Iceland is — exciting! (3)

By Frederic Friedel

Iceland, a 100,000 sq km (40,000 sq mi) island located in the North Atlantic Ocean, sits on a volcanic hotspot on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. My geologist wife convinced me to join her on a 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, and part two here.

Remember the sea stacks at the end of my previous article? In early June Atlantic Puffins had slowly started to return to them and the lava cliffs of South Iceland. This is what they look like:

The above picture is from Wiki, which also has a comprehensive article on puffins. They are pelagic seabirds that feed by diving in the water and catching fish. They breed in large colonies on coastal cliffs or offshore islands, nesting in crevices among rocks or in burrows in the soil. Puffins are arguably the cutest creatures alive.

When we were there only a few puffins had arrived, and I had to use a very long lens to capture them.
One of our group, Ingeborg, spotted some on the grass and got this lovely shot.
An Icelandic redwing (Turdus iliacus), a member of the thrush family, watching our activities.
The final day took us first to the magnificent Skógafoss waterfall, located in the south of Iceland at the cliffs of the former coastline [click to enlarge].
The white dots on the previous picture are seagulls and macho sheep who have scaled the cliff — with their young!

Above is Seljalandsfoss, one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland. It drops 60 m (197 ft), and you can walk behind it into a small cave…

… which low-IQ Friedel actually did, getting a good soaking which developed into a fairly severe cold when he returned from the trip. But it was worth it!

This is him, Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that blew up in April 2010, throwing volcanic ash several kilometres up in the atmosphere and closing air traffic over Europe for a week. That left wife Ingrid stranded in Ireland for five days, but more severely disrupted a World Chess Championship. There is a nice picture of the eruption of the volcano behind the Seljalandsfoss falls. Incidentally (if you are brave) it is pronounced ei-ya-fyat-LA-yer-kitle. It’s fun to listen to international journalists, at the time, trying to say it.

Goðafoss translates to “waterfall of the gods” and is the most spectacular waterfall in Iceland. This is what it looks like in winter.

Geysir, which in Icelandic is pronunced GAY-sir, is the most famous geyser in Europe. The word comes from the Old Norse geysa, which means to gush, and the English word for intermittent eruptions of water derives from it. Geysir lies in the Haukadalur valley and erupts up to 70 meters high (in 1845 it reached 170 m). Unfortunately the eruptions are now very infrequent and Geysir can remain dormant for protracted periods of time.

However, just 50 meters south of Geysir it is younger Strokkur, which erupts once every 6–10 minutes, to a height of 15–20 m — sometimes much higher, which is why you are not allowed to go too close.

The Haukadalur geysers are located in an active geothermal area, and erupt when ground water comes into contact with hot bedrock. Pressure slowly builds up — you can see the water rise ominously — before it gushes up as a geyser. Very impressive to watch.

This is “Baby Geysir” (my translation) which close to its big brother and just a meter in diameter. Litli Geysir is incredibly cute. It keeps bubbling, but never really succeeds in erupting. But hey, it’s trying, and one day: kaboom!

Gullfoss, another very popular waterfall in Iceland, pours around 150 cubic meters of water per second over the cliff, though that can rise to 2,000 m² at times of flooding. Click the above image to enlarge and to appreciate the majesty of the fall, when you compare it to the human ants visiting it.

Thingvellir (Icelandic: Þingvellir) is a place where the continental drift between the North American and Eurasian Plates is dramatically obvious. In the above image we are standing on the American side, in the background is the Eurasian plate. The recession of the plates from each other creates cracks or faults, and also constant earthquakes.

The place gets it name from Althing (Alþing), the national parliament of Iceland, which was founded at Thingvellir in 930. It is considered the founding of the nation of Iceland, the origin of the common cultural heritage and national identity.

Exploring one of the many rifts and cracks that traverse Thingvellir

The Blue Lagoon — a wonderful end to a wonderful trip

Bláa lónið or the Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa and one of the most visited attractions in Iceland.
It is a man-made lagoon, fed by the water output of the nearby geothermal power plant.
The Blue Lagoon is rich in silicate minerals, which gives the water its milky blue colour. They give you fine lava paste to smear on your face, where you keep it for ten minutes (otherwise it burns holes in your skin?)
Everyone does it, even these lovely ladies from China.

Back in Reykjavik we briefly visited Harpa, the concert hall and conference centre which has a colored glass facade that represents the basalt landscape of Iceland. Harpa is the location of a very popular yearly chess tournament. Factoid: did you know that Iceland has the highest density of chess grandmasters in the world: one in 25,000 Icelanders is a chess grandmaster.

The final trip from Reykjavik to Keflavik at five a.m., to catch the return flight back home.

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 currently 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.