For years an Icelandic eruption was high on my wish list. March 2010 came an opportunity I just could not miss. After contacting two other Dutch volcanophyles some very busy and stressful days followed. What kind of volcanic activity is going on? Is it worth traveling to Iceland? What is the location of this Eyjafjallajökull volcano? What is the weather like on the location? How cold will it get on top of the glacier? Can we get near the volcano? Are there any flights available? How is my safety gear? Slowly but gradually it all became clear and after four days of uncertainty the decision was made and tickets booked: let's go!
2010 Iceland volcano expedition: a first glance
During the flight from Amsterdam to Reykjavik I get a first glimpse of the Eyjafjalljökull and Myrdalsjökull glaciers. From the airplane an ash colom was visible between both glaciers. At least the volcano was still erupting! We picked up our rental 4x4 and drove from Reykjavik to our accommodation Smįrthśn near Hvolsvöllur. On the way we visited the impressive Hellisheidi, Hellisheiši Geothermal Plant, a geothermal power plant. Also we checked Noršurflug Nordurflug helicopters departing between Hella and Hvolsvöllur villages, near hotel Ranga.
After dark we drove to the river Markarfljot to get a quick first look at the eruption. High on the glacier the orange glow and the lava fountain could be seen. Whether you saw it in person or on the news, it was an amazing sight. After just a couple of shots of the orange fountains a tremendous dust storm swept through the valley and I had to stop taking pictures. My gear was sand blasted. I was wondering what it was like in this storm being on top of a glacier. Not a very nice prospect, but maybe by tomorrow morning the bad weather has cleared.
2010 Iceland volcano expedition: Glaciers
What a disappointment. The weather on the glacier last night was really awful and the authorities closed all access roads and hiking trails in the area. The winter storm reduced visibility to les than 10 meters. A tv crew of National Geographic and some 150 tourists were taken down from the glacier with helicopters. So now we only can wait for the storm to pass. Above all expectations a 4 pm all roads and trails were reopened. Due to the limited time the plans for hiking up changed to going up with super jeeps. Not bad! These Icelandic super jeeps with their snow track balloon tires are fully equipped for crossing snowy glaciers. Halfway the glacier I see the smoke colomn rising and enjoy a very nice sunset. Although pretty cold with -17°C the weather has fully cleared.
2010 Iceland volcano expedition: scorching lava and a freezing shelter
Soon we are standing next to edge of the lava stream. It still is very cold and night has fallen. I am curious how my camera, batteries, memory cards and backup hard disk will hold. Pulsating lava fountains spew glowing chunks of rock. This is the real thing. It is magic. Raw nature in it's purest form. What a blessing to witness this natural firework from so close. I shoot picture after picture during the next hours. Deep in the nigh the super jeeps drop us near a pyramid shaped shelter about an hours hike from the eruption site. Here we stayed for a short sleep. Even inside this shelter it was freezing cold, but at least it offered some protection from the elements. It was hard to get some sleep knowing a volcano is erupting only a mile away.
2010 Iceland volcano expedition: ice, steam and lava
After a very short and chilly night I planned to be back during dawn. From the cabin it is just an hours hike back to volcano. Although cold the weather was very calm. How lucky we are with this weather and the volcano still in full swing. Lava creeps under the ice generating steam clouds filled with toxic gasses. The cold freezes the inside of my gas mask making it useless. Despite heat radiation it is still well below freezing with -17°C. Taking pictures under these circumstances is a real challenge. All my other gear functions as hoped and in the end this was a morning to never forget. To bad my time is limited to just one day. This afternoon we all hike down the glacier.
2010 Iceland volcano expedition: from ice to grass
So with some last pictures (one of them made it to the National Geographic web site
we leave the volcano. I feel a bit sad that such a unique experience comes to an end. In fact, I just do not want to miss anything from the eruption, but sooner or later I have to sleep, eat and take a leak. I also realise the Icelandic weather gods were with us. How easy things could have gone different. The track down the glacier starts with only snow and ice. The more we decent, the more the landscape changes. The temperatures rises significantly. The first grass peeps up between layers of snow and ice. Before we know it is only grass and a muddy trail. After a hike of some 4 hours we are all back with our car.
2010 Iceland volcano expedition : a birds eye view
It was not all over yet. After a little break the grand finale followed. With a spectacular helicopter flight with some daring flying and a view of the eruption area we finished the trip. Together with other photographers, camera man and tourists I got a excellent overview of the Markarfljot flood plain, the Gigjökull glacier tongue with lake, the fresh lava streams and the still erupting volcano.
2010 Iceland volcano expedition: what a country!
Whether eruptions are ongoing or not; Iceland is a beautiful country. It's volcanic origin guarantees rough landscapes, empty scenery and loads of impressive waterfalls. If you like nature, tranquility and photography this is the place to be. Consider an eruption just a bonus. There are plenty of other hot volcanic features to visit like the famous Geysir geyser. I think I have fallen in love with this country.
2010 Iceland volcano expedition: volcanic effects in the Netherlands
It is clear that European air traffic suffered a lot from the Iceland 2010 volcanic eruption. But hardly anyone knows about some of the beautiful atmospheric side effects. In my country the Netherlands, more than 2000 km (1250 miles) from this volcano, we were gifted with some excellent pastel orange sunsets. Although I photographed Alaska volcano Kasatochi's ash in the Netherlands before,
(Dutch only, link -->)
this time the effects were even more dramatic. Here some pictures from my neighborhood: arriving oil tankers in Rotterdam port area (Europoort) and the Rozenburg peninsula area. And no physical or digital color filters used!
2010 Iceland volcano expedition: a mega pixel panorama
A final project that took some time was the digital composition of a megapixel panorama. From the Eyjafjallajökull volcano left, the Fimmvöršuhįls eruption site in the middle, and the Mżrdalsjökull glacier with the Hekla on the right. Check the link for a grand zoomable eruption panorama:
2010 Iceland volcano expedition: some final thoughts
This trip was short and extremely intensive. A once in a lifetime experience, definitely shot some keepers, and I got home in one piece. A rough start due to the weather but in the end a success. Also great thanks to the other party members Ron Lokhoff and Markus Wamsteeker (GoMagma). And before I even got home I was contacted by journalists and a media company for publishing some of my pictures. In all, another one down, but still some volcanoes on my to do list.