The Hindu reports that it’s the first eruption on the Reykjanes Peninsula, located just 15 to 20 miles southwest of the capital, Reykjavik, in more than 800 years. Keflavik International Airport is located on the peninsula, as are the Blue Lagoon hot springs.
A swarm of earthquakes, 27 of which have been registered at magnitude 4.0 or greater, have rattled the ground beneath the volcano in the past month, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
One, a magnitude 5.3, struck just a few miles away from greater Reykjavik on March 14, shaking the city of nearly 125,000, Iceland’s largest.
The eruption stems from a ruptured fissure about 2,000 feet in length. The minor eruption has become a tourist attraction, drawing large crowds of adventure-seekers willing to hike the 2.2 miles to the lava flows.
On Wednesday, March 24, Mathews decided to venture to a field near Grindavík, Iceland, adjacent to the volcano. He set up his cameras, hoping for a wide-angle shot of the volcano beneath a twinkling star-studded sky above. That’s when a rogue snow squall rolled in, courtesy of Iceland’s characteristically capricious climate.
“An unexpected snow squall appeared, blotting out the sky and even the eruption itself,” Mathews wrote in a photo gallery post on SpaceWeather.com. “Another heartbreaker — until the skies cleared just before midnight.”
It was a birthday treat for Mathews, who watched the clouds lift like a curtain, revealing the amber glow of Geldingadalur and a glowing sky above. The northern lights were shining overhead, casting pastel green hues on the fiery landscape.
Iceland sits conveniently beneath the auroral oval, a band at the Arctic latitudes over which the aurora borealis routinely shimmers. The northern lights stem from energetic eruptions on the surface of the sun, which spew charged particles into space. Earth’s magnetosphere (or magnetic field) converts that potentially harmful energy into visible light and distributes it around the poles.
Though Iceland frequently finds itself beneath the northern lights, the island nation is often socked in beneath cloud cover. According to data from the Icelandic Met Office, the month of March averages just over 100 hours of sunshine — or a little over three hours a day. In other words, it’s cloudy more than 70 percent of the time.
“It was a magical sight, and one I took especially to heart because it happened to be my birthday,” Mathews wrote.
The result? An otherworldly photo that is both serene and startling, capturing the mesmerizing juxtaposition between green pillars glowing harmlessly above and slightly less-docile sputtering lava below.
Intrepid Icelanders have made the most of the volcanic eruption, seizing the opportunity to hike to it in large numbers. Viral video circulating on social media even captured several daring individuals nonchalantly playing volleyball in front of a hellish orange backdrop.
Others have piloted drones over the luminous lava fields, which occupy almost 250 acres.
Tourism websites have recommended hiking to the volcano on days when winds are coming from the south — so as to push toxic gas billowing from the volcano and seeping out of fissures harmlessly to the north.
In April 2010, the ashy eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland disrupted transatlantic air travel for six days, with intermittent issues continuing into June.