, Volume 39, Issue 4, pp 715-726

Far Reach of the Tenth Century Eldgjá Eruption, Iceland

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Abstract

At the end of Iceland's settlement period in the 10th century, a great basalt fissure eruption known as Eldgjá (Fire Chasm) occurred near the southern settlements and destroyed a portion of them. This lava outpouring was one of the two largest terrestrial fissure eruptions of the last 11 centuries. Historical documents from Iceland, western Europe, and the Middle East are used to trace the eruption's possible climatic and demographic consequences. The cloud of aerosols from the eruption, traversing northern Europe, dimmed and reddened the Sun. There followed a very cold winter, famine, and a widespread disease epidemic during the next year and, again, 5 to 7 years after the eruption, probably as a result of the long-lived stratospheric aerosol veil. Convergent lines of evidence point to 934 as the year of the eruption. Accordingly, it becomes possible to date within a year a prominent acid horizon in ice laid down in central Greenland and, tentatively, to interpret some critical events and dates in early Icelandic history.