June 8 – Reykjavik
The arrival in Reykjavik brought a beautifully sunny day. We expected chilly temps, but found our cold weather clothes were not really needed (yet).
Two groups headed in different directions. The Geo and Education classes went to the Icelandic Meteorological center; while the Econ and futurism courses headed for the Hellisheidi Geothermal Plant.
At the meteorology center, we met up with Thorsteinn Thorsteinsson, a Glaciologist of significant renown. The center tracks not only the daily weather, adding to the climate data, but also volcanic activity. Iceland sites on the interface of two tectonic plates, with a third mini-plated squeezed between, so volcanoes, rock falls and the like are weaved into the fabric of the nation. Tops these off with glaciers and you get some pretty outstanding landscapes.
We met the husband and wife team (and I cannot remember their names – which is bad) He is the volcano guy, and she uses firsthand accounts of fishermen and other folk to piece together the historical record on climatic conditions over hundreds of years. He showed us their latest tool, a multimillion dollar radar system used to detect pre-volcanic activity. As the 2010 eruption an eruption of the unpronounceable volcano showed, modern systems are no match for nature’s fury when it comes to volcanoes. Predicting an eruption enables us to better respond to an incidents that may spews millions of tons of ash into that atmosphere or melt a portion of glaciers sending millions of gallons of water down a mountain side to the sea. The numbers resulting from past eruptions are staggering.
Thor then joined on our journey to a geothermal plant. From above, we saw plants the pulls the steam from the 3 km deep deposits, wraps it around the fresh water pipes, and then send the heated water to many parts of the country via insulated pipelines. This water heats homes with no burning of fossil fuel.
As a glaciologist, Thor also explained the interaction of the glaciers with volcanoes and how climate change now has a significant impact on the systems in Iceland.
After a picnic lunch, we reached Thingvellir National Park. Where the three tectonic plates interact at the surface. One stands on the North American and Eurasian plates as they slide along each other at nearly 2 cm a year. The mini place is wedged between the two, and along these edges Iceland’s mightiest volcanoes continue to breath. Thingveillir is also the home of the first parliament in Europe. Over 1000 years ago, the tribes of Iceland met at Thingvellier, in the shadow of the plate boundaries, to make laws and debate the decisions made for the people of Iceland by their chosen leaders. This site was chosen since it sat on the crossroads of the Icelandic regions. The annual sitting of parliament brought forth the traders and such from all over Europe. This continued until an earthquake rocked the area, after which the event was moved to Reykjavik, which then became Iceland’s capital. Other myths and real-life (and death) stories abound regarding the area, include the site where many men and women were execute for breaking the nation’s laws. A rough time.
A little side note here. Iceland has the larger dandelions we’re ever seen. In this natural setting, they serve as food for the geese and add a touch a green in a rather stark landscape.
After returning to the MV Explorer, Thor held of session on his work with glaciers. And of course, he earned his red towel.
As we heading north to Isafjordur, we encounter many sea bird, more volcanoes, but no whales. This night proved the first rough tine at sea. Something you forget we are traveling a hunk on metal in the North Sea, then nature reminds us.