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History of Iceland's Hekla Volcano and Chronological Eruptions

By Edited Jan 9, 2015 2 2
Hekla - July 1993
Credit: Gipsyqueen/Creative Commons license-Attribution/Share Alike

Hekla, July 2013

Back in spring 2010 rumors surfaced that the famed Icelandic volcano, Hekla, had erupted five days after Eyjafjallajokull had awakened and spewed tremendous amounts of ash causing a lot of chaos, disruption and havoc across Iceland and Europe.

Fortunately, Hekla did not erupt and Iceland did not have to experience the fallout from another major volcano simultaneously. The rumors at the time were quickly unfounded and it was determined the footage claimed to be Hekla was actually film of Eyjafjallajokull which continued to have seismic activity and rumblings after the major eruption on April 14, 2010.

While Hekla had not actually erupted in this time frame, it certainly has a history of frequent eruptions. Here is a bit more on the background of Hekla Volcano and its chronological history of eruptions:

Profile of Hekla Volcano  

Hekla is one of the most famous volcanoes in Iceland. It is categorized as a stratovolcano and is located in the southern section of the country. According the Nordic Adventure Travel (NAT), the volcano sits on a 25-mile long volcanic fissure1. The mountainous area of the volcano itself is approximately three miles long and stands approximately 5,000 feet high. Geologists estimate Hekla to be around six to seven thousand years old and anticipate the volcano to have a much longer life expectancy; geologists estimate it to be around 100,000 years.

People have been taking note of (and seemingly had a fear of!) Hekla for centuries as shown in this map.

Map of Iceland (1585) showing Hekla Volcano

Detail from map of Iceland 1585 including Hekla Volcano
Credit: Abraham Ortelius created in 1585 (Public Domain)

History of Eruptions

The first documented eruption of Hekla is dated back to 8742, however the biggest eruption occurred in 1104. This volcanic explosion caused major devastation in the region where people resided. Just short of 200 years later 1300 Hekla awoke once again. This eruption caused much darkness because the volcano continued to erupt for about a year and reportedly split the mountain apart. The region experienced a lot of death and famine during the devastating 1300 volcanic eruption.

The next round of eruptions occurred closer together in time. In 1510 another Hekla eruption took place and then again in 1693. In the latter, as reported by NAT, 14 craters were active at the same time and caused wide devastation. The 1766 eruption lasted two years with 18 active craters.

Less than 100 years later the eruption of 1845 lasted 7 months. Fast forward to the 20th centuy and it is reported in 1947 a volcanic eruption lasted 13 months, showing constant activity that took no reprieves before it finally settled down. The highest volcanic cloud was reported to have reached 20 miles (approximately 32 kilometers) high.

The  next round of eruptions of Hekla occurred even closer together. The activity during the latter half of the 20th century were listed as 1970, 1980, 1981 and 1991. However, these were all considered to be minor in compared to the ones of earlier decades and centuries. In 2000 Hekla awakened again with more of a fury and lasted approximately three weeks expelling heavy volume of lava.


According to legend, the volcano was named Hekla because it was thought it was "one of the two known legends of Hell"and no one would go near it. In 1750 two climbers decided to ascend to the top and see what they could find; no evidence of any entrance to Hell was found and since that time people have been less fearful about approaching the mountain.

Hekla is one of the most well-known volcanoes in the heavily volcanic region of Iceland. However, the country possesses many volcanoes, and centuries before Eyjafjallajokull, havoc had been caused by some others, such as Laki, which had a devastating eruption in the latter part of the 18th century, affecting a large portion of Europe.4

In spring 2014, Hekla was reported to have become "restless" with small earthquakes occurring, and volcanologists once again began keeping a closer eye on this very active volcano.

Will Hekla erupt soon? Hard to say, but based on its history, many experts agree an explosion could happen at any time.5

Fortunately, with the modern tools available, scientists can obtain a better idea of when and how it happens in order to provide better warning.


Hekla 1893
Credit: British Library HMNTS/Public Domain

Image extracted from page 99 of "Icelandic Pictures drawn with pen and pencil ... with a map and ... illustrations" 'APPROACHING HEKLA'', by HOWELL, Frederick W. W.. Original held and digitised by the British Library.

Related article: What is a "Dirty Thunderstorm"?



Feb 28, 2015 1:21pm
Cool stuff, as a volcanology enthusiast I give this article a big thumbs up.
Mar 1, 2015 5:39am
Thank you :)
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  1. NAT.IS/Nordic Adventure Travel " Hekla Volcano." NAT.IS. 18/10/2014 <Web >
  2. "Hekla." Iceland Travel. 18/10/2014 <Web >
  3. "Hekla volcano." Volcano Discovery. 18/10/2014 <Web >
  4. "Red alert: Iceland’s Hekla primed for destruction." Irish Times. 08/05/2014. 18/10/2014 <Web >
  5. "Iceland's Hekla Volcano Close to Erupting, Scientist Claims." Live Science. 18/03/2014. 18/10/2014 <Web >
  6. "Hekla Volcano Activity Being Monitored Closely, Though Rumors Of Second Iceland Eruption False." Huffington Post. 18/10/2014 <Web >

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