Day 11 – Surtsey and Heimaey Islands, Iceland

Mid-morning we started seeing islands off Iceland. As we traveled past a chain of islands and rocks, we came to Surtsey Island. This island did not exist prior to 1963, when a volcano started erupting and slowly created the island over a few years. It is now a scientific lab to study the inhabitation of a raw, isolated place by plants and animals. No visitors are allowed as they would bring in seeds and spores.

We stopped at Heimaey Island in the afternoon. In Jan of 1973, at 2 am, a fissure opened up and an eruption began just outside of town. Being a fishing port, the 5000 people were all safely evacuated by boat and no one was killed. But the volcano continued to spew ash and lava, so that over the next 5 months 400 houses were consumed by lava and a number of houses were burned down by the hot ash. Also, a large area of the port was flooded with lava, so they have a much narrower entryway into the port. In one of the pictures you can see the dividing line where the lava stopped with the houses just beside it. Everyone returned and dug out the town from under the ash and rebuilt their lives. More recently they have excavated several of the houses that were buried under lava and ash.

We have had a number of great lectures on the trip from the naturalists and scientists on board. Topics have included sea birds, the Vikings, the Hanseatic League, geology, ocean currents, and issues regarding control and management of the Arctic Ocean by the countries surrounding it as the sea ice disappears and sea lanes open up to shipping and oil drilling begins.


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