66° Degrees: The Golden Circle Tour: Part II
Iceland is situated along the northern Mid-Atlantic Ridge—the longest mountain range in the world and the largest geological feature on the planet. The ridge, for the most part, is underwater but in Iceland you can actually see the ridge where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates run together here at Thingvellar National Park.
This was our first stop on our six-hour Golden Circle Tour, the most popular tour in Iceland. Notice in the picture below, the zigzagging chasm created where the tectonic plates shift apart from each other at the rate of 2.5 cm per year. (Incidentally, the evergreens are not native to Iceland. They have been planted and thrive in the volcanic soil.) The area between the two plates is referred to as No Man’s Land, the Rift Valley. It’s strange to walk along these cracks knowing we are the benefactors of this planet, an earth formed over thousands of millenia, forged by an Ice Age and built by continual geologic activity. What’s more, it’s not over yet. We’re somewhere in the midst of our planet’s evolution as we speak, sitting on top of an ever changing environment.
Iceland’s glaciers melt at a rate of 1 meter per year. Over the next 150-200 years it is predicted that the glaciers in the south will completely vanish. The ecological consequences are vast. For one thing, the glaciers keep pressure on the earth (all that ice and compact snow are heavy). Removing that pressure will mean magma chambers and volcanoes meet with less resistance, meaning more eruptions. It’s a sobering thought.
Here’s a close up of the deep cracks found throughout the lava rock. Journey to the center of the earth starts here.Beyond the ridge you can see the largest lake in Iceland, Thingvallavatn, (it looks like a Dr. Seuss word). The lake covers 20,500 acres and is 375 feet deep at its lowest point. Ninety percent of its water comes from glaciers running through underground channels. It takes over 20-30 years time for the glacier run off to actually reach the lake. This is something humans can’t replicate. Once the glaciers are gone this lake will be gone too.Passing No Man’s Land, the tour took us next to one of the most fantastic sites I’ve ever seen, The Gullfoss. There’s no way to describe the majestic power of this double tiered waterfall. Listed as one of the 10 Greatest Waterfalls in the World, it has the largest volume flow of any waterfall in Europe, churning out 109 cubic meters per second, (that’s enough to fill 60 transport containers in one second.)
The channel and river below were carved out at the end of the Ice Age.After an hour at the waterfall and lunch at the souvenir tourist shop–a bowl of delicious lamb stew–we boarded the bus and headed to Geothermal Valley–the geyser fields. From a distance we could see steam rising from the ground. Closer, it looked like this…These hot springs are 10,000 years old! The largest of the geysers is Stokkur. It erupts every 4-8 minutes, sometimes up to 40 meters high. Tourists gather ’round with cameras poised, waiting to get their shot, some impatient watchers pleading, “Come on geyser, my arms are getting tired.” (Those weren’t the locals.) We got our shot too, thanks to the quicker iOs7 reaction time. Here’s one of the neon blue hot springs. This next photo reminds me of Man vs. Wild where Bear Grylls, in Iceland, cooks crabs inside his sock tied to the end of a stick he holds in one of these hot springs. (I just kept wondering what he was going to do afterward with that wet sock.)Visiting these sites in the course of an afternoon, left me with the distinct impression Mother Nature is not a force to be reckoned with. She’s ever-present in the lives of the Icelanders, lending her precious resources while carving out their landscape year by year.
For the rest of us, we might not be sitting on the edge of tectonic plates, but we are sitting on the edge of glory (sadly no, that was Lady Gaga who said that). We are actually on the edge of civilization, our future tomorrow, the brink. Let’s hope world leaders can stop squabbling over healthcare, economics, religion, nuclear arms, and all the rest, so we can get down to the really important stuff like protecting our planet.
Next up: The Blue Lagoon