The spectacular explosions of volcanoes such as Vesuvius and Krakatoa may dominate the popular imagination, but the eruptions which occur periodically in Iceland (itself a large and ancient volcanic island) are characterized, in contrast, by their extended duration and the high volume and comparatively low energy levels of their emissions. In 1783 the slopes around Mount Laki in the southeast of Iceland started to crack open, caused by the pulling apart of tectonic plates. A fissure on the mountain’s southwestern flanks grew ever wider as it spewed out fountains of liquid basalt. In a matter of days a nearby river gorge was filled to the brim and a massive lava flow had spread out onto the coastal plain. Two months later the process repeated itself after a crack opened on the northeastern slopes. When activity filially stopped six months later, the fissures were 27 km (17 mi) long and had released 14.7 cu km (3.5 cu mi) of lava, covering an area of 600 sq km (230 sq mi).
While there were no reported human casualties, the eruption was still the worst disaster Iceland had ever suffered because of its impact on a predominantly agricultural economy. The loss of well over half the island’s livestock and the decimation of fish catches led to a terrible famine which killed a quarter of the population.
The Laki eruption was one of the first, natural disasters to have its global impact subjected to scientific scrutiny. Weather patterns throughout the world seem to have been affected: the winter of 1783-1784 in Europe and North America was the coldest in 250 years, water levels on the River Nile dropped to record lows and unseasonal frosts in Japan destroyed the rice harvest.
When did the Laki erruption happen: June 8 1783 to February 7 1784
Where did the Laki erruption happen: Laki, Iceland
What was Laki’s erruption death toll: 9,300 people died in the famine that followed.
You should know: Renowned statesman and scientist Benjamin Franklin was one of the people whose interest was caught by the phenomena surrounding the eruption.