Iceland Saga 2013: Between a Rock and a Hot Place

18 07 2013

Beth on the rocks

Beth on the rocks

Iceland is a geologist’s dream.  And a volcanologist’s.  And a glaciologist’s.  Matter of fact, just about anybody with an “ist” at the end of their profession would get excited about Iceland.  (Except maybe a poltergeist.  That would be weird.)

Iceland is young, a mere baby in geological time.  Formed 16 to 18 million years ago from a hotspot on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, it is rife with rifts and accompanying earthquakes, volcanoes, and geothermal activity.  mid ocean ridgeAdd to that that Iceland is topped with glaciers covering over 11% of its area, and you get some pretty amazing landforms and features.volcanoes

Think waterfalls.  In one fjord alone, (we’ll call it Sven’s Fjord) I turned around and counted more than 50 waterfalls.  There may have been more, but there were a couple of buildings in the way. 

Hey, look, a waterfall!

Hey, look, a waterfall!

All this water comes from glaciers melting, which, from the sheer volume of water, you would think would all be melted by now.  Apparently that’s just not happening, though.  On our trip around Iceland, we stopped at waterfall after waterfall.  We hiked up mountains to see waterfalls.  We walked across sheep pastures to see waterfalls.  All this activity was totally unnecessary, as we could have seen a lifetime of waterfalls from our car. 

another one

another one

This one had a name.  I think it started with an H.

This one had a name. I think it started with an H.

I don’t know exactly what draws people to waterfalls.  Maybe it is the power of the water or the contrast of water against rock.  Or maybe it is an attempt to see how close we can get to certain death.

Look ma, no guardrails.

Look ma, no guardrails.

Have I mentioned the Icelanders’ total unconcern with people’s safety?  In the U.S., there would be fences, viewing platforms, and signs everywhere letting people know that a waterfall is inherently harmful to your health.  Not so in Iceland.  They are a Survival of the Fittest type of people.  It was refreshing, in a hey-look-at-that-fool-over-there, would-you-back-up-just-a-little-more-for-a-picture kind of way.

yep

yep

I doubt anyone has ever counted all the waterfalls in Iceland.  But I do know that I have pictures of the vast majority of them.  And I really need to invest in a new thesaurus.  I’ve run out of synonyms for “gorgeous.”

It all begins here.

It all begins here.

beautiful

beautiful

amazing

amazing

stupendous

stupendous (note the tiny specks of people on the other side)

 

awe-inspiring (the waterfall, that is)

awe-inspiring (the waterfall, that is)

Then there are rocks.  My rock identification ranks right up there with my bird identification, that is to say, pretty abysmal.  I just take it for granite that rocks are gneiss.  Sorry, I just had to get that out of my system.  I feel much better now.

Actually, you can impress a lot of people by hefting a chuck of Icelandic rock, sniffing it, and saying, “Yep, that’s basalt.”  Because basalt, according to my good and wise friend Wikipedia, is “a common extrusive igneous rock formed from the rapid cooling of basaltic lava.”  Even I know that this means it is volcanic.  I even can point out columnar basalt like an expert because, duh, it forms columns. 

Them R columnar basalt.

M R columnar basalt.

more columnar basalt

more columnar basalt

A double whammy

A double whammy

Mr. Wiki goes on to say that “the crustal portions of oceanic tectonic plates are composed predominantly of basalt, produced from upwelling mantle below ocean ridges.”  Ding ding. That’s Iceland all over.

So here’s a few exciting pictures of rocks.

jigsaw puzzle rock

jigsaw puzzle rock

holy rock

holy rock

rock man

rock man

rock woman

rock woman

rock cairn

rock cairn

inside a rock

inside a rock

The game Rock, Paper, Scissors ought to include a hand motion for glaciers, because glaciers can put a hurting on some rocks.  Glaciers roll rocks, they round them, they gouge them, they crush them, they turn them into piles of gravel big enough to keep a road crew happy for decades.   Although glaciers are not very nice, they can be very pretty, except when they are covered with ash.  I guess that’s the way volcanoes get even with glaciers for messing with their progeny. 

beautiful glacial lagoon in front of beautiful glacier

beautiful glacial lagoon in front of beautiful glacier

dirty glacier

dirty glacier

Sitting on the crack of the world is not without its advantages.  Yes, there are hundreds of earthquakes each day and volcanic eruptions constantly threatening your vacation plans.  But think of all that free energy. 

free stuff

free stuff

Geothermal energy heats indoor plumbing and public pools all across Iceland.  The only energy crisis in Iceland is having too much all at once.  Enough energy to run televisions, video games, appliances, hair driers.  A teenager’s dream.  You just have to watch the voltage.

Brian on a rock

Brian on a rock

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