Thursday, 22 January 2015

Iceland, land of volcanism and waterfalls

Iceland has long been on top of my list of places to visit, as its geology is unique and of great interest. The island lies on the divergent boundary between the Eurasian plate and the North American plate. It also lies above a hotspot, the Iceland plume, which is believed to have caused the formation of Iceland itself, the island first appearing over the ocean surface about 16 to 18 million years ago. The result is an island characterised by repeated volcanism and geothermal phenomena such as geysers.

Many of the delegates who attended Comminution '10 will not forget that in 2010, a volcano in Eyjafjallajökull in the south of Iceland erupted for the first time since 1821.  The eruptions on 14 April forced hundreds of people to abandon their homes and the resultant cloud of volcanic ash brought major disruption to air travel across Europe, leaving Amanda, Jon and European delegates stranded for a week in Cape Town.

Barbara and I have just returned from our first visit to Iceland, spending 2 nights in the capital, Reykjavík, and two nights close to the Hekla volcano in the south of the island. We explored the south of the island and the 'Golden Circle' in the south-west, returning to the airport via the very touristy Blue Lagoon, a man-made lagoon fed by the waste-water from a nearby geothermal energy power station, one of many such plants that provide Iceland with around 65% of its energy, contributing to the 99% of the island's primary energy from renewables.

As to the aurora borealis - well we did catch a tantalising glimpse in Reykjavik at one o'clock in the morning, a faint green smudge on the distant horizon, but nothing after that. The northern lights would, however, have been the icing on the cake of a fascinating visit to this unique island. Below are a few photos which might wet your appetite for a similar short visit such as ours, which was hosted by the excellent Voyages Jules Verne and our tireless and knowledgeable guide Holmfridur.

Iceland
Reykjavik

Iceland
Reykjavik
Iceland
The infamous Eyjafjallajokull volcano
Skogarfoss waterfall, fed from the melt-water of Eyjafjallajokull

Iceland
Reynisfjara beach with its stacks of basalt columns

Dyrholaey promontory
Vik, one of the most southern beaches
Seljalandsfoss waterfall, also fed by Eyjafjallajokull 
Faxi waterfall
Hot spring area at Geysir
Gullfoss waterfall
The rift valley between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates
The Blue Lagoon, with the geothermal power plant in the background
 

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