Iceland’s Volcanoes – 230 Years After Laki


Today is June 8th — the day in history when the famous Laki volcano fissure system erupted after three weeks of earthquakes. The eruptions lasted eight months from 08 Jun 1783 to 07 Feb 1784. Lava poured out of over 130 craters. The ash poisoned the land, rivers, and lakes of Iceland. Millions of people were affected by this event with severe climate change that caused famine and hardships across the world. The eruption is also known as the Skaftáreldar or Skaftá fires.


Acid rain poisoned the soil and destroyed the hay … the life-blood of their animals. Their animals died and the people died. At the end of 1785, about one-fifth of Iceland’s population had died mostly from starvation. This volcanic emission haze spread to Europe and brought violent weather which led to failed harvests and hunger.

Some scholars say that the French Revolution in 1789-1799 was caused by high food prices as a result of the Laki event of 1783-1784.

There are 30 volcanic systems in Iceland. According to http://www.iceland.is , ”There are over a hundred volcanoes on the central plateau which have not erupted in the past thousand years and between 30 and 40 that are active, meaning that they have erupted within last few centuries. On average, Iceland experiences a major volcanic event once every 5 years. Since the Middle Ages, a third of all the lava that has covered the earth’s surface has erupted in Iceland.”


Iceland is located on top of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Most people think that Iceland is an island. It is really the top of a mountain that is part of a longest mountain range in the world with most of it under water. Iceland grows about one inch or three centimeters per year as these tectonic plates pull apart. As the Earth’s crust is being pulled apart, the molten rock rises up. Sometimes it will erupt with lava and ash.


Here is some video footage of Laki shot in 2012 by Theo Maximillian Goble: https://vimeo.com/40786673. Theo has produced a film called ”Living With Lava.” Here is his message to me: ”This film is mostly in Icelandic and features stories of people whose lives have been affected by volcanic eruptions. It covers testimonials of those who lived through eruptions from Katla (1918), Eldfell (1973) and Eyjafjallajökull (2010) the personal stories in this film span almost 100 years. This film is an important ‘contribution’ to the Icelandic heritage, the last living witness to the 1918 eruption has now passed away, but his testimony lives on in my film! The film has won awards and has been selected for festivals in Canada, USA and Indonesia. It has just been accepted into the International Film Festivals for Peace, Inspiration, and Equality and will screen in September on World Peace Day. This project was self-funded so I am thrilled it is finally being seen by people all over the world:) Here’s the trailer in Icelandic: https://vimeo.com/39972866 and with subtitles: https://vimeo.com/39975203


My friend, Kolla, sent this story about her ancestors

To read more about the Laki fissures, the Skaftá Fires, and how a minister recorded the history of this event and stopped the flow from ruining his church, click here:



Icelandic Roots is a non-profit, educational, heritage organization specializing in genealogy, history & traditions of our Icelandic ancestors.

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