In mid-2014, a volcano in Iceland started rumbling. On August 29th 2014, I shrieked aloud in excitement in front of a dozen uninterested elderly ladies because it had finally started erupting. Well, the volcano hadn’t. But its magma was oozing out of a fissure not too far away. It oozed and poured and fountained for almost exactly six months and produced the largest lava field since the Laki eruption of 1783.
I wanted to visit. This lava had had the good sense to pour over an uninhabited part of the Interior, inconveniencing no one but the scientists and journalists who struggled to get out to it in the winter weather. It took until the summer of 2016 to get there – my birthday, in fact. Seventeen months (and three days) after the eruption ended, it was still hot, still steaming, still exploding. To put it in context, the lava field at Landmannalaugar is still hot enough to boil glacial water five hundred years later so I knew Holuhraun wouldn’t be cold just yet.
Our guide led us over the new lava, demonstrated the heat by pouring a litre of water down a crack, warned us, whatever we did, not to fall over – because the young lava is so rough – and told us if we wished, we could take home a small piece as a souvenir. There’s enough there for every person on the planet to take a large souvenir and still leave a sizeable lava field, so a loose pebble is fine.
This is my piece:
It’s astonishingly heavy for its size. Obviously it’s hard to work out the volume of such an irregular shape but I guess it’s about 15cm3. It weighs 21g, so its density is about 1.4 g/cm3, which makes it nearly half as dense again as water.
It’s scratchy. I put it in my pocket and it scratched my hand every time I touched it. It’s ʻAʻā lava, which flows rapidly and tears itself apart, resulting in jagged, spiky, solid rock. Imagine this little piece scaled up to the size of Manhattan, which is roughly how big Holuhraun is, and imagine trying to walk across it. It can tear apart the toughest boots, let alone the feet.
I’m no volcanologist or scientist. I know my little piece of monster rock is primarily basalt and silicate glass but it’s “old mouldy” lava from the top of the magma chamber so it has lots of impurities, especially heavy metals like iron, magnesium and titanium. It’s not magnetic, I tried and even now, I look at it and marvel that this piece of rock was liquid just three years ago.
It is by far the best souvenir I’ve ever picked up. It’s like owning a tiny piece of another world. Do you have a fantastic but odd souvenir? Tell me all about it.