Thirty-one year old Tom Warmolts decided to make Iceland his home over 10 years ago, in awe of the arctic volcanic island
“I remember as a kid, I used to draw volcanoes, and be fascinated with anything volcanic and the landscapes,” he said growing up in the Netherlands.
He now resides in the small town of Vik, next to the island’s largest and well-overdue volcano Katla.
“I had some knowledge, then coming here to Iceland and seeing the eruptions, getting close to the lava, hearing it, smelling it, feeling the heat, that’s when I connected all the dots and really started understanding how all of that works,” he said. “It’s been an addiction ever since.”
With endless waterfalls and black-sand beaches, Iceland just touches the Arctic Circle where glacier ice and cooled lava from over 200 volcanoes each cover approximately one-tenth of the country. It also has more natural hot springs than any other county.
Iceland is split between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates which move about two centimeters per year – the only place on Earth where this is visible above sea level and you can walk on two continents.
“Here in Iceland we are very connected to our geothermal and volcanic activity,” he said “It is not only part of our history, and culture, it’s part of our lifestyle.”
“We get the heat from the volcanoes to heat our houses. Thanks to it, we have electricity and we can cook and our hobbies. It’s part of our identity here.”
This fascination has led him his dream job, educating others up close and personal to 1100°C lava in the world’s only Lava Show in Vik and Reykjavik.
There he and the team melt volcanic sand and its basalt from the island’s black beaches to demonstrate to audiences the nature of lava, how intensely hot it is, and how it changes form during cooling.
Warmolts said volcanic activity should be part of the greater conversation around climate change and natural disaster management.
“If we have an explosive eruption and there’s a lot of ash particles suspended in the atmosphere, it can block out so much sunlight, that below temperatures drop. If these particles are suspended for a long time, so if we have a long eruption, it can have worldwide effects.
“It can have worldwide consequences for everybody, even if you live far away from a volcano, so it should have an important place in those discussions for sure. We haven’t had any recently like this. But in the past, we have had very big ones from here from Iceland.”
While there are daily glacier ice cave tours around it, the island’s largest Katla volcano is of particular interest around natural disaster impacts. With its oval caldera about 10 km wide, Katla is located under the 700 meter thick Mýrdalsjökull (Mýrdals Glacier).
Located 25 kilometers away from Vik where Tom lives, Katla is over 50 years overdue for an eruption. It has erupted roughly two times every century, and last erupted one month before the end of WWI in 1918. As it happened last, alongside the tons of volcanic lava that covers everything, it sheds mass floods from the melting glacier ice along with the plumes of ash mixed in reaction to the water.
The long-expected to erupt Katla volcano beside Vik, has created much generational unease to if and when it will erupt again. It’s inspired fictional narratives that the volcano bring supernatural cloning to life as in the Netflix series ‘Katla’ which is filmed and set in town of Vik, of which when asked locals have said the show is ‘weird’.
In the meantime, he says we cannot live in fear but to be prepared.
“The places where we live close to an active volcano, we expect a heads up, we expect a warning,” he said. “We respect the volcano and we kind of hope she respects us in return and gives us a little warning when something will happen.”
“So we don’t live in fear….knowing if something happens we will know about it in advance and will have enough time to go away, let the volcanos do their their and then come back after.”
With monitorization, the island uses an accessible SafeTravel app to notify residents of natural disaster management and alerts alongside daily road conditions.
“Here in Iceland, we are just at the beginning of seeing the potential of volcanic activity, the volcanic activity can both be fascinating, and beautiful and safe. It can also be a bit intimidating, sometimes a little bit threatening. And like other places in the world, it’s very important that we humans who choose to live here and come in this place, understand it and know its potential, its powers and what it can do also to the rest of the world, not only locally.”
Tom heard about unprecedented wildfires across the Canadian Arctic region.
“Informing yourself is very important,” he said. “ It’s always important to wonder why are things happening the way they are happening. If it has negative consequences, what can we do to prevent it in the future.”
“Preventing is something we can do together. It has to be a common effort. So when everybody understands and prevents together, maybe in future, it doesn’t have such negative impacts.”
“It matters to me, because it’s very complex, we all are connected to nature in one way or another.”
“Some of us are very connected to nature, some a little bit less. But that doesn’t mean that nature is not important to those people. We will all be touched and inspired and be motivated in some way, by nature.”
“And if I can talk to people and tell them a little bit more about these fascinating aspects of nature, and open their eyes a little bit more than that’s all I can dream and wish of.”
With work across Europe to China, Tom’s love and educational around nature for the arctic has led him to other opportunities as a Kayak guide for Hurtigruten Explorer in Norway, Antarctica, and Iceland where he’s decided to base himself. He documents his journeys including his volcanic eruption photography and videography on YouTube as ‘Tom Dreams Big’.
“For me nature has brought all the joy in my life – iit makes me understand how our planet works, how we work, maybe a little bit what the meaning of life is.”
“It’s everything. It defines everything, it gives everything, beauty. And I think it can do that for anybody, whether you’re living in nature in very close proximity to nature or not, it can have that impact on anyone young, older, living in a city or right in nature. Anyone can enjoy nature.”
Karli Zschogner is the Editorial Director of the AYN, supporting youth multimedia contributors across the Circumpolar Arctic by mentoring and facilitating monthly content for the platform as well as collaborations with other organizations. Based in the Canadian Western Arctic of Inuvik, Northwest Territories, she is a video journalist and graduate of a Bachelor in Journalism from the University of King’s College (Halifax) in Conflict Studies and Human Rights from the University of Ottawa. She has previously worked under CBC North and Journalists for Human Rights. In her free time, she freelances, loves to cycle, ski, and fly her drone.