The eruption that changed Iceland forever

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A volcanic eruption in Iceland is continuing to ground flights in the UK and Europe, but 227 years ago a far more devastating eruption occurred wiping out a fifth of the island's population - as well as tens of thousands across Europe.

On 8 June, 1783, the young country of Iceland - inhabited for less than 1,000 years - had a population of 50,000. In the coming years, as a result of what began that Sunday morning at 9am, 10,000 of those people would die.

The Laki eruption is the worst catastrophe in the country's relatively short history. Laki is a volcanic system in the same south-eastern part of Iceland where this week's eruption took place. But that's where the similarities end.

Back in 1783 it was ripped open with such force that a huge fissure produced scores of boiling craters. Over the next eight months the Lakagigar - literally "craters of Laki" - spewed 600 square kilometres of boiling lava into the surrounding countryside and belched more toxic gases than any eruption in the last 150 years. The effects were felt all over the northern hemisphere.

It is the second greatest eruption of the last 1,000 years, behind only the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia, says Stephen Self, visiting professor of volcanology at the Open University.

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