Group of tourists at Fimmvorðuháls (Eyjafjallajökull) © Dr Donovan
New research published in our journal Geo: Geography and Environment, reveals the dangers and lengths that thrill-seeking tourists are willing to go to in order to witness live volcanic eruptions.
Carried out by Dr Amy Donovan from the University of Cambridge, the four year research project on transboundary volcanoes uses Iceland as a case study to illustrate the difficulties that civil authorities face when managing tourists attracted by volcanoes and their eruptions.
Dr Donovan visited Iceland during the 2010 and 2014-15 volcanic crises. Her research reveals that some tourists actively seek out both the dynamic visuals and the impressive deep guttural sounds of live volcanic eruptions.
Eruptions like Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 can attract tourist attention and be viewed as adding value to a trip. Tourists from Iceland and further afield made treacherous journeys across steep ice slopes and crevasses on the Mýrdalsjökull glacier in order to access the eruption site. As a result, two tourists got lost on the glacier and died.
Situations like these add to local authorities’ frustration, Dr Donovan argues, as they already work hard to combat the risks. Even though Iceland relies heavily on tourism for income, increased budgets and labour are needed to monitor and protect the increasing number of visitors who are ill-equipped and, at times, even ignore safety protocols. During the Holuhraun eruption in 2014-15, a group of tourists hired a helicopter and landed near the eruption site after dark, purposefully disobeying safety advice in doing so.
Dr Donovan said: “Many active volcanic countries face the dilemma of wanting tourists, but also wanting to keep people safe, which creates a difficult conundrum. In Iceland, we are witnessing an increase in road accidents even out of season, with tourists ill-prepared for the challenging driving conditions. This research highlights the careful balance that needs to be found between the positive impacts of tourism and ensuring that visitors are responsible, not putting themselves, or others, at risk.”
You can read the full research in our fully open access, international, peer-reviewed journal Geo: Geography and Environment.
Dr Donovan’s research has been covered by:
BBC Radio Wales
BBC Breakfast TV
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