Iceland’s Elements at Work
Iceland’s spectacular landscapes are unlike anything else, shaped by contrasting natural forces of fire and ice. But why is Iceland so fascinating from a geological perspective?
Be it black-sand beaches, dramatic fjords, volcanic craters, geysers, majestic waterfalls, vast glaciers – you name it, Iceland has it. Icelands’s dramatically diverse landscapes often lie just a short distance apart. What makes its wilderness even more fascinating is that it seems so untouched by humans. This gives the varied Icelandic terrain a mystical feel, like something out of a fairy-tale.
An Island is Born
The birth of this relatively young island, however, doesn’t lie in mythology but instead has its roots in a process as old as Earth itself – plate tectonics.
When the ancient supercontinent Pangea fractured into smaller continents, they began to drift apart on different tectonic plates, increasingly separated by the newly formed Atlantic Ocean which rushed in to fill its place. Iceland is located along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the site of not one but two tectonic plates; the Eurasian and North American plates, which are constantly pulling away from each other.
These forces created enormous amounts of molten rock that churned away deep beneath the ocean floor. When enough mass and pressure built up, a superplume occurred, spewing up so much molten rock that it rose from the bottom of the sea and broke through the surface of the water, emerging as the island we all know and love.
The Forces of Fire
Without a doubt, Iceland is one of the most active volcanic regions on Earth. The vast amount of natural geothermal heat generated provides more energy than the country ever needs. It also creates Iceland’s trademark natural hot springs and geothermal pools all over the country.
These springs and pools are often calm and soothing pools of water with the perfect temperature to soak in and de-stress. Others are dangerous and deadly, however, in the form of boiling fumaroles, bubbling mud pits, or spouting geysers. Visitors are wise to follow signposted guidance and only ever bathe in pools marked safe to do so.
Another mark left by magma on the landscape are lava fields. The biggest in Iceland, Eldhraun, is located in the south of the Icelandic Highlands, and is said to be the largest of its kind in the world. Eldhraun was created during one of the greatest eruptions in recorded history, called Skaftáreldar (The Skafá River Fires). It even lasted for an entire year from 1783 to 1784.
The Immensity of Ice
Iceland’s position at the edge of the Arctic Circle meant the island saw countless, gigantic glaciers criss-crossing its landscape over hundreds of thousands to millions of years. These vast ice caps carved out fjords and valleys as they slowly crept down mountainsides towards the shore. It’s not uncommon to see rivers cascading down from majestic glaciers, adding to the forces sculpting the terrain.
What makes the glaciers such a sight are their fantastic colours and interesting shapes. Shades vary from electric blue to deep grey. Glaciers give rise to two of Iceland’s most famous natural phenomena: ice caves and lacier lagoons.
Ice caves are a rare experience only accessible in the country’s winter months. The appear almost other-worldly and allow intrepid explorers to plumb the crystal, pristine beauty of a glacier from deep within.
Glacier lagoons are formed at the base of glaciers, where all the melted water gathers. One of the most famous of these lagoons is the Jökulsárlón, a vast lake in southeast Iceland brimming with enormous icebergs.
While it is certainly a land of contrasts, many of Iceland’s wonderous landscapes are not formed by either fire or ice, but by a combination of the two. This fusion includes the famous black sands in the Highlands, the popular geysers found in Haukadalur Valley, and even the minimal number of forests across the country.
Rest assured, no matter which part of Iceland you visit with us on an expedition cruise, you’re guaranteed to experience fantastic and diverse landscapes that will leave you truly awe-struck