The Beautiful Geology of Iceland

Volcanoes, and glaciers, & geysers, oh my!

[Iceland from Space. Source: Wikipedia Commons]

Iceland is a world apart. Unique in being the only place on Earth where a mid-ocean ridge is present on land instead of under miles of ocean.

Ever since the Vikings colonized it around 870 AD, the geology of this harsh land has had an enormous impact on those who live there. Not the least of which was Icelandic Spar (a type of calcite), or “Sunstone,” which allowed the Vikings to navigate the seas when the Sun was hidden by cloud or mist without the aid of a compass — which didn’t reach Europe until the 12th century.

Modern Iceland is a hotspot for tourists from all over the world, and one of the biggest reasons they come is for the spectacular landscape and geology. The country has been in the news lately because of the ongoing eruption of the Fagradalsfjall volcano, which burst to life on March 19th, 2021 — the first time in 6,000 years.

It’s being described as the ‘perfect tourist volcano’ due to it’s non-explosive nature, and fairly subdued — yet spectacular — eruption. Modern technology is also capturing it in ways never before seen, particularly via the use of drones.

[Drone footage of Fagradalsfjall volcano. Credit, Bjorn Steinbekk]

The lava flows themselves are quite mesmerizing as they move slowly across the landscape.

[Drone footage of lava flows from the Fagradalsfjall volcano. Credit: Bjorn Steinbekk]

Though surely the most spectacular at the moment, Fagradalsfjall is not the only volcano in Iceland that has erupted in recent years, with three other significant eruptions since 2010.

Nor are volcanoes the only beautiful thing all that subterranean heat creates. Geysers similar to the well known ones in Yellowstone National Park, are abundant in Iceland, producing spectacular eruptions as the superheated water flashes to steam — carrying along the water above it out the opening in a boiling fountain.

[Strokkur Geyser, Iceland. Credit: The Slow Mo Guys]

All this heat is good for something else too: hot springs. While geysers would boil you if you if you tried to jump into one, there are plenty of spots where the heat is more mellow, and allows for relaxing pools of hot water to form. Perfect for splashing around in, or easing your sore muscles after a hike. Particularly famous is the Blue Lagoon.

[Iceland — Blue Lagoon. Credit: Viator Travel]

If a (delightful) tourist trap isn’t your thing, there’s plenty of other hidden gems around the island, like Reykjadalur hot springs.

[Trip to Reykjadalur hot springs. Credit: The Gone Gurl]

This country isn’t just a land of fire though, but of ice! There are countless glaciers to be seen.

[Svinafellsjokull glacier, in the Vatnajokull nature reserve, Iceland. Credit: Bjorn Steinbekk]

And (carefully) hiked over!

[Solheimajokull Glacier — Iceland. Credit: Guide to Iceland]

While you’re at it, if you’re feeling like an icy adventure and aren’t claustrophobic, there are spectacular ice caves to explore!

[Ice cave in Iceland. Credit: Guide to Iceland]

Or, walk a little in the steps of the characters from Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, by descending into an old lava tube of the Vatnshellir cave.

[Vatnshellir cave — Iceland. Credit: Hello Iceland]

There’s so much more to Iceland’s geology and scenery that just volcanoes, glaciers, & geysers however — There are also breathtaking waterfalls!

[Waterfalls in Iceland. Credit: Hailey Robledo]

Canyons that look like they floated out of Norse myths and legends

[Mulagljufur Canyon. Credit: Bjorn Steinbekk]

Eerily beautiful black sand beaches created by the erosion of basalt

[Black Sand Beach — Iceland. Credit: The Gone Gurl]

While we’re on the subject of beaches, we can’t forget the Diamond Beach, where the transparent remains of icebergs lay like giant diamonds against the black sands.

[Diamond Beach — Iceland. Credit: SD]

Traveling further across the island, you can also see truly unbelievable Highlands

[Highlands of Iceland. Credit: Sebastian M]

And exquisite systems of rivers and lakes

[Skafta River System — Iceland. Credit: Bjorn Steinbekk]

Then there’s the Mid-Oceanic Ridge itself, which bisects the country, and forms the boundary between the North American & Eurasian tectonic plates.

[Mid-Oceanic Ridge. Source: Wikipedia Commons]

Because there is a hotspot — a massive plume of magma rising from deep within the Earth — underneath Iceland, extra heat is present. Enough to create continental crust, and the island that we now call Iceland.

All this volcanic activity forms what are one of the most iconic features of Iceland — basalt columns. These magnificent formations don’t look natural at all, and myths of how they were formed abound in Iceland and elsewhere. Sadly, the real reasons aren’t mystical at all, and have to do with how basalt cools under certain conditions. But these imposing pillars look incredible nonetheless!

[Stuðlagil Canyon basalt columns. Credit: Mobile Instinct]

If you ever get a chance to see Iceland, take it! It’s a place full of unique and beautiful geology, that makes for stunning landscapes.

Science & space enthusiast with degrees in geology & psychology. Aspiring writer, & Christian humanist. Founder of @is_fusion (Personal: @is_OwenLewis)

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