Iceland 2008 – July 12th-16th
The following account gives an overview of the itinerary from our recent fieldtrip. We are now in the initial stages of planning Iceland 2009 – please keep your eye on the blog and speak to your Geography teacher for more information!
Bridge Between Two Continents
Iceland, lies on one of the world’s major plate boundaries, the Mid Atlantic Ridge. At this boundary, the earth’s plates are diverging and moving apart. Land to the west of the boundary is moving westwards and land to the east is moving eastwards. As the plates diverge, linear fractures, known as fissures form due to stresses created by the tension that builds up as the plates move away from each other. The Bridge between two continents at Hafnir is a bridge over a major fissure which provides clear evidence of the presence of a diverging plate margin.
Iceland produces 99.9% of its electricity from sustainable resources with its energy creation predominantly consisting of hydro and geothermal sources. In the area around the route of the Mid Atlantic Ridge, hot magma is closest to the surface providing a natural heat source for the creation of steam through the boiling of groundwater. Numerous geothermal power stations exist to harness the geothermal power. The Blue Lagoon, which is found in a lava field in Grindavik, is a a geothermal spa which is fed by the water output of a nearby power station known as the Sudurnes Regional Heating Company. The lagoon is rich in minerals and is at a temperature of between 36-39oC!
Krysuvik Mud Puddles
Krýsuvík is a high temperature geothermal area with a very distinctive smell of sulphur! The area is characterised by fumeroles (where sulphur gases escape) and bubbling mud pools. The area also has a distinctive colourful landscape, created by minerals which are dissolved out of the rock as the water which may be over 200oC at depth rises through it – as these minerals are re-deposited they produce the colourful landscape found here.
The Skalinn Centre
The Skálinn Centre where we stayed is a family run accommodation centre, benefiting from excellent, friendly hospitality and superb home cooking! It has amazing views including the stunning Eyjafjallajökull Icecap, and remember looking over to the Westmann Islands from the dining room?
Greenhouse cultivation enables Iceland to be almost self-sufficient in some agricultural products. These greenhouses are found in the high temperature geothermal areas, as the energy can be used to enable the growth of crops which are normally grown in Temperate and Mediterranean conditions rather than the sub-Arctic! Whilst the days are long in the summer months, in the winter, there may only be 4 to 5 hours of sunlight. In these dark months, geothemal energy is used to power high wattage lights in the greenhouses to provide light for growth. At this time when the temperatures are also low, the naturally heated water provides heat in the greenhouses. Unfortunately cheap imports from abroad has greatly reduced the number of greenhouses which are active. Here in Hveragerdi, many greenhouses are now empty, however the greenhouses we visited are part of the Heilsustofnun Clinic which grows crops organically in these greenhouses.
Kerid Crater, is the northernmost crater of a crater row called Tjarnarholar. It was created as the land moved over a localised hotspot (stationary mantle plume), and whilst it is part of a series of craters, it is the most distinctive existing caldera with very steep sided walls and a lake within it.
GEYSIR EXHIBITION CENTRE
The Geysir Centre provides a multimedia experience for understanding the natural landscapes of Iceland, including information on earthquakes, volcanoes, geothermal activity such as geysirs and fumeroles and other natural phenomena such as the Northern Lights.
Strokkur Geysir and surroundings
Our visit to the Geysir Centre wouldn’t have been complete without witnessing the actual eruption of these spectacular water fountains. Whilst we were unable to see the eruption of the Great Geysir which erupts twice a day, we did get to see the Strokkur Geysir erupt several times. This geysir erupts every 6 to 8 minutes and can reach heights of between 15-30metres.
This stunning waterfall provided a breathtaking end to the day! Gullfoss, which is also known as ‘The Golden Waterfall’ has become one of Iceland’s most visited tourist attractions located in the gorge of the Hivtá river, the source of which is underneath the Langjökull glacier. The waterfall itself falls over 32 metres in two stages – a spectacular sight!
Today’s visit provided us with an excellent opportunity to look at how people live with natural hazards as we visited Heimaey an island shook by a volcanic eruption on January 23rd 1973. Heimaey, is the largest of the Westmann (Vestmannaeyjar) Islands which is located approximately 4 miles off of the south coast of Iceland. The current population of Heimaey is over 4,000 and indeed it is the only inhabited island in the archipelago (island group).
We flew over to Heimaey in small 5 and 9 seater planes from Bakki airport on the mainland. Whilst the flight lasted only 7 minutes we were treated to spectacular views of the coastline of Iceland and the Westmann Islands.
Heimaey has a thriving fishing industry which provides the main employment for island’s population, the majority of which live in Vestmannaeyjar, the islands only settlement. The naturally sheltered harbour of Heimaey provides a base for the fishing boats and the flat area around the harbour houses numerous fish processing factories.
On our arrival in Heimaey we began our journey up to the 200 metre summit of the famous Eldfell volcano (also known as ‘Fire Mountain’) which erupted without warning in January 1973. The eruption itself led to the evacuation of almost the entire population who were taken across to mainland Iceland. The harbour, the island’s economic backbone (fishing being its main income source), was threatened by the lava flow and many houses were destroyed either directly through burial by the lava flows, or by fire started by lava bombs from the volcano. Those remaining on Heimaey managed to save the harbour by pumping sea water onto the advancing lava flow. This helped to cool the lava, encouraging it to solidify. Whilst the eruption of Eldfell could have meant complete disaster for the island , most islanders returned to the island and have been able to benefit from the effects of the volcanic activity. Heat from the lava flows has been used to create electricity and to generate hot water for homes, tourism has helped the economy as visitors (like us!) come to see the effects of the volcanic eruption and finally, the naturally sheltered harbour became even more favourable for the fishing industry, as the lava flow resulted in an extension of 2.2 square km of land which now protects the harbour from easterly gales!
As well as the sense of achievement of climbing to the top of Eldfell, we were able to enjoy spectacular views from the top of the volcano cone.
We completed our day on Heimaey with a boat trip around Heimaey which included views over other islands in the Westmann group, such as Surtesey, amazing rock formations along Heimaey’s coastline such as the distinctive ‘elephant’, and abundant wildlife, including puffins, and cormorants, and some of us were lucky enough to have several sightings of Minky whales.
Our day started with a visit to this beautiful waterfall, which is part of the river Seljalandsá. The waterfall is approx 40 metres in height as it flows down from high basalt cliffs. Waterproofs were definitely needed for this visit – particularly as we were able to walk on a footpath behind the waterfall, which was quite an experience!
Having, just been amazed by Seljalandsfoss we were awestruck by the power and beauty of Skógafoss – this 60 metre tall waterfall is in the river Skóga. We certainly weren’t prepared (despite warnings) for just how wet were going to get visiting this one! A few brave souls got totally drenched by the spray as they got closer to its base getting a real sense of the power of this awesome waterfall! As can be seen from the photos this is an excellent example of how a gorge is beginning to form, as the waterfall retreats and is eroding its way back into the basalt cliffs.
Having spent the morning being amazed by the power of water in forming awesome landscapes, it was time to visit an even greater force in the shaping of landscapes – ice! Solheimajókull is also known as the black glacier as it is covered in volcanic ash. The glacier itself is a long valley glacier which extends from the huge Mýradalsojókull icecap which we had excellent aerial view of from the plane on our inward and outward journeys (see the aerial pictures here and spot the long valley glacier of Solheimajókull descending from the main ice cap). Stunning scenery and we got to stand on the glacier itself!
On arrival at Dýrhólaey we were treated to some stunning views of the puffins which covered the cliff sides! Some of the best pictures of puffins handed in so far can be found here! Having travelled over a spit (had you realised that!) to get to Dýrhólaey we then had chance to explore the rock formations along this stretch of the coastline, including arches, stacks, stumps and wave cut platforms.
Our final visit on our tour was to Reynisdrangur. As well as the distinctive Reynisdrangur needles The basalt cliffs had stunning examples of columnar basalt (which also provided an excellent backdrop for our final group photos!). The beach at Reynisdrangur is made up of deposits of finely graded black basalt sands and gravels, and Ian challenged us to find the most spherical pebble we could – as can be seen from the photos – some took the job incredibly seriously!
We saw many puffins during our trip to Iceland, these distinctive birds have a brightly coloured beak which stands out against their black and white plumage. They feed by diving, mainly on fish, especially sandeels – as you can see from Mrs Mottram’s close up below (second row – photo 4). We found the birds to be quite comical in flight! Puffins tend to breed on coastal cliffs, nesting in rock cracks and crevasses. Iceland has the world’s largest colonies of puffins with a total population of 8 to 10 million birds! Although in some areas Puffins are harvested, having been an important food source throughout the centuries – this is not the case in all parts of Iceland and in areas where Puffins are not harvested they have become increasingly trusting of humans. In the Westmann archipelago, Puffins are hunted, however this is done in a sustainable way and indeed children of Heimaey launch what is known as “Puffin Patrol” in August when the newborn puffins leave their burrows and are misdirected by the street lights of Heimaey. The children carry out an annual search and rescue operation to help those that have lost their way! (http://iceland.vefur.is/Iceland_nature/wildlife/puffins.htm)