An account is given of the island of Surtsey, which rose out of the sea near the Westman Islands off the south coast of Iceland as the result of a submarine volcanic eruption in November 1963. In the nearly twenty-six years since it emerged, the surface of Surtsey has undergone rapid–on the geological time-scale–transformation especially by the actions of wind and water. Indeed the changes have been far more rapid and considerable than had been expected.
Despite the harsh conditions for colonization by biota, a fair amount of vascular-plant-dominated vegetation now covers an estimated 1–2% of the surface of the island, aided particularly by winds and birds bringing in disseminules. These and other features are being studied so far as possible without disturbance. Despite a general shortage of water, as rain seeps rapidly into the surface lava, sand, or tuff, a total of 25 species of vascular plants (including one fern) have been identified as having attained ecesis on the island, but not all have persisted. Five species of birds have so far colonized Surtsey, and now nest there, in addition to which there are numerous migrants coming and going, and the overall conclusion is that, despite the generally difficult environmental conditions, ‘a flourishing growth of vegetation can be expected to develop’ eventually.
These studies and their implications could be useful indicators for the possibilities of rehabilitation of land areas that have been devastated by human conflict or other abuse.