Observation Point Almost Enclosed by Lava

Vala Hafstað

The picture above shows the popular observation at the Fagradalsfjall eruption site, Southwest Iceland, expected to be surrounded by lava in the coming days. The hill was cleared last Sunday and sealed off by police to prevent hikers from getting trapped there (see our earlier report here). Geologists use the Hawaiian term kīpuka to describe an islet in the middle of a lava field. 

Þorvaldur Þórðarson, professor of volcanology at the University of Iceland, tells Morgunblaðið the lava flow that was about to close the hiking path up the hill has temporarily stopped. Lava flowed from underneath the crust, creating a slight depression in the surface of the lava.

He states that the eruption is beginning to take the shape of a shield volcano. “The pahoehoe lava in Meradalir valleys looks amazing,” he notes. “The formations taking shape as the lava flows are magnificent. I’ve never seen anything like it, neither here nor in Hawaii.”

Pahoehoe lava is the term used to describe lava with a smooth, undulating or ropy surface. Incidentally, the term pahoehoe comes from the Hawaiian language from the verb hoe, meaning ‘to paddle,’ since paddles make swirls in the water.

The edge of the lava in Meradalir valleys is a meter higher than it used to be. “The landscape doesn’t stop this lava, Þorvaldur stresses. It surpasses hindrances, and gradually keeps going. The pahoehoe lava smoothly flows over the rough lava field.”

The ample formation of pahoehoe lava in Meradalir valleys indicates that the conduits are better insulated than they used to be. The lava loses very little heat on its way.

The lava flow now reaches the easternmost part of the valleys, much farther than the rough lava extended. The height of the lava in Geldingadalir valleys is coming close to the height of the crater. “Clearly, there is molten lava underneath the whole [lava field],” Þorvaldur states.

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