Wish You Were Here: Watching A Giant Elephant Rise Up from the Sea in Heimaey, Iceland

by Owen James Burke

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Photo via Shaefierce

The series of basalt cliffs lining the shores of Heimaey, the largest island in the Vestmannaeyjar Archipelago off Iceland’s south coast are a sight to see, no doubt. But this particular formation, which looks like an elephant rising up from the ocean, or maybe a mammoth with a taste for seawater, is something else. You might even swear it was shaped by human hands. It is in fact, however miraculously, the mere creation of molten rock cooled and crafted by North Atlantic swells.

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Photo: Wiki Commons

Heimaey is home to a nearly 400-year-old hunting and fishing community which in 1973 was almost all but incinerated during a six-month-long deluge of boiling basalt.

At two o’clock in the morning on January 23rd, 1973, the island awoke to the sound of sirens as the fire brigade drove through raising the alarm that a fissure had opened just a mere few hundred yards from the eastern edge of town, and as lava began to flood the village, it posed, in some respects, a greater threat by entering the harbor.

The islanders were safely evacuated, but the eruption continued and by March, the harbor and its fishing fleet–the island’s economic mainstay–was dangerously close to being filled in.

In a desperate bid to rescue their harbor, the fire brigade began pumping seawater into the harbor to prevent lava from choking out the channel and trapping the 60-70 fishing vessels inside. Miraculously, it worked much better than expected, and some local mariners even make the argument that the port is now better than ever.

By the time the eruption ended on July 3rd, several hundred houses had been buried and a new volcano 225 meters (738 feet) had appeared.

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Photo: Julia Martin/Flickr.

The “elephant”, or mammoth in question came to life in this same way, though no one is exactly sure when, and well, we like it better that way anyhow.

–OJB

 

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