Assembling Stories of the 2010 Volcanic Eruption in Iceland

Driving through ash-filled air, using GPS (source: Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson)
Driving through ash-filled air, using GPS (source: Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson)

Like many other people, I was affected by the eruption of Mt. Eyjafjallajökull six years ago.  I have begun a project which focuses on the mountain, a glacier-covered volcano in southern Iceland, and its dramatic eruption.  I am writing to invite you and others to contribute stories about this event to the project, which is titled Volcanologues.  

The eruption began on 20 March 2010. The interaction of magma with water during the second phase of the eruption, beginning on 14 April, created a plume of volcanic ash that covered large areas of northern Europe, blocking air traffic over most of Europe for six days. About twenty countries closed their airspace to commercial jet traffic. Approximately ten million people had their travel schedules interrupted without any warning, and had to scramble to adjust their plans.  

Holding volcanic ash (source: Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson)
Holding volcanic ash (source: Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson)

Eyjafjallajökull and the glacier which covers it have always had a significant presence for me. Not only did some of my ancestors live on a small farm right under the glacier, but also I could see the mountain from Heimaey, the island I was born and raised, as well as more recently from my summer home in southern Iceland.

In Reykjavik, I followed news on the levels of toxic gases which were emitted, and I measured the amount of ash that fell by my house. I also had to cancel a trip for a major conference in Poland. Most importantly, later on I was stranded in Norway due to one of the last clouds of volcanic ash. The trip home, which ordinarily would require  only three hours, lasted 26 hours–a strange experience, one that remained in my mind longer than I anticipated.

Caring for a sheep affected by the eruption (source: Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson)
Caring for a sheep affected by the eruption (source: Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson)

During the months following the eruption, I kept meeting many people who described similar experiences, often in far more dramatic terms than I had used in speaking to my family and friends. It occurred to me that it would be interesting to collect eruption stories. I hesitated, perhaps because I somehow felt guilty that a volcano in my backyard was causing all these troubles! Recently, however, such a project has appealed to me, partly because I have been organizing a research project, “Domesticating Volcanoes” at the Center for Advanced Study in Oslo and partly because I have been developing the notion of “geosociality,” along with anthropologist Heather Anne Swanson, focusing on the commingling of humans and the earth “itself.”

Horses facing the volcanic ash-cloud (source: Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson)
Horses facing the volcanic ash-cloud (source: Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson)

Hosted at the University of Iceland, the Volcanologues project will document the complex impacts of the eruption on people from different parts of the world. Anyone who has a story to tell is inviteded to share their experience. Collectively, these stories will illuminate personal dramas in the wake of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, providing an engaging window into unprecedented natural events and their aftermaths.

I ask those who are interested in contributing to submit a short essay, possibly along with a related image (a photo, a drawing, or a document), to volcanologues2010@gmail.com. The average text should be between 500 and 1000 words. It should include a title, name and email address of the author, and a statement of consent: “I hereby grant Gisli Palsson permission to publish my essay on his Volcanologues website and in a printed collection of essays.”

I would like to thank my friend Ragnar Th. Sigurdsson for the permission to use his striking photographs of the eruption. His work can be viewed at Arctic Images.

Walking through the freshly fallen ash (source: Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson)
Walking through the freshly fallen ash (source: Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson)
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