Surtsey: The Newest Place on Earth

Surtsey: The Newest Place on Earth by Kathryn Lasky with photographs by Christopher G. Knight is a juvenile book published in 1992. It tells the story about the island that suddenly appeared off the southern coast of Iceland in November 1963 as a result of an underwater volcanic eruption. It wasn’t just one eruption that created Surtsey, but a series of eruptions that lasted until June of 1967. I saw Surtsey during a tour of Vestmannaeyjar on my recent trip to Iceland, however tourists are not allowed to land on the island because it is a protected nature reserve. Lasky and Knight, however, were given this rare privilege and the accompanying photos were stunning. A juvenile book this may be, but it is a beautiful page-turner for any age.

I am glad my library did not weed this book, for although it was published in 1992, its information is still relevant for stories on volcanic history. Lasky created some awesome verbal images of the island’s appearance:

“The surface of Surtsey is often likened to a cake iced with black frosting, smooth with silky ropes in some places, studded with huge dark chocolate chips in others. And there are even some fields on Surtsey that look as if they are strewn with giant chunks of licorice.”


“From an airplane it looked as if Surtsey wore a necklace of diamonds.”

She also described its erosion, which is changing the island from a black volcanic massive pyramid to a crumbling house of cards:

“Wind, waves, and water scraped away at the cliffs relentlessly, until the high sheer lava walls dropped like black curtains into the sea 55 feet below. In July 1964, when the lava resumed its flow, it went rushing over the new sea cliffs, plummeting like a fall of molten gold into the water below.”

Each chapter of Surtsey was preceded by short quotations adapted from The Prose Edda, and each quotation was relevant to the chapter, such as:

“The earth will shoot up out of the sea and will then be green and fair. Crops will grow unsown.”

This preceded the chapter on the colonization of the new island by plant and bird species. Surtsey gave scientists a unique opportunity to see how life finds its way to a new land, and Lasky details how seeds, for example, found their way there.

Here is a photo of Surtsey which I took during the boat tour:

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