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The Creation of Surtsey – A Volcanic Wonder

The island of Surtsey is located to the south of Iceland at 63.4N and 20.3W. It is about 33 kilometers from the main island of Iceland. It is one of the newest islands on the planet. Unlike Hawaii, which was formed by a volcanic hot spot, Surtsey was formed by a submarine volcano that was over 130 meters below sea level.

The eruptions of the submarine volcano started on November 8, 1963. It was visible above sea level on November 15, 1963. While Surtsey was forming, volcanic ash and smoke shot up to ten kilometers above the vent of the island. Volcanic ash clouds separate electrical charges just like vapor clouds, so there were many lightning storms in the area during the creation of Surtsey. The episodic eruptions ended on June 5, 1967. The volcano grew from the sea floor, at a depth of 130 meters to sea level by November 15, 1963. During the first few days, eruptions were not explosive and consisted of gentle flowing lava. As the volcano approached sea level, the water pressure decreased and activity became explosive.

It was not a huge surprise when Surtsey started to form because Iceland
had also been formed by volcanic eruptions. Surtsey is part of the Vestmannaeyjar submarine volcano system that also caused eruptions at Heimaey.

Surtsey was named for Surtur, a giant of fire in Icelandic mythology.

In addition to the vent associated with the eruption of Surtsey, there were satellite vents that were active early in the erruption: Surtla, Syrtlingur, and Jolnir. Syrtlingur and Jolnir formed islands that were eroded away. Surtla grew close to but never above sea level.

Surtsey is now about 1.5 kilometers in diameter and has an area of 2.8 square kilometers.

The creation of Surtsey is one of the many examples of volcanoes creating amazingly good things instead of creating a great deal of damage. We never know when another volcano may erupt, so Surtsey may not remain the newest island on earth for long.