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Iceland Expedition

March 2008

In mid March, 2008 I headed to Iceland to explore the natural wonders they have there including volcanoes, geysers, waterfalls and glaciers.

Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. The warm waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulfur and bathing in the Blue Lagoon is reputed to help some people suffering from skin diseases such as psoriasis. The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averages 40 °C (104 °F).

The lagoon is fed by the water output of a nearby geothermal power plant. Superheated water is vented from the ground near a lava flow and used to run turbines that generate electricity. After going through the turbines, the steam and hot water passes through a heat exchanger to provide heat for a municipal hot water heating system. Then the water is fed into the lagoon for recreational and medicinal users to bathe in.

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At the edge of the blue lagoon. This man made lagoon started off as the byproduct of a geothermal power plant. Now it has become a popular spa and tourist attraction.

The geothermal power plant nearby supplies the Blue Lagoon with its naturally heated water.

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The silica and algae rich water make for interesting hues of blue and green that make to whole place look surreal.

The view looking down at the Blue Lagoon and the power plant.

Eldfell Volcano - Heimaey Island

In 1973, the Eldfell volcano erupted. The eruption caused a major crisis for the island and led to its immediate evacuation. Volcanic ash fell over most of the island, destroying many houses, and a lava flow threatened to close off the harbour, the island's main income source via its fishing fleet. An operation was mounted to cool the advancing lava flow by pumping sea water onto it, which was successful in preventing the loss of the harbour.

Getting to the island was not easy, involved a nauseating 3 hour ferry ride from the Icelandic mainland in stormy, north Atlantic winter conditions. It was totally worth it to visit this incredible place that has such an interesting history.

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The southern tip of Heimaey Island is the windiest place in all of Europe, and this day was no exception. Winds were sustained at about 70km/h.

During the 1973 eruption of Eldfell volcano, much of the town was buried under meters of ash and lava flows destroyed homes. This is the last remnant of a house at the edge of the lava.

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The lava stopped at this house but it was too late to save it from destruction.

Eldfell volcano as seen from town on Heimaey Island. The Jan 23rd 1973 eruption lasted until July.

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This lighthouse, built on the old lava from the eruption, is the third one that has been built here. The rough seas of the north Atlantic have been eroding the rock and the previous lighthouses have all fallen into the sea.

Climbing up to the summit crater of Eldfell. The ground inside the crater is still warm.

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Eldfell volcano as seen from the harbour. Workers doused the advancing lava flows with millions of liters of seawater to try and halt the advancing flow that was threatening to destroy the harbour in this important fishing town. It worked, and the new rock around the harbour actually made it better for the fishing fleet.

Geysers

Strokkur and Geysir Geysers are the two most well known geysers in Iceland. Strokkur erupts very reliably every 5-10 minutes, hurling boiling water to heights of up to 20 meters (70ft) towards the sky. After a few seconds, the fountain subsides and the waters around it calms down. During these times, Strokkur appears as a sheet of clear water surrounded by steam.

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The Geyser known as Geysir... The namesake for all other Geysers. It erupts infrequently in recent years but is still filled with geothermally heated water.

Strokkur Geyser photographed at the instant the water begins to erupt. It forms a brief blue dome of water that lasts a fraction of a second.

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The dome collapses and the hot water and gas bubbles beginning to erupt out of the geyser.

With a thunderous gush, Strokkur shoots hot water straight up.

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I don't suggest getting this close to an erupting geyser, the scalding hot water erupts so quickly that it is difficult to predict exactly when an eruption will begin.

A distant view showing how high the geyser actually erupts.

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A sequence of photos showing the different stages of an eruption of Strokkur Geyser.

Hekla Volcano

Hekla is Iceland's most active volcano; over 20 eruptions have occurred in and around the volcano since 874. During the Middle Ages, Icelanders called the volcano the "Gateway to Hell." Eruptions in Hekla are extremely varied and difficult to predict. Some are very short (a week to ten days) whereas others can stretch into months and years (the 1947 eruption started March 29 and ended April 1948). But there is a general correlation: the longer Hekla goes dormant, the larger and more catastrophic its opening eruption will be

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A distant view of Hekla Volcano.

Iceberg Climbing

While in Iceland, I wanted to try my hand at ice climbing on an iceberg. This type of ice is notoriously difficult and dangerous to climb due to the poor quality of the ice and the unpredictable nature of icebergs. They can often be unstable and overturn without notice.

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While scouting out icebergs to climb, I found this perfect one in the glacial lagoon near Vatnajokull. It was in a perfect position and was about the right size.

Here I am paddling an inflatable kayak out into the lagoon to survey the iceberg up close. I had to be very careful with my sharp ice climbing equipment.

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Up onto the iceberg. It was difficult to get up onto it from the inflatable boat but the view was worth the effort.

I wanted to go to the other side of the iceberg and the only way to do that was to climb down and walk around on top of a series of floating ice packs which were only a few inches thick.

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At the iceberg summit, looking around the lagoon.

The difficult task of climbing back down came next. It is much trickier than climbing up.

Waterfalls

Because of all the mountains and glaciers found in Iceland, waterfalls are common and many of them are spectacular.

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Gullfoss is a waterfall located in the canyon of Hvítá river in southwest Iceland.

Gullfoss is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country.

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Seljalandsfoss is one of the most famous waterfalls of Iceland.

It is possible to go behind the waterfall.

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The waterfall Skógafoss is situated in the south of Iceland at the cliffs of the former coastline.

I just had to stop for some photo opportunities.

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Due to the amount of spray the waterfall consistently produces, a single or double rainbow is normally visible on sunny days.

Mid-Atlantic Rift

A geologically young land, Iceland is located on both the Iceland hotspot and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which runs right through it. This combined location means that geologically the island is extremely active.

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The actual rift between the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian plate. Iceland is the only place where this is visible above water.

A bridge that spans the gap, allowing you to "Walk from Europe to North America".

Offroad Superjeep Travel

Getting around in Iceland, especially in the winter can be a challenge that most rental cars are just not up to. So, what is a person to do? Get an Icelandic "Superjeep" These heavily modified vehicles are crucial to winter off road travel, they're even able to traverse the mighty glaciers.

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These trucks have a special, extra low "crawler gear" for going up steep inclines. A snorkel intake allows them to cross rivers without getting water in the engine.

The 44" tires have metal studs in them and the drivers adjust the air pressure to suit the terrain. At one point, we were down from 26 psi to a mere 3 psi. The low tire pressure spreads out the rubber and acts like snowshoes.

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I'd love to have one of these... Too bad they're not street legal in North America.

here we are parked at a remote weather monitoring station up in the mountains.

Thorrablót Cuisine

Þorramatur (Thorramatur, food of the þorri) is a traditional Icelandic food. Today þorramatur is chiefly consumed during the ancient Nordic month of þorri (Thorri), in January and February, particularly at the mid-winter feast of Þorrablót (Thorrablot) as a tribute to old culture.

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Icelandic Rotten Shark - Hákarl is prepared by gutting and beheading a Greenland shark and placing it in a shallow hole to rot for several months. It is then dug up and left out to dry and further putrefy for another few months. It smells like rotten urine and tastes like ammonia. This is that nastiest stuff I've ever eaten.

Mmmm... Sheep face. Served cold with a side order of liver pudding and a few cubes of rotten shark. This Icelandic "delicacy" still has its teeth and eyes intact and if the smell of the rotten shark doesn't get to you, then the appearance of the sheep after it is half eaten will...

Vatnajokull Glacier

With a size of 8,100 km², Vatnajökull is the largest glacier in Europe covering more than 8% of the country. Under the glacier, as under many of the glaciers of Iceland, there are several volcanoes. Vatnajökull has been shrinking for some years now, possibly because of climatic changes and recent volcanic activity.

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Looking out onto the ice of Vatnajökull. Only a tiny portion of it can be seen at any given time.

A small glacial lake close to one of the edges of the glacier.

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Long afternoon shadows on glacial deposits.

Huge rivers of ice, descending slowly into the water, which is still partly frozen from winter.

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Windswept mountains near the Vatnajökull glacier.

Rough seas and impressive spires of rock near the town of Vik, not far from the glacier.

A Meeting with the President

While filming in Iceland, I had the great pleasure of meeting with the Icelandic president, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. I interviewed him and we discussed Iceland's role in clean, geothermal energy, research into reducing carbon emissions and the use of hydrogen vehicles.

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Me with Icelandic president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson.

The presidential residence near Reykjavík.