We take a front-row seat to observe the raw power of Iceland’s latest volcano—and contemplate our place on Earth.
Fagradalsfjall is Iceland’s most recently active volcano and, on Aug. 3, it once again began discharging impressive quantities of lava via a newly opened rift. In a marriage of fortunate timing, I found myself on a three-day stopover in Reykjavik, just an hour’s drive away from the eruption site. Soon enough, I made the rugged 4-mile hike to see it.
Between the red-hot explosions, steaming bluish gas vents, and a river of lava, the scene was chaotic. Hundreds of people milled about with cameras, as drones buzzed all around. Amid all the excitement and energy, I couldn’t help but think about the human relationship with the natural world. What were some of these people thinking as they raced around documenting their visit? Feeling somewhat overwhelmed, I located a secluded spot to just sit for several hours and be present.
What struck me the most about witnessing the volcano was the immense and unrelenting power of it—a riveting reminder that the very ground under our feet is living, breathing, and changeable moment to moment. Downstream of the eruption, engineers are constructing structures to control the flow of lava. Small dams help to protect buried utility lines. Larger dams are being tested to stop or deviate potentially catastrophic flows from reaching nearby towns and cities. It makes sense to observe a singular event such as a volcanic eruption and feel a need to reduce the immediate threat to our infrastructure and well-being.
What is less obvious, yet equally sensible, is the immediate need to apply the same decision-making principles to other environmental threats, such as climate change. Humans can influence natural processes in innumerable ways—see the lava dams—and the threat of climate change (and thus the safeguarding of our natural resources) is relevant to far more people globally than an isolated volcano in southern Iceland.
Cover Photo:Fagradalsfjall first erupted in march 2021 and continues to wow spectators with the latest outpouring of lava, which started in August.