Iceland 2010

Text and photos Eileen Lawley

Iceland sits astride the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and exhibits many structures and products of eruptions of basalt and rhyolite lavas. Lying near the Arctic Circle, Iceland also has several ice-caps including the third largest in the northern hemisphere, Vatnajökull, so there is also much evidence of glacial activity to be seen. A noticeable feature is the difference between the lava erupted before the end of the last Ice Age and post Ice-Age eruptions. The recent eruptions show very clear signs of volcanic features such as aa and pahoehoe lavas whereas many of the older lavas are covered in glacial deposits have have been weathered.

Columnar Basalt cut by Aldeyjar ravine
Columnar Basalt cut by Aldeyjar ravine
Bus crossing a river
Bus crossing a river
A braided river - just like the textbooks
A braided river - just like the textbooks
A helping hand at Landmannllaugar
A helping hand at Landmannllaugar
Ugly puddle - a fissure crater
Ugly puddle - a fissure crater
The church floor at Kirkugolf
The church floor at Kirkugolf
Yes - puffins really do exist
Yes - puffins really do exist
Svartifoss waterfall
Svartifoss waterfall

One of the things that left a deep impression was the ‘free’ heat provided by all those hot underground rocks. We saw the pipes carrying hot water leading from geothermal power stations and were told about the hot water piped to heat the houses. We even bought tomatoes grown in greenhouses heated by hot water.

 

We crossed the country from NE to SW by a road that crossed many braided rivers formed by run off from the glacier melt from the icecap Vatnajökull and which had only just opened in July after the spring thaw.

 

We crossed the country from NE to SW by a road that crossed many braided rivers formed by run off from the glacier melt from the icecap Vatnajökull and which had only just opened in July after the spring thaw.

 

In these rather austere and awesome surroundings we stayed in a guest house with rather smaller rooms and fewer showers than we had become accustomed to but to some of us this seemed more friendly to the environment than a large hotel with all mod cons. We viewed Ugly Puddle (Ljotipollur crater) which is a rather spectacular crater formed in a volcanic fissure through a lava.

Iceland is mostly formed from basalt from the sea-floor spreading forming the  Atlantic rift so there were kilometres of spectacular columnar basalts. Some were to be seen in cross-section in a pavement-like outcrop called Kirkugolf forming the floor of an outdoor church.

Columnar basalts were also to be seen on the beach at Halsanef’s Hellir in the south with puffins flapping like mechanical toys overhead. Nearby at Dyrholaey, a natural arch is formed in a submarine lava similar to that which formed Surtsey in 1963.

We spent two days exploring the ice cap Vatnajökull from a distance. Svinafellskökull displayed a very prominent glacier snout with lateral and terminal moraines and eskes with Iceland’s highest peak Hvannadalshnjúkur (2119m) towering above. We explored Skaftafell National Park and admired more basaltic columns forming the Svartifoss waterfall.

There seem to be hundreds of waterfalls in Iceland, lava flows providing ideal stepping stones for their formation. The ravines through which rivers such as Aldeyjar flow provide excellent opportunities for studying the lavas.

Not forgetting the opportunities for viewing wildlife many of us took a boat trip from Husavik to see some whales and were not disappointed with several sightings of a hump-backed whale as he/she regularly dived and re-surfaced. Those who could bear to look at something else could follow the fault that passes through the town of Husavik. Some tourist highlights that were also included were the waterfalls at Gullfoss and the Strokkur geyser which obligingly ‘performed’ regularly for us. After some time spent observing the cycle it was possible to predict when the geyser would erupt by the overflow of water from the bowl beneath cause by bubble of gas forming. There are hot mineral springs at the famous Blue Lagoon where some of the group spent the last day soothing tired muscles.

Strokker Geyser
Ready................................Staedy
Strokker Geyser
Go........................Strokker Geyser
Rhyolite domes from the air
Rhyolite domes from the air

On the last day some of us took a plane trip to Heimey from which we could see the new island Surtsey in the distance. We returned over the Landmannalaugar area to view the rhyolite domes and then flew over the Langjökull ice cap viewing many rivers and waterfalls from the air.

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