Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Adventure in Iceland with Smithsonian Journeys - Part 2


Our Smithsonian Journey's Adventure in Iceland continued with a visit to the small fishing village of Husvik.

Everything is centered on the harbor and boys here.

We saw adverts for whale watching throughout the country and that is what we did with great success in spotting three humpback whales.

The blow from one of the humpbacks.

Another nice day for being outside - we were only 30 miles from the Arctic Circle here.

After whale watching, we were taken to what seemed to be a nondescript place inland from the north coast. A few towering columns of basalt were seen poking up through the colorful fall foliage but I had no idea what to expect since this was my first time to what used to be Jökulsargljufur National Park, the area now incorporated into the larger Vatanjökull National Park.

The areas is known to locals as Hljodaklettar (Rock of Echoes). Something astounding was to be learned here.

Okay - no more suspense. The river seen here is the same one as seen in the previous posting at Dettifoss waterfall, the Jökulsa a Fjöllum (Dettifoss is only eight miles upstream from here but we approached this place form a much different area). What is shown here is a dissected and greatly eroded subglacial volcano that was torn asunder by not one, but three glacial outburst floods, known is Iceland (and now worldwide) as jökulhlaups (literally glacial pools). The sequence of events here: 1) the pillars of basalt used to be be the vents of volcanoes that erupted beneath a glacier; 2) after glacial retreat, other subglacial volcanoes were erupted beneath the Vatnajökull glacier to the south; 3) those eruptions produced subglacial lakes that catastrophically drained, sending three huge outburst floods downstream, ripping apart the cores of the volcanoes here, and leaving coarse debris around them. Wow!

Dissected vent areas (rocks) inundated with outburst flood deposits. The largest flood is estimated to have been about 32 million cfs (cubic feet per second). For reference, the largest river on Earth today, the Amazon, has a normal discharge of one million cfs.

Not the multi-oriented joints in this volcanic neck, ripped open by the floods.

This is the specific place, Rock of Echoes, with it's eroded columns coated in calcium mineral as water has leaked out of the joints.

Detail of the differential weathering in the columns here.


I was standing perhaps 50 feet above the river here and could easily see the polishing of the basalt that happened when the floods roared by here. Flood dates are about 9,000, 7,000, and 4,000 years ago (post-glacial here).

Close-up of the outburst flood deposits. Very impressive! Both with respect to the size of the clasts and the thickness of the deposit.

View upstream of the rocks and fall foliage.

Overview from the top of the canyon looking upstream to the source area of the jökulhlaups. The floods likely overtopped the flat-lying mesas and carved there shapes into them. The dry canyon seen in the previous posting at Dettifoss also formed during these three floods.


Our time in northern Iceland had great weather and wonderful scenery (geology). Time to head to the south side of the island.

After our flight back to Reykjavik, we toured to Thingvellir (literally assemble field since this was the location of the meeting of Europe's first parliament in 930 CE). I think people would come tho this place just for that but the geologic overlay adds to the fun of coming here. The crowded walk marks the rift between North America (right) and Eurasia (left) This has been going on here for 180 million years, easily pre-dating the parliament meetings.

It was raining pretty hard when we stopped at Gullfoss (Golden Falls) and I have more photos of it from a trip I did here in June, 2015. You can see those photos as well as more from Thingvellir and Geyser (not included in this posting due to poor lighting and thus horrible pictures). But after seeing Hljodaklettar earlier on this trip, I was able to spot something here that I had not noticed before in all of my previous visits (and not maintained on any interpretive signs here).


Same photo annotated to highlight another outburst flood deposit that occurred here o this river system.

Being autumn, it was time for the sheep drive and we saw some impressive herding on our way south.

There are more sheep in Iceland than people.

And traffic must stop where they are crossing the roads.

This is not my photo but one from an exhibit at a farm that was affected by the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull (pronounced EH-ya-fedth-YO-kuhl). It is best to just look at the link provided about to remind yourself about this eruption that disrupted air travel for six days in Europe. If you would like to learn more about the family run farm that has this exhibit, click here.


Map of southern Iceland showing volcanoes (red outlines) and rifts (black lines).

Skogafoss waterfall near Iceland's south coast.

The Sólheimajökull glacier is called Europe's incredibly shrinking glacier as it has retreated one full kilometer up the valley in only nine years. See below. 


 This and the following photo are not mine but they do show the incredible retreat of the Sólheimajökull glacier. This photo is from 2007. The next one is from the same location in 2015.


Sólheimajökull glacier in 2015. My photo of the glacier two photos above was taken from along the far wall next to the lagoon.


Moving on the Vik on the south coast, we went to this area of wave washed basalt columns.

More sculpted volcanic vents could be seen and this area is a place that normally receives a lot of visitation. All of the post cards show these sea stacks in bright, sunny weather. We saw them in a different mood.

Bassalt columns are sort of the national symbol of Iceland.

Our last waterfall on the trip appeared to me like a green version of Grand Canyon's Deer Creek Falls. It is called Seljalandfoss.


It is possible to walk around behind the falls although there is some spray. The landscape of Iceland is rebounding upwards from the removal of the weight of the glaciers in the last 12,000 years and this is why the country has so many waterfalls.

A five story building was under construction in 2008 but an earthquake opened up a rift within the building footprint. Four stories were eliminated from the construction and in the one story visitor center, they highlighted the rift rather than filling it in and hiding it. Glass covered the rift with red lights (barely visible) portraying lava. Bravo - embrace the rift!

Reykjavik's "Pearl" framed by autumn foliage. The dome is a landmark within the city and the glass building is supported by six geothermal tanks, each with a capacity of one million gallons. The dome houses a revolving restaurant, a small café, and an outdoor observation platform with panoramic views of the city and bay.


A slab from the Berlin wall frames Hofdi House., where Ronald Reagan and Mikail Gorbachov met in October, 1986. This meeting is said to have ended the Cold War, or at least ended the first phase of the Col War.


Inside Reykjavik's Opera House. This concludes my postings from a trip to Iceland. If you'd like to join me on this adventure next year I will be leading another Smithsonian Journeys trip in June, 2017. See the information here.

My next postings will be soon and I will be reporting from the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America held in Denver. Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

Dr. Jack Share said...

What a tremendous trip and posting! The photos are spectacular. Thank you, Wayne.