The ground rumbles underfoot, then roars as plumes of red and orange lava erupt from the ground, the intense heat engulfing nearby crowds in awe of Iceland’s recent volcanic eruption.
“It’s indescribable,” said 40-year-old French tourist Magalie Viannisset, one of the curious on Thursday, who marveled at the fissure that opened a day earlier in an uninhabited valley just 40 kilometers from Iceland’s capital Reykjavik.
“You feel it in your heart. Imagining it or seeing it on TV is nothing compared to seeing it in real life — there’s heat, smells, the sound of the lava flowing,” she told AFP.
When the lava fountains hit the ground, a magma blanket with a temperature of 1,200 degrees Celsius (2,192 degrees Fahrenheit) spreads down the valley, plumes of smoke giving off a smell of rotten eggs from the sulfur.
Occasionally, helicopters buzzing overhead interrupt the roar of the lava.
A few intrepid visitors head straight for the cooling magma, including scientists measuring its thickness and taking samples for study in their laboratories.
Overjoyed at being in the right place at the right time, others, both locals and tourists, keep a safer distance and enjoy the dramatic views from the nearby hills.
“It’s absolutely stunning,” says Theo, a 14-year-old Norwegian visiting with his family.
The Icelandic Meteorological Institute has estimated that the fissure is around 360 meters long and lava fountains are around 10-15 meters high.
The lava covers an area of about 74,000 square meters, it said.
– ‘Feel the power of the earth’ –
Visitors must undertake a strenuous hike to reach the site on the Reykjanes Peninsula, about two hours from the nearest car park.
Walking along the path you can hear people speaking English, French, Spanish, Italian and of course Icelandic.
The winding trail passes near the lava fields created by the nearby eruption of Mount Fagradalsfjall last year, which spewed out molten rock for six months.
Like scars, cracks in the ground along the trail are reminiscent of the seismic activity that has raged underfoot in the region for the past year and a half.
Known as the land of fire and ice, Iceland has 32 volcanic systems that are currently considered active, the highest number in Europe. The country has had an outbreak every five years on average.
However, up until last year, the Reykjanes Peninsula had not seen one since the 13th century, when a volcano erupted for 30 years from 1210 to 1240.
Geophysicists have said the 2021 eruption could signal the start of a new century-long period of eruptions. For now, the craters it left behind remain silent.
As the trail approaches the Meradalir Vales (the Vales of the Mares), the final eruption comes into view, mesmerizing hikers with the raw power of nature.
“You feel the power of the earth. You look at the stone and you see it melting, that’s not normal,” says Agusta Jonsdottir, a 52-year-old Icelandic woman.
Icelanders never seem to tire of watching volcanoes.
“We came early and sat in the moss for a couple of hours, watching and enjoying. And it was so quiet,” says Audur Kristin Ebenezersdottir, 53.
“Just you and nature – that’s very nice.”
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