Monday, July 06, 2015

Last Stop - Greenland Ice Cap and the Russell Glacier

Our last stop on this amazing trip was to Greenland where we enjoyed a hike and lunch in front of a glacier. It was one of those typical jet set days - breakfast in Iceland, lunch in Greenland, and dinner in Boston, USA. But the views of the ice cap in Greenland were superb and the lunch menu included musk ox. Read on.

We approached Greenland from the east and soon were treated to fantastic views of the fjords and glaciers in this very remote landscape. It looks like thin sea ice with a few icebergs in the water.

Glacial flour seems to be coloring the water in this fjord. The mountains look very rugged.

It took us nearly an hour to fly over the huge and featureless ice cap. Then its western edge came into view with a few "inselbergs" poking out above the ice cap.

One of the benefits of private jet travel is that some airports allow us to go right from the jet to our ground transport. Here at the Kangerlusuuaq Airport, our polar busses were positioned right at the bottom of the gangway.

Then we were on our way on the longest road in Greenland - 40 kilometers long up towards the Russell Glacier. Here we are passing what used to be called the Watson River, a huge drainage off of the western part of the Greenland ice cap. The river now goes by its native name, Akuliarusiarsuup Kuua. Note the extensive width of the floodplain, covered with fluvial and eolian sand. This part of the island is considered arid, receiving only about 9 inches of rain per annum.

Higher up we came to a beautiful pro-glacial lake - if you look closely you can see two tongues of the Russell Glacier in the far distance.

Here from the same vantage using the 300 mm lens

As we got closer we began to observe many of the glacial features that can be seen in this part of the world - crevasses, seracs, moraines, and outwash plains.

You can witness how much the Russell Glacier has "deflated" recently, perhaps in just last 100 years. Presumably, the ice edge once extended to top of the terminal moraine located on the left. The glacier is said to be advancing however, at about 80 feet per year, although evidence on the ground shows that melting of the edge must be occurring a bit faster, causing the ice edge to recede.

I love looking at some of the oldest rocks in the world and we were not disappointed at Russell Glacier. Although these gneisses are a mere 3 billion years old, some 700 million years younger than Greenland's oldest rocks, they were still quite beautiful. And I was amazed and gratified at how many people on this trip noticed them beneath our feet.

On the hike, we got to view an impressive waterfall originating from the ice edge around the corner

A closer view

The headwaters of a sub-glacial stream, headed to the Watson River

What a huge and interesting landscape!

The bend in the river actually cuts into the glacier front and while we were here, we saw and heard a large calving of the glacier. It sounded like a gun going off.

It is a TCS jet trip so it is time for lunch while viewing the glacier! On the menu today is locally harvested musk ox (outstanding - tender and flavorful) and reindeer sausages. Along with wine or beer, a full bar, pasta salad, and chocolate brownies for desert.

It was a fantastic ending, our last lunch on the trip in front of an active glacier.

Leaving Kangeralusuuaq, we then had views of the west coast of Greenland. Note how the ice cap extends farther out to the coast here than at Kangeralusuuaq.

Greenland deserves a closer look

Some statistics from this trip:

We flew nearly 17,000 miles in our jet from Seattle, Washington to Boston, Massachsetts (the long way around)

We were in the air one day and 17 hours

We crossed 24 time zones in 21 days

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Iceland - Fire and Ice and Lots of Sunshine

After leaving a foggy Svalbard, we headed south towards Iceland. I've been there many times before and have enjoyed the liquid love (rain) more than I care to remember. So it was with great excitement that we entered Icelandic airspace with a view that lasted three days!


Annotated map of Iceland showing our route into the Keflavik Airport (red line). This is useful to show locations for the first three photos in this post (red circles with numbers).


Iceland's north coast looking east over a region known as Sauđarkrókur. You can easily see the three-pronged peninsula on this photo (center) and then map above.


Also looking east, we spotted a huge ice cap covering one of the sub-glacial volcano's. This one is called Longjökull and you will see images from a snowmobile trip there at the end of this post.


Looking west on the Vesturland Peninsula. The circular set of snowcapped and inset rings looks like an interesting volcano.


First stop in the capital city of Reykjavík was the history museum, also known as the outdoor museum where old residences have been moved from the city center and saved.


Historic re-enactors on the site reveal Icelandic hospitality


Hallsgrímskirkja (Hallsgríms Church) is a dynamic building located in the city center and must see in Reykjavík


The design for the church was commissioned in 1937 and the interesting architecture is meant to mimic the columnar basalt lava flows that pervade the landscape.


The view from the 244-foot church steeple is amazing. This is the view to the northwest and the old harbor.


The statue of explorer Leif Eriksson in front of the church was a gift from the United States in 1930 and commemorates the 1000th anniversary of Iceland's parliament first assembling at Þingvellir in 930 AD. (Note: I am using Icelandic letters and the "Þ" has the "th" sound, double l ("ll") sounds like "d" such that "Þingvellir" sounds like "Thing-va-dir". I have picture of Þingvellir coming up).


We arrived on the first nicest day of the year. Everyone was outside taking in the rare and warm sunshine. The city was lively and I was glad to have a rear-facing room in the Hotel Apotek. 


View to the south at Þingvellir, where two huge plates of the earth's crust are actively separating on top of the Atlantic mid-ocean ridge. This is the location of where Europe and North America were once attached some 180 million years ago, then rifted apart as Pangaea broke into the various continental fragments. Along most of its length, the mid-ocean ridge is some 10,000 feet below sea level but voluminous eruptions at this spot on the ridge have created an emergent piece of land - Iceland. The rifting still occurs and that is what forms the crack in this view. But lava wells upo into these cracks and continues to "heal" the rift.


Walking down the rift valley....


....and arriving on the valley floor.


Excellent example of pahoehoe lava flows near the rift. These ropey textures form as lava advances downslope and cools to form an arcuate ridge. Note that these flows are tilted steeply down towards the photographer - they are being rifted and falling down into the hole.


The rift wall. This represents the far eastern edge of the North American tectonic plate. The opposite edge is located along the San Andreas fault in California. One summer, I placed a rock I had taken from Þingvellir on top of the San Andreas fault in the California desert. This may be the first time that "east has met west" on the North American plate!


The impressive waterfall at Gullfoss. It is carving into an alternating mass of hardened lava flows and unconsolidated tephra (cinders), giving it a bench-like profile.


The river has found a "seam" taking a sharp left turn at the base of the lower falls


The gorge below


Next stop is the original geyser at Geysir. Our Expedition Leader Richard and I had a friendly discussion about the American pronunciation of this word and I had to agree with him that we are the ones who need to change and start calling these features, gay-zirs. The actual Geysir stopped erupting after the 2000 earthquake.


Fortunately, the Strokkur geysir was reactivated and erupts every 5 to 8 minutes!



The pool at rest....



....as the bubble of hot water expands....


....and erupts....


....and explodes. I had used the continuous shooting mode on my camera to capture this sequence.


A close-up of the next eruption as the expanding and boiling water "domes-up" the overlying water column.


Lift off!


A view from far away of the scene.


These were our vehicles for the day tour - souped up Ford 150 vans. They had 30 inch tires on them and the tour company uses these to do 4X4 tours in the back country in Iceland.


Next we drove on a dirt road to the Longjökull glacier.


For some snowmobiling on the snow and ice


I had never been snowmobiling before and it was like the time I parachuted out of an airplane - I said yes first before thinking it through.


It turned out to be great and exhilarating fun and I'd like to do it again with camping gear along. The scenery from on top of the ice was fantastic.


The following day I signed up to visit the Blue Lagoon. This is an interesting place and I invite you to read about it's origin here.


I snapped a few pictures before going into the pool


I must admit, I felt like I could go around the world again after sitting in these waters for an hour. It was therapeutic.


Our final activity in Iceland was a scenic helicopter flight over a geothermal area. On the way from Reykjavik we could easily discern the more recent lave flows from the older ones. All of the recent ones likely predate the human occupation of the island, typically ascribed to the year 874 AD. Here the toes of a flow are easily seen.


Note the two, parallel lave levees in this view. This represents some of the final stages in this flow when the lava was confined between two cooled and hardened levees. 


This feature is called the Crater


Geothermal wells with the pipes headed to Reykjavik. Iceland gets most of its power and hot water from natural geothermal energy.


We flew to an undisclosed area with many geothermal features. I thought it was just a helicopter ride but there were great surprises here for us.


We were able to walk around and see the many sights here


A boiling mud pot. The med was splattering up here.


A geothermal mound of sinter, silica rich material that precipitates from the hot springs


Note the many colored thermophiles growing around these hot springs


This one was almost as nice as the Grand Prismatic Pool at Yellowstone!


Boiling water


Colorful crusts of mineral. It was great stop!


Coming full circle, we see the main geothermal plant and in the distance Þingvellir Lake. This plant is located right on top of the rift zone and the wells go down about a mile to reach the water. Five major geothermal power plants exist in Iceland, which produce approximately 26.2% (2010) of the nation's energy. In addition, geothermal heating meets the heating and hot water requirements of approximately 87% of all buildings in Iceland. Apart from geothermal energy, 73.8% of the nation’s electricity is generated by hydropower and 0.1% from fossil fuels.


Looking northeast along the rift in Iceland. What a view!



Coming back into Reykjavik, we get a view of the city center with the church clearly visible. The domestic airport is in the back. This was a great geology and scenic stop. I have one more post from this trip and Greenland.