Klaustur & Skaftá
The Fire District

As we enter the town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, look at the cliffs above the town. Those are old sea cliffs.

Above the town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, most often just called Klaustur, are the Síða Highlands. They are Plio-Pleistocene strata that form the old sea cliffs above Klaustur, consisting of a 700 m thick volcanic succession called the Síða Group. 14 large volume subaqueous hyaloclastite lava flows, which lay onto a submarine shelf, dominate it.

On the Síða Highlands, during the past 10.000 years, the rivers have cut many gorges and gullies, while the Fjarðarárgljúfur gorge offers the most magnificent viewing destination. If you have time tomorrow, I encourage you to visit them.

Columnar jointed lava, 5-30 m thick grading laterally and vertically into pillow lava, or cube-jointed lava, 5-40 m thick, then overlain by kubbaberg breccia 10-120m thick. The lava at the base of these flows form pavement like Kirkjugólf, or church floor.  

Here in the district of Klaustur were two of the most intense and largest flood-lava eruptions on earth in the past millennium. They produced the Laki lava flow and the Eldgjá lava flow, together covering an area over 1100 km2. These happened during the early settlement, which made it extremely harsh on the newcomers. To give you an example of the magnitude of the Eldgjá eruption, imagine a fissure 35 m wide, and 540 km long, equal to the distance from Paris to Berlin, with lava spouting up to 1000 m high wall.

The Laki eruption from 1783-84 nearly exceeded its neighbor Eldgjá’s eruption, and became the second largest basaltic lava flow in historical times.

The so called Haze Famine killed 20% of the settlers population here in Iceland at the time. Millions of tonnes of sulfur dioxide were pumped into the westerly jet stream, which governs the atmospheric circulation above Iceland. This produced sulfuric plumes that were dispersed eastwards over the mainland and north into the Arctic. The infamous dry fog hung over the Northern Hemisphere for more than 5 months. Considerable damage was caused to vegetation and crops all over Europe, tree growth in Scandinavia and Alaska were stunted, and the following winter was one of the most severe on record in both Europe as well as in North America. Temperature records from these regions show the annual cooling following the Laki eruption was about -1.3°C, and lasted for two to three years.

Since I started going by bus to visit my relatives in Hornafjörður, I couldn’t help but becoming fascinated by the mighty, ever-changing river Skaftá, when coming to Klaustur for a short stop.

Skaftá river is 115 km long and mixed with glacial and spring water. The main sources of the glacial melt-water comes from Skaftárjökull outlet from Vatnajökull glacier, and the spring water comes from the Langisjór lake. During summer, the river is brown and muddy from melting glacier water, but in the winter it is most often crystal clear.

Jökulhlaup are common in Skaftá river, which floods generally every other year. Tremendous deposition is carried from the glacier which often makes it hard on the vegetation near the river.

I hope you enjoyed our trip today!