Iceland is a volcanic hot spot on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which is the dividing line between the Eurasian and North American continental plates. The country's three major volcanoes -- Hekla, Katla and Grimsvotn -- lie along this boundary. Altogether there are 35 active volcanoes on and around the island. Icelandic settlement reaches back to the late 9th century AD, with three documented instances of an eruption in the Eyjafjallajökull volcano preceding an eruption in Katla, but 22 documented eruptions in the much more active Katla in the same period. This connection has not been lost by geologists observing the disaster. Icelandic history is rich of tales of the might of the much-feared Katla volcano.
Eyjafjallajökull, which is currently filling the sky above northern Europe with ash, is a minor player in Icelandic terms -- though its last eruption lasted for more than a year, from December 1821 to January 1823. It began erupting soon after midnight on March 20th this year and the first eruption lasted for three weeks. It erupted for a second time on Wednesday April 14th and the lava is now coming out ten times faster than the last eruption. This eruption has many of the same characteristics as the eruptions in the 19th century.