Of these two memorable eruptions, that of Skaptar Jokull began on the 11th of June, 1783. It was preceded by a long series of earthquakes, which had become exceedingly violent immediately before the eruption. On the 8th, volcanic vapors were emitted from the summit of the mountain, and on the 11th immense torrents of lava began to be poured forth from numerous mouths. These torrents united to form a large stream, which, flowing down into the river Skapta, not only dried it up, but completely filled the vast gorge through which the river had held its course. This gorge, 200 feet in breadth, and from 400 to 600 feet in depth, the lava filled so entirely as to overflow to a considerable extent the fields on either side. On issuing from this ravine, the lava flowed into a deep lake which lay in the course of the river. Here it was arrested for a while; but it ultimately filled the bed of the lake altogether—either drying up its waters, or chasing them before it into the lower part of the river’s course. Still forced onward by the accumulation of molten lava from behind, the stream resumed its advance, till it reached some ancient volcanic rocks which were full of caverns. Into these it entered, and where it could not eat its way by melting the old rock, it forced a passage by shivering the solid mass and throwing its broken fragments into the air to a height of 150 feet.
A TORRENT OF LAVA
On the 18th of June there opened above the first mouth a second of large dimensions, whence poured another immense torrent of lava, which flowed with great rapidity over the solidified surface of the first stream, and ultimately combined with it to form a more formidable main current. When this fresh stream reached the fiery lake, which had filled the lower portion of the valley of the Skapta, a portion of it was forced up the channel of that river towards the foot of the hill whence it takes its rise. After pursuing its course for several days, the main body of this stream reached the edge of a great waterfall called Stapafoss, which plunged into a deep abyss. Displacing the water, the lava here leaped over the precipice, and formed a great cataract of fire. After this, it filled the channel of the river, though extending itself in breadth far beyond it, and followed it until it reached the sea.