Fire and ice

by Ollie, 28-01-2015

Recently it has been snowing in Ireland and the local surf breaks have been on fire a couple of times. 
That reminded me of Iceland, truly a place of fire and ice.
Last october we visited Iceland and experienced the effects of geothermal activity hands-on and we hiked across a glacier which is covering one of Iceland's most violent volcanoes.

Iceland is a very geologically active island, due to it sitting right on top of the Mid Atlantic Ridge where the Eurasian and American plate are pulling away from each other. Most people will remember the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull (just take a moment and try to pronounce that out loud, go on then...) in 2010 which made a lot of people trying to get flights across Europe very unhappy. 
At this very moment in time the volcano Bardarbunga is erupting and has been doing so since august 2014. It is already the largest eruption in Iceland's recorded history, covering an area of 84 km2 with lava, and still ongoing.

We didn't see any lava, the van we rented wouldn't have been able to bring us to the eruption site and the roads going that way were closed for the winter season anyway.
But we did see a lot of solidified lava fields from previous eruptions.
The most spectacular proof of Icelandic geothermal activity we saw was the eruption of the geysers. The original Geysir isn't very active anymore these days, but its little brother Strokkur erupts about every 10 minutes or so, shooting a jet of boiling water up to 30 meters towards the sky.

Spread out across the island you will find steaming vents, boiling mud pools and natural hot springs. We went bathing in one of the hot springs in the Hveragerdi area. After a hike of an hour in the mountains the warm water was very pleasant to sit in, all the more so with the wind howling  and snow falling around us. I can tell you though, that getting out of that water and trying to get dressed was not so pleasant. It took a while for certain bits of my body to show themselves again after that.

Proof of fire abound so, but what about the ice?
Well, Europe's largest ice cap, Vatnajökull is in Iceland, covering nearly a fifth of the island's surface.
The somewhat more modest ice cap Myrdalsjökull is the one we hiked across. A very cool experience, no pun intended. We got to use ice picks and crampons to hike across the ice and explore the crevasses and an actual ice cave!
Hidden underneath the ice cap is the volcano Katla, which erupts very violently every century or so. An eruption from this volcano is overdue, a fact which our lovely guide only saw fit to share with us when we were right on top of it....

Fortunately it didn't rear its ugly head and we lived to tell the tale.

Ali sitting atop the evidence of former volcanic activity; lava that solidified into hexagonal basalt columns

More basalt. Svartifoss dropping into a basalt amphitheater at Skaftafell National Park. 

Icebergs at Jökulsárlón

Ali on top of things

Our lovely glacier guide Dana striking a pose in an ice cave

Hiking across the glacier

Meltwater from the glacier. On the horizon you can see the Myrdalsjökull ice cap. The peak on the right hand side is where the volcano Katla hides underneath. 
Steaming vents in the mountains

Boiling mud pools belching out steam in the snow covered mountains near Hveragerdi 
The water in this beautiful natural hot spring was very balmy, the air around us was absolutely baltic though

"Really, do I have to get out of this nice warm water?"
Strokkur, just as it is about to erupt

Blesi, another hot spring in the Geysir area

The still ongoing eruption at Bardarbunga. Unfortunately we didn't get to see it with our own eyes (no, we did not take this photo), it looks quite spectacular

"I love all this snow and geothermal activity!!"

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