Iceland is — exciting! (2)

By Frederic Friedel

Iceland is an island, around 100,000 sq km (40,000 sq mi) in size, located in the North Atlantic Ocean. It sits on a volcanic hotspot on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and my geologist wife had it on her bucket list. She convinced me to join her on a fairly luxurious round trip, and we spent a week circling the island, clockwise, on the Ring Road N1. You can read part one of my report here.

The Ring Road connects all the inhabited parts of the island and passes the most interesting geological places. It involved long rides in the bus along sometimes adventurous highways, past a hundred volcanoes. Click on the pictures in this report to see them in larger size — and wait a second or two for them to resolve.

Our tour guide was Roswitha, a German lady who provided us with full information on the geology, language, culture and traditions on the road segments of the trip. She planned all the stops, with constant attention to the weather, which in Iceland is very capricious. A popular t-shirt reads: “Welcome to Iceland — if you don’t like the weather just wait five minutes…” Roswitha was constantly checking her smart phone and adjusting our itinerary accordingly. She did an excellent job, and many thanks for that.

Take for instance Jökulsárlón, a glacial lagoon that is dotted with chunks of ice — remember: click to enlarge all images.

You get on an amphibian car to visit the icebergs. It was touch and go for us: the temperature was 5°C, and there was a constant drizzle. But the wind was calm enough for us to embark on this incredible expedition.

Those are raindrops on my camera lens. It was freezing, and we were soaked. But I wouldn’t miss it for anything.
An iceberg up close. They are blue on cloudy days — when the sun shines the icebergs turn dazzling white.
Our guide was a young lady who like so many Icelanders spoke impeccable English. A man in a rubber dingy handed over some ice from the berg, and we all got to taste it. That is 1,500 year old ice!
The Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier [pronunciation, if you are interested: ‘preːiðaˌmɛr̥kʏrˌjœːkʏtl̥] …
… from the tip of which the Jökulsárlón [ˈjœːkʏlsˌaurˌloun̥] icebergs break off.
A picture of Ingrid, just minutes before the Akurey hit the iceberg.
Actually it was a museum ship and not really in danger from the Jökulsárlón icebergs.
At Jökulsárlón our bus got stuck in lava grit sand.
Our driver, Sylvia, kept her cool and called for help…
… which came very soon: a powerful track construction vehicle dragged us back on the road.

This is a stop you mustn’t miss. Petra María Ljósbjörg, was born in 1922 in a tiny traditional farmhouse. As a child she fell seriously ill, for a whole year, but pulled through and grew up to be a very tough, industrious and stubborn girl — with a passion for beautiful stones. Petra, who has now passed, was a collector and a naturalist — you can read all about her in the Steinapetra web site.

An extraordinary life—eighty years devoted to collecting minerals in one of the world’s most exciting geological locations.
This is what it looks like —a geologist’s paradise. There are many open air decks with displays like this…
… and well catalogued collections inside the house.
Another place to visit is the Bone and Stone Museum in Djúpivogur, run by Vilmundur Þorgrimsson.
Vilmundur is a retired geologist and ecologist, who engraves images on bones…
… of which he has a remarkable collection.
Layer over layer of basaltic lava with vertical magmatic dikes shot through — a geologist’s dream.
Here you see layers of once horizantal lava flows that have been tilted by movement of the tectonic plates.
Reynisdrangar are sea stacks in southern Iceland. Local legend says that trolls were dragging a three-masted ship to land when daylight broke. and they were turned to needles of rock. The geologist considered it an implausible explanation.
Sea stacks are geological columns of rock, formed by wave erosion. In the above one you can see the incomplete layers of the typical hexagonal columns which form when basaltic lava cools over an extended period of time.

This is the second of a three-part series on Iceland. The final section will feature waterfalls (Niagara, Schmiagara), geysers, lagoons and — puffins!

I would like to mention, again, that on our first evening in the capital Reykjavik we explored the location of the chess Match of the Century, between Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer, which happened almost exactly forty-five years ago. I am writing up reports commentating this great event. This is the first part, and this the second — more will follow in the series, each article appearing 45 years to the day after the events took place.