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.... 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.

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