Since August 2014, lava has gushed from fissures just north of Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest glacier. As of January 6, 2015, the Holuhraun lava field had spread across more than 84 square kilometers (32 square miles), making it larger than the island of Manhattan. Holuhraun is Iceland’s largest basaltic lava flow since the Laki eruption in 1783–84, an event that killed 20 percent of the island’s population.
The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 captured this view of the lava field on January 3, 2015. The false-color images combine shortwave infrared, near infrared, and red light (OLI bands 6-5-4). The plume of steam and sulfur dioxide appears white. Newly-formed basaltic rock is black. Fresh lava is bright orange. A lava lake is visible on the western part of the lava field, and steam rises from the eastern margin where the lava meets the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river.
For comparison, the lower image shows the size of the lava field as observed by Landsat 8 on September 6, 2014. Beyond the growth of the lava field, notice that much of the flow was in lava rivers on the surface in September, while in January much of the lava was delivered to the eastern edge through a closed channel.
Scientists from the University of Iceland’s Institute of Earth Sciences have estimated the thickness of the lava field based on data from surveillance flights. On average, the eastern part was about 10 meters (33 feet) thick, the center was 12 meters, and the western part was 14 meters. Their preliminary analysis put the volume of lava at 1.1 cubic kilometers, enough for the eruption to be considered a flood basalt.