

No one has any solid estimates for how long the eruption at Fagradalsfjall volcano will last, although the consensus is that it will end reasonably soon. As such, any who are in or will shortly be in Iceland should make every effort to see it. 

Of course, due to its unfortunate overlap with the Covid-19 pandemic, many will be unable to make the journey to witness its majesty if it is just a short eruption. Despite this, it is being live-streamed around the world.

A surge of lava shatters the crater at Fagradalsfjall.

If seeing an erupting volcano is on your bucket list, it’s always good to keep an eye on Iceland. The gap between this eruption and the country’s last, at Holuhraun in 2014, was notably long, with new volcanic events usually occurring every few years. Grimsvotn’s eruption, for example, was just three years before Holuhraun, and Eyjafjallajokull just a year before that.

Katla, Bardabunga, and Grimsvotn again are all considered overdue and under constant surveillance.

Lava from the Fagradalsfjall volcano is visible from Reykjavik.

However, after it ceases to erupt, Fagradalsfjall will likely not erupt again for centuries, perhaps millennia; the veins of magma running beneath the Reykjanes Peninsula will have eased their pressure here and will most likely next build somewhere else. The region, however, is so geologically young and versatile that it is impossible to predict the details! 

The only certainty regarding the next Reykjanes eruption is that it is a matter of when it happens, not if. For now, however, we have Fagradalsfjall in Geldingadalur to marvel over!

Do you have any more questions about the eruption at Geldingadalur? Have you seen the volcano for yourself? Let us know in the comments below!