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  • Sara Moniz

Eldhraun – from calamity to calm

From its incredible landscape to the myths hidden in it, Eldhraun is a wonderland. However, behind this beautiful field lies a catastrophic history.

This vast lava fields, also known as “Fire Lava” are the result of the greatest eruptions in recorded history and is today the biggest lava fields in the world.

Over a course of eight months, between 1783 and 1784, the Laki fissure and the Grímsvötn volcano poured out an estimated 14 cubic kilometers of basalt lava and clouds of poisonous gases, this contaminated the soil, killing half of Iceland's cattle and horses and more than three-quarter of sheep. Besides of the diseases from the haze, nothing was growing on the fields and there was no fish at the sea, this resulted in a drastic famine that end up killing a quarter of the island's human population.

Laki’s eruption had even more widespread effects. North America had the longest and coldest winter on record in 1784, there were snowstorms, the Mississippi River froze in New Orleans and there were ice floes in the Gulf of Mexico. Haze from this eruption floated as far away as India. Egypt felt a famine in 1784 as a result of the eruption and one-sixth of the population died.

However, the worst consequences were felt in Europe, the summer of 1783 was the hottest on record. The poisonous cloud flew across Europe killing tens of thousands, just Great Britain suffered 23.000 deaths, following an extreme cold winter that caused an additional 8.000 deaths. During the spring, Germany and central Europe reported severe flood damage. In France, the contaminated soils resulted in poverty and famine and triggered the French Revolution of 1789-1799.

Laki’s eruption may be responsible for the political freedoms we enjoy today. The revolution forced the French rulers to embrace certain principles (like equality, liberty, and democracy). Later, France would influence other governments in Europe, and plead the new world to do the same.

Eld­messu­tangi known as “Fire sermon point” was where the advancing lava miraculously stopped before it reached the church where Rev. Jón Steingrímsson was delivering his famous “eld­messa” (Fire sermon). It was common belief that it was due to his prayers that the lava stopped.

Overall, this dramatic lava flow caused the death of many throughout the world, and despite the abysmal effect the eruption had, this lava field is today one of the most stunningly attractions in Iceland. With more than 200 caves found there and the most magnificent lava tube systems, today the green moss covering the fields creates an enchanting landscape that brings nothing but peace.