Wikimedia, Creative Commons, Photo by Ilya Grigorik
Eldgjá is the largest volcanic canyon in the world, located in the South of Iceland.
Explore this area while on a self drive tour in Iceland.
At 270 metres at its deepest, 600 metres at its widest, and around 40 km long, Eldgjá covers a significant part of the country. It stretches from Landmannalaugar, a popular hot-spring and hiking area in the Icelandic Highlands, to Kirkjubæjarklaustur, a village with a long religious history on the South Coast.
First Eruption at Eldgja
Eldjá’s first recorded eruption in 939 was an incredibly powerful one. It produced the largest flood of basalt of all time; it is estimated that 18 kilometres cubed of lava was released, which spread over an area of around 800 square kilometres.
The effects at home and abroad were dramatic. In Iceland, which had only been settled for less than half a century, it was used by Christian forces to warn of the wrath of God against the pagan beliefs of the Old Norse. Documents from as far back as 961 AD confirm this, where its effects are exaggerated to Biblical proportions.
Of course, the eruption would have devastated growing agriculture at the time, as well as decimated the forests surrounding it. Iceland was actually very forested at this time, but eruptions like this one, and the mini-Ice Age that followed them, have left it one of the most barren countries on earth.
Further afield, it was even more impactful. Temperatures as far as Central Asia dropped two degrees, and the ash cloud made 940 AD the coolest summer in 1,500 years.
It is little wonder, therefore, why Eldgjá translates to ‘Fire Canyon’.
The canyon lies parallel with the Lakagígar craters, a major attraction in the Icelandic Highlands, which were formed in a similarly consequential eruption, called Laki, in 1783. Here, twenty-five dramatic craters sit in a row, surrounded by spectacular lava.
Another major attraction at Eldgjá is Ófærufoss, a beautiful, two-stream waterfall that can be hiked to. It flows from the river Ófærá.