Skaptar Jokull and Hecla, the Great Icelandic Volcanoes.
The far-northern island of Iceland, on the verge of the frozen Arctic realm, is one of the most volcanic countries in the world, whether we regard the number of volcanoes concentrated in so small a space, or the extraordinary violence of their eruptions. Of volcanic mountains there are no less than twenty which have been active during historical times. Skaptar in the north, and Hecla in the south, being much the best known. In all, twenty-three eruptions are on record.
Iceland’s volcanoes rival Mount Aetna in height and magnitude, their action has been more continuous and intense, and the range of volcanic products is far greater than in Sicily. The latter island, indeed, is not one-tenth of volcanic origin, while the whole of Iceland is due to the work of subterranean forces. It is entirely made up of volcanic rocks, and has seemingly been built up during the ages from the depths of the seas. It is reported, indeed, that a new island, the work of volcanic forces, appeared opposite Mount Hecla in 1563; but this statement is open to doubt.
The eruptions of the volcanoes in Iceland have been amongst the most terrible of those carefully recorded. The cold climate of the island and the height of the mountains produce vast quantities of snow and ice, which cover the volcanoes and fill up the cracks and valleys in their sides. When, therefore, an eruption commences, the intense heat of the boiling lava, and of the steam which rushes forth from the crater, makes the whole mountain hot, and vast masses of ice, great fields of snow, and deluges of water roll down the hill-sides into the plains. The lava pours from the top and from cracks in the side of the mountain, or is ejected hundreds of feet, to fall amongst the ice and snow; and the great masses of red-hot stone cast forth, accompanied by cinders and fine ashes, splash into the roaring torrent, which tears up rocks in its course and devastates the surrounding country for miles.
An eruption of Kotlugja, in 1860, was accompanied by dreadful floods. It began with a number of earthquakes, which shook the surrounding country. Then a dark columnar cloud of vapor was seen to rise by day from the mountain, and by night balls of fire (volcanic bombs) and red-hot cinders to the height of 24,000 feet (nearly five miles), which were seen at a distance of 180 miles. Deluges of water rushed from the heights, bearing along whole fields of ice and rocky fragments of every size, some vomited from the volcano, but in great part torn from the flanks of the mountain itself and carried to the sea, there to add considerably to the coastline after devastating the intervening country. The fountain of volcanic