Quirks & Quarks

Island on Fire

Alexandra Witze looks back at a devastating Icelandic volcano from two centuries ago that is almost forgotten today.
The eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano in 2010 shut down air travel across Europe, as corrosive ash spread through the air across the continent. But it might have been much worse, according to Alexandra Witze, an American science journalist and correspondent for Nature magazine.
It might have been as bad as Iceland's worst historic volcanic disaster - an event almost nobody has heard about. In her new book, Island on Fire: The Extraordinary Story of a Forgotten Volcano That Changed the World, she tells the story of the eruption.

In 1783, the eight-month-long eruption of Laki devastated the island nation, killing a quarter of its population. The noxious clouds of sulphurous gas produced by Laki spread across Europe, choking people as far south as Portugal, and causing climate change and crop failures as far away as Africa, leading to the deaths by starvation of millions.

While we think of volcanic disasters as single explosive events, Laki shows that the Earth has many other ways to make our lives interesting.

Related Links

Island on Fire by Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe
Interview with Ms. Witze