Iceland Volcano Eruption

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Naked Science: Iceland Volcano Eruption premieres Thursday April 29th at 8P et/pt.

By Sigtryggur Baldursson, Sound Recordist for Iceland Volcano Eruption

I am standing at the bottom of the myrdalsjökull glacier and looking up at the rising steam in the distance.

Huge clouds of steam shoot up into the air when molten lava pours onto existing fields of snow that melt and create steam that breaks through the lavaflow, creating steam explosions.

I´m here with Johann and Gunnar at the glacier on a mission to see the new volcanic eruption in Iceland, a fissure which is situated on a moutain ridge between two glaciers, myrdalsjökull and the much smaller Eyjafjallajökull on the southern coast, a place called fimmvörðuháls. (you can try and pronounce that at your own risk)

The crevace that has opened up five days ago and is spewing forth molten lava is small in comparison with other eruptions here, only a few hundred meters in length, yet has created a small sensation as it is relatively easy to get close to and study. It has also created a small fell og hill around itself and is starting to look like a crater with an outlet on the side for the lava river to escape through.

We are on our way up to the eruption to film it for the Nat. Geo channel, and hopefully get some earth shaking footage that will be visable in the near future.

Benni at the snowmobile adventure tours has been going up there for a few days since the weather cleared, it was impossible to get close to the area due to gale force snowstorms that could topple jeeps. Nunni and Hinrik from our crew went up there the night after the eruption started and nearly lost their lives as one of the jeeps they were riding in fell into a crevace as the visibility went down to zero meters and the gps was more than a couple of meters off. Seasoned mountain men said they had never seen anything like that storm.

The clock is approaching 2 pm which is our hour of departure, we are the only customers on the tour, apart from an english couple, but Benni says he is booked up for the evening so we can´t stay up there doubletime and come down with the tour that leaves at 7.

All the sleds booked up he says, sorry but no go.

We drive directly up the glacier to avoid the deadly bed of cravaces that can swallow you whole, and your sled, situated in the direct line to the volcano, then make a sharp left turn and go down towards the smoke in the distance, heading down off the glacier towards the area where the volcano is churning out it´s deadly brew.

The fumes rising from the river of lava streaming from the crater can be quite dangerous and people are warned not to go to near or get caught downwind as the fumes and steam can envelope you in seconds and cause damage to your resperatory system and eyes, some of the chemicals turning to acid as they dissolve in the moisture in your eyes.

We drive up and down hills and fells, coming ever closer to the fire in the distance and finally, before we see anything, we hear it, like an amplified surf sound with waves crashing on the rocks, but this time its the lava turning into rocks as it cascades in spurts into the air, and solidifies on the slopes of the crater that has formed, with a gushing, sizzling sound.

Finally, we climb a steep hill and there it is, we look over the mountain in formation.

It’s awesome.

Our sleds come to a screeching halt amongs a handful of people on the hill overlooking the crater, people from the mountain rescue crew that is patrolling the site.

We are all standing there staring dumbfounded when Johann the director breaks the trance and starts setting up the HD monster camera urging us on with our sound equipment and second cameras. I notice that the snow is black, I think to myself that it must be melting here and we are driving on sand, but no, it is ash that covers the snow. Now we are no more than a 100 meters away from the crater, and it is shooting spurts of molten lava high into the air and  ash is suddenly raining down on our helmets, it bounces off like hail and litters the area, the snow is black with ash.

We have a side view of the crater from here and watch with reckless abandon as new land is being made in front of our eyes. It truly is a strange thing to witness.

So back on the sleds and down further to the backside of the the eruption where we see the river of lava come sliding down the hill, into a gorge running down into Thorsmörk, a national park very popular with outdoorsfolk. The river glows bright orange in the black and white landscape and makes for another stunning moment in sightseeing.

We are being herded by Gunni the guide who wants us to come down and return the sleds for the next tour but Johann is getting exited about the oncoming twilight hour and can rightfully see that the weather is fantastic so the best is yet to come, he strikes a deal with Gunni (Gunni didnt know the sleds were all booked out on the 7 oclock tour) to stay on and the rest of us go back down Myrdalsjökull glacier with Gunni for the 45 minute ride or so, taking in the stunning twilight views over the ocean and surrounding areas as well as the eruption in the distance. Gunnar stops on the way to get some shots and by the time we come down, a sizable herd of tourists is ready for the next tour. Luck had it that a couple of bookings had not made it so Johann made it safely down with the 7 o´clock tour around 10:30 that evening, grinning like a cheschire cat and rightfully so.