Moss is a common plant in Iceland. It grows abundantly in the mountainous region and is a special characteristic of Iceland’s lava fields. One of the most spectacular moss blanket is located on the southern coast of Iceland, over the Eldraun Lava Field.
The Eldraun Lava Field was created in one of the most devastating eruptions in recorded history. Over a course of eight months, between 1783 and 1784, the Laki fissure and the adjoining Grímsvötn volcano poured out an estimated 14 cubic kilometers of basalt lava and clouds of poisonous gases that contaminated the soil, killing half of Iceland's cattle and horses, and more than three-quarter of sheep. That year, nothing grew on the fields and no more fish could be found in the sea. The resulting famine killed approximately a quarter of the island’s human population.
But Laki’s eruption had even more widespread effects. In the years following the eruption, the climate across the Northern Hemisphere deteriorated. In North America, the winter of 1784 became the longest and one of the coldest on record. A huge snowstorm hit the South, the Mississippi River froze at New Orleans and there were reports of ice floes in the Gulf of Mexico.
Haze from the eruption floated east as far away as India weakening monsoon circulations and leading to drought and crop failures. The famine that hit Egypt in 1784, as a result of the eruption, killed roughly one-sixth of its population.
The worst consequences were felt in Europe. The summer of 1783 was the hottest on record and a rare high-pressure zone over Iceland caused the winds to blow to the south-east. The poisonous cloud drifted across Europe, and its inhalation killed tens of thousands. In Great Britain alone, it caused some 23,000 deaths.
As the weather became hot, thunderstorms became more severe and large hailstones rained down from the sky causing injury and death to cattle. The following winter was extremely cold and caused 8,000 additional deaths in the UK. During the spring thaw, Germany and Central Europe reported severe flood damage. In France, a series of crop failures and the resulting poverty and famine eventually triggered the French Revolution of 1789-1799.
Today, the Eldraun Lava Field looks very peaceful and serene. The thick green moss has helped softened the rugged landscape, almost disguising Eldhraun’s violent past.