Sunday, September 25, 2016

Adventure in Iceland with Smithsonian Journeys - Part 1

Iceland rocks! Of course, this volcanic gem will satisfy anyone with even a slight interest in earth history or volcanic processes. But what I mean is that this little island country, located just south of the Arctic Circle ,is experiencing a tremendous increase in visitation in the last five years. The number of travelers has jumped from 475,000 in 2011 to over 1,750,000 this year! The infrastructure is groaning and creaking as it tries to keep pace. What draws people is the lush countryside, enough modern conveniences, friendly locals, and the off-the-charts scenery (if you've ever joined me on one of my trips you will know that "scenery" is just another word for geology)! Iceland rocks!

I was leading a group of 24 lucky souls from September 10 to 21 on a fairly comprehensive journey to the west, north and south sides of the island. I visited many new places, even though I have been to Iceland many times before. The Smithsonian offers really great itineraries at reasonable prices. This posting will have two parts.

I will also be reporting from the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America in Denver the week of September 25.

This slide comes from my first of four lectures and shows the relative size of Iceland compared to Arizona. It is a significant chunk of real estate.

This shows all of our destinations on this trip. The blue line is an internal flight from the northern city of Akureyri back to Reykjavik. The trip starts in Reykjavik, travels north to Borgarnes and the Snaefellnes Peninsula, then n forth to Akureyri, Lake Myvatn and Asbyrgi, fly back to Reykjavik and journey to Thingphellir, Geyser, Hella, and Vik, ending again in Reykjavik.

Near Borgarnes, we visited this interesting spring that issues from between two lava flows. The water is channeled through the pores at the top of an aa lava flow.

Get ready to see some spectacular fall foliage in this posting - we seemed to hit it just right.

The Gerđeburg cliff. I will not be able to remember every Icelandic place name but this cliff is one of the most striking basalt columns we saw (and we saw a lot of columnated basalt).

Person for scale.

My friend Howard Capito joined me on this trip. Howard and I have been on about eight or nine trips together since 2007. I also had three friends from Sedona join me, and a past traveler from the 1990's in the Southwest.

Arnarstapi cliffs on a gorgeous late summer day. This cliff is located on the western tip of the Snaefellnes Peninsula. The place name is pronounced SNY- feth-nays.

Wave washed basalt columns.

Iceland is a land of rainbows. This one lasted 45 minutes.

Entablature cooling features in basalt on the Arnarstapi cliffs. When basalt lava cools, the upper part of the lava flow may cool in the presence of water, causing the joints to form radiating patterns. The lower, unwatered portion of the flow forms straight sided columns known as the colonnade.

Beautiful Snaefellnes Peninsula.

This is as good a view as we got of the Snaefellsjökull strato-volcano. This is considered one of the most dangerous in Iceland since a pyroclastic flow from it might cause a tsunami to roll 30 miles across the bay toward Reykjavik.

More Snaefellnes Peninsula. This is an eroded volcano along the shore with the vent area protruding as columns. Note the tuff layers to the right from this volcano. Most of the flows and cones on the Peninsula are less that 3.3 million years old.

As advertised, we were treated to the # 1 Icelandic specialty, hákarl, fermented shark meat. Much was made of the "delicacy before we arrived at the shark museum. (Check out the link above for the full details).

Our local guide, Gugga, gave us instructions which included chasing the delicacy with the local shnapps, brennivin. One can understand the need for the brennivin after sampling the hákarl.

Of course, I tried it. Have to, right? When in Rome.... At first it was chewy,  not too bad. But then the fermented ammonia aroma sets in and overwhelms the senses. I like a lot of exotic food and will try anything. The only thing that came to mind after trying this was, "But why?" If you did not read the link above, just note that the Greenland shark has very small kidneys and so it processes urine through its muscle mass. The shark meat is fermented for 6 weeks and then dried for 6 months - all done to get the piss out of the meat!

Drying racks!

Iceland is 85-90% volcanic rocks, including minor amounts of silicic rock types. It sits atop the Mid-Atlantic Ridge but also overlies a hot plume or hot spot. Here is a view some of the layers of lava, which began to appear above sea level beginning some 16 to 17 Ma. Interbedded with these volcanic rocks are lacustrine (lake) and fluvial (river) sedimentary deposits, representing periods of time of volcanic quiescence. Within these sedimentary rocks petrified wood of maple, beech and birch are found, as well as some mammal species. This shows that pre-glacial Iceland contained a rich tapestry of forests.

On the way to Akureryi we stopped at Vioimyrarkirkja Church, built in the 19th Century. However, Iceland has a detailed human history that stretches back to the year 871 CE (Common Era), when Viking pioneers set out from Norway and/or Scotland to colonize the island. Irish monks were likely already here living a life of solitude and contemplation. The Book of Settlement was written in the 12th Century and generally describes the people and history of Iceland's early days. A church at this spot has been in existence since the 11th Century.

Detail of the corner of the church.

The sod roof serves to insulate the building and doesn't need wood, which there was very little after the first 200 years of settlement.

Iceland's second largest city (18,000) of Akureryi, is beautifully located along one of the northern fjords. You can see we had great weather which is not always the case here.

On the way to Lake Myvatn.

Godafoss (Golden Waterfall) is one of the more well-known Icelandic falls.

In the Lake Myvatn area is a sub-aerial exposure of the MId-Atlantic Ridge. Note how the volcano has been rifted apart with the North American plate on the left and the Eurasian plate on the right.

Dettifoss (Sacred Falls) is an amazinglystrong force of nature and is considered Europe's most powerful waterfall.

It has an interesting geological story that will be explained more fully below. But for the time being, not the inner canyon and the outer canyon here.

Another view of the two canyons along the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river, the second largest in Iceland. This river originates from the Vatnajökull glacier to the south of here.


Selfoss (Silver Falls) along the river upstream from Dettifoss.

On the walk over to Dettifoss from the parking area is the abandoned canyon. The plot thickens and will be explained in Part 2.

Volcano in the Lake Myvatn area.

The geothermal  area of Námafjall near Lake Myvatn. I just love the smell of geothermal energy!

And I love a good boiling mud pool as well. This area has all of your geothermal needs.

Pseudo craters are formed when a lava flow over-runs a wet landscape like a marsh or lake. This happened here about 3,500 years ago and formed an incredible field of these strange volcanoes.

Pseudo crater in Lake Myvatn.

Another interesting feature is the pinnacles at Dimmuborgir. These formed when steam rose up in fumaroles through a lava lake - solidifying the tubes ofd the fumaroles. Amazing place!


Walking to a pseudo crater on Lake Myvatn. This concludes Part 1.

1 comment:

Al Tomas said...

Looks like Iceland might be about the size of the Colorado Plateau?