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New Worlds Day

"Surtr moves from the south
with the scathe of branches:
there shines from his sword
the sun of Gods of the Slain."

~ Völuspá (Prophecy of the Seeress), from the Poetic Edda, ca. 1220

The newest island in the world, the Icelandic island of Surtsey, located near the town of Heimaey on Vestmannaeyjar off the southern coast , was named after Surtr, a fire jötunn or giant from Norse mythology. This island began to form in November of 1963 and has been intensively studied by volcanologists during its initial eruption and subsequent formation of land mass which lasted through 1967. It has been the subject of intense interest by botanists and other biologists to observe the formation of life, which began almost immediately to colonize this originally barren landmass. In Icelandic mythology, Surtr is foretold as being a major figure during the events of Ragnarök (the end of the worlds of gods and men); carrying his bright sword, he will go to battle with the major god Freyr, and afterward the flames that he brings forth will engulf the Earth. This tartan is one of a set inspired by the landscape and mythology of Iceland. 🌋 🇮🇸

Iceland’s youngest island, Surtsey, began to emerge on November 14, 1963, and for the next three-and-a-half years, a series of eruptions produced a new island of basalt and ash about 20 miles from Icelands’s southern coast. Today, it’s one of the few places on Earth that has remained relatively pristine and untouched by humans and houses new life of all kinds, from plants to birds and even spiders.


Life came to Surtsey within a year of its birth. A 1964 New York Times article noted that plants, birds, and even a mosquito had already shown up. Spiders were blown to the island, while some other insects arrived by floating across the ocean’s surface. Birds were some of the first inhabitants of Surtsey, and a number of species have been spotted since, including some squacco herons typically only seen in Southern Europe.


The Icelandic Institute of Natural History reports that grasslands on Surtsey have expanded, including a new species of vascular plant, expanding the green areas of the island even further.


This expansion is fuelled in large part by sea birds, who have nest on Surtsey. Biologists studying the bird life there found that not only have nesting grounds expanded, accelerating the plant growth; newer and larger bird species are starting to take over. This is especially the case with the great black-backed gull, which have been experiencing a population boom on the island.


Designed by Carol A.L. Martin, according to the Scottish Register:


"This tartan celebrates the birth of Surtsey, currently the geologically youngest island on Earth. This tiny part of the Vestmannaeyjar Archipelago off the southern coast of Iceland was formed by a series of volcanic eruptions between November 1963 and June 1967. Surtsey was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. The colours used were inspired by the island of Surtsey."


According to the designer, the central red lines represent the lava which welled up from great depths to form this island in the mid-1960’s, black for the volcanic rock, brown for the soils that have formed on the island over the decades, white for the surf crashing against the shores and for the sea birds, green for the first mosses and plants that arrived and colonized, blue for the vast Atlantic Ocean and the central black line for the mid-Atlantic Ridge.


For more on Surtsey, click the island!