The eruption, which created this and other islands around it during a period of a little more than three and a half years, is considered to be among the longest during historic times. The eruption was first noticed early in the morning of November 14 1963 some 18 km southwest of the Heimaey Island. It probably started a few days earlier on the ocean floor, some 130 metres below the surface. It was very effusive during the time, when seawater had access to the craters, and on The 15th of November, the island started developing. At the end of January 1964, the island was 174 metres high.
Next February another island, Surtur, the younger, started developing. This eruption ceased next April and the island disappeared shortly afterwards. Lava started flowing from the western crater of Surtsey on the 4th of April 1964. Its main flows ran towards south and east and the lava shield by the crater grew 100 metres thick. This lava effusion stopped on the 17th of May in 1965. At that time the island was 2,4 km² in area. At the end of May 1965, evidence of another submarine eruption east north east of Surtsey was seen on the surface. On the 28th, the island Syrtlingur started developing and the eruption stopped in October the same year. This island had disappeared on the 24th of October.
The island Jolnir developed 0,9 km southwest of Surtsey during Christmas 1965. This eruption lasted until the 10th of August 1966 and the island had disappeared at the end of October the same year. Lava started flowing again from the eastern craters of Surtsey on the 19th of August 1966. The flows ran towards southeast and east until the beginning of June 1967, when the Surtsey-eruption officially came to an end. During the period between December 1966 and January 1967, five of the eastern craters emitted mostly ash and very little lava.
The Surtsey-eruption had lasted a little more than three years and a half, when it stopped and the island had grown to 2,7 km² in area. The total volume of the eruption was estimated to be 1,1 cubic kilometres, thereof 60-70% ashes and 30-40% lava. The Westman Island archipelago consists mostly of islands created the same way. Erosion has demanded its toll of the Surtsey Island. In 2003 its size had been reduced to 1,4 km/sq and in about 150 years from then, it most probably will only be a rock in the ocean.
The island was immediately declared a nature reserve for the scientists to explore and up to this date, it is extremely difficult to get a permission to land there. It is, however, possible to sail around the island and watch it from the boat.
Surtsey is on the Saga trail for South Iceland.
Photo Credit: Howell Williams