60 Years Since Start of Surtsey Eruption

Surtsey island

Today marks exactly 60 years since the start of the eruption that formed Surtsey island, off Iceland’s south coast. The island, which has been closed to the public since its formation, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. The opening of a photographic exhibition to mark the anniversary has been delayed as Iceland awaits a potential eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula, where one town has been evacuated.

The Environment Agency had planned to open a photographic exhibition on Surtsey in the Westman Islands today, November 14, but a notice from the agency says the opening will be delayed. “In light of the serious situation that has emerged, we don’t consider it appropriate to celebrate this milestone at this moment,” the notice reads.

While the exhibit’s opening party has been delayed, the photo exhibition itself remains open to visitors. It features the work of Iceland Review’s principal photographer Golli, who received rare permission to accompany a scientific expedition to Surtsey this past summer. His article and photos from the expedition, Island in the Making, are available to subscribers on the Iceland Review website.

Steady Growth on Surtsey Island

Vegetation is growing at a relatively rapid rate on volcanic island Surtsey. A team of biologists from The Icelandic Institute of Natural History found one new plant species and two new bug species in a recent expedition. Expeditions head over there yearly to assess how life has developed on the island, which formed following an undersea volcanic eruption in 1963.

The new plant species is coltsfoot while the recently arrived bugs are lesteva longoelytrata and mitopus morio, an arachnid species often named harvestman. Mitopus morio is quite common all over in Iceland, but scientists believed it to be unlikely for the species to arrive all the way in Surtsey. These species are the first new species to be discovered since 2015.

Grass has slowly and steadily grown around the island, assisted by a sizable seagull population which fertilizes the soil with their droppings. There is now a sizable colony of birds in the area, around 200 pairs in total, most of which are seagulls. Scientists saw at least two exotic butterflies as well.

The team cleared out rubbish from the Surtsey beach, most of which came from fishing vessels. The cleaning has been performed yearly since 2016. For more information on the expedition, albeit in Icelandic, head to https://www.ni.is/frettir/2019/07/surtseyjarleidangur-liffraedinga-2019

Island untouched by humans
Surtsey is the southernmost point in Iceland, just south of the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago. The volcanic eruption started at a depth of 130 metres below sea level and reached the surface on November 14 1963. The eruption lasted until June 5, 1967. At that point, Surtsey’s surface area reached a maximum of 2.7 square kilometres, which eventually whittled down to the 1.3 square kilometres it is today. Surtsey is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as a nature reserve, humans are strictly forbidden on the island except for the yearly scientific expedition. The island has a small house, as well as a weather station and a permanent webcam.

Fifty-Five Year Anniversary of Surtsey Eruption

Today marks the 55th anniversary of the Surtsey eruption which formed Iceland’s newest island in 1963. RÚV reported first. Starting 130 metres (430 feet) below sea level, the eruption reached the surface on November 14, 1963, eventually forming Surtsey island off Iceland’s South Coast.

The eruption was noticed at 7.15am from the trawler Ísleifur II when it broke the surface of the ocean close to the Westman Islands. The eruption lasted for about three and a half years, until June 5, 1967, creating an island measuring 2.7km2 (1mi2). Surtsey has since diminished in size due to wave erosion and in 2012 was measured at 1.3km2 (0.5mi2). It remains the second-largest island in the Westman Islands archipelago after Heimaey.

Surtsey was declared a nature reserve in 1965. In 2008, UNESCO declared the island a World Heritage Site in recognition of its scientific value. Now only select scientists are permitted to land on the island for research purposes. The island is now home to some 70 plant species as well as numerous insects, and is a breeding site for over a dozen bird species as well as seals.