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Skaftareldar Fires

The fires

The Skaftár-fires began on June 8, 1783 and lasted for 8 months. The eruption was in a 27 km long fissure at Laki. The fissure is a part of the Grímsvötn volcanic system . From 130 craters 14 km³ of lava erupted. 300 million m³ of tephra and 400-500 million tons of various gases. The lava amounted to 580 km² and it is the largest lava produced on the planet during the last 1000 years. The amount of lava has reached about 8700 m³ in the early part of the eruption. The lava laid twenty farms to waste and the tephra fall destroyed vegetation in the ‘Fire- Districts’.

To put the Skaftá-fires in perspective then Mount Kilauea on Hawaii Island has been been erupting more or less for the past 30 years. The lava coming up during these 30 years are estimated to be 4 km³, just under 1/4 of the Skaftá-fires' lava.

The Haze Famine

The worst consequence of the eruption in the Laki craters was the contamination of the air, which resulted in the disastrous “Haze Famine.” Seventy million tons of sulphuric acid aerosoles alone erupted, which is five time the annual volume from all industrial sides in Europe. It is known that acidic rain fell in rivers and lakes and ruined the catches. The haze spread through the higher atmosphere and resulted in annual cooling in the northern hemisphere (estimate -1.3°C). This cooling had serious effects in many areas e.g. in France and many believe that the beginning of the French Revolution resulted from it. The effects in Iceland were the worst. The domestic animals especially in the ‘Fire Districs’were killed by the noxious fumes and in the wake followed the earthquakes in Southern Iceland during the summer 1784. The arctic ice created serious difficulties with the livestock in the North. The “Haze Famine” killed 20 per cent of the population.

Erik Klemetti wrote a blog on WIRED on the effect Skarfá-fires had locally and globally. It describes very weel what took place during the Haze and is a goor reading: Local and Global Impacts of the 1783-84 Laki Eruption in Iceland.

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