Sjadu! (“Look!”) Iceland's Grímsvötn eldfjall (“volcano”) erupted on Saturday, and jet passengers caught the epic explosion on video. Crackles of eldingar (“lightning”) coursed through the steam, smoke and ash plume billowing 12 miles into the air. Lightning strikes during the most intense part of the eruption were a thousand times more numerous than during the Eyjafjallajökull eruption of April 2010, which shut down airports in the country for a week.
This is the largest eruption in a century for Grímsvötn, which is located 120 miles away from Reykjavik beneath the Vatnajökull icecap. It's east of the lake Thingvallavatn, if that helps. The caldera has a type-A personality and goes ballistic relatively frequently, the last eruption being in 2004. It seems to be connected with a vast fissure system that was responsible for the Laki eruption of 1783, a series of blasts that churned out the largest known flow of hraun (“lava”) and killed so many crops and búfé (“livestock”) that one fifth of the country's population starved.
An unimaginably heavy sheet of ice caps the volcano. However, during significant geothermal activity the ice sheet gets pushed up, and thousands of tons of water and debris roll over the volcano's rim as jökulhlaups (“glacier outburst floods”). It is not a good idea to be in the neighborhood when a jökulhlaup comes roaring down the slopes. Take a look at this one on Eyjafjallajökull last year:
While more powerful Eyjafjallajökull's last eruption, which stranded nearly 10 million travelers, this time there isn't expected to be a huge impact on flying. That's partly because Eyjafjallajökull's ash plume was filled with very light particles that drifted high into the sky, where they could scour cockpit windows and demolish airplane engines. The Grímsvötn dust is heavy and sticks closer to the ground.
Still, an ashy nightfall has descended on Iceland from Skagaströnd and Húsavík. The ash is making akstur (“driving”) difficult and annoying outdoor diners by dumping grit in their hákarl (a fermented shark product that smells like “very strong cheese slathered in ammonia.”)
At last check, the smoke plume was headed toward Grænland (“Greenland”). You can follow its location, as well as get the latest Grímsvötn news, from the Veðurstofa Íslands (“Iceland Meteorological Office”). Skál! (“Cheers!”)