oil on canvas, 51cm x 61cm, Iain White, 2013, £250
This farmstead sits beneath the edge of an inlier of old basic and intermediate extrusive rocks with intercalated sediments dating back to before the Quaternary ice age. This inlier is isolated and surrounded by younger lavas from both the volcanoes beneath the Vatnaj?kull ice cap (older than AD 870) and from the catastrophic Laki eruption of June 1783 when a 25 kilometre long fissure to the northwest poured out over seven months a poisonous gas and ash cloud and 600 square kilometres of lava. The Laki eruption affected most of the country, with failed harvests, poisoned vegetation and water, dead livestock and consequent starvation. The population was reduced by three quarters and there was talk of evacuating the survivors to Denmark.
The farm itself sits on this degraded lava field under what are eroded sea cliffs forming the edge of this older massif, now well inland as the extensive Skeiðaràrsandur has pushed the coastline 15 km or so to the south. Indeed, the cooling influence of Vatnaj?kull and the frequent j?kulhlaups or flash floods emanating from beneath the icecap mean that settlement is very sparse in this region. This emphasises once again the impact of natural hazards on farming in Iceland