Steaming soil

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Heavy grey clouds and rain met us this morning when we left Akureyri for the Krafla volcanic field. On our way around Eyarfjördur and through the Fnjóska and Ljósavatn valleys, the landscape is heavily shaped by glacial processes: large end moraines indicating the still-stand of the ice margin during the deglaciation, U-shaped valleys showing glacial erosion, and gravel deposits originating from the large rivers, which drained the former ice sheet. But these glacial landscape features go hand in hand with volcanic processes, which are present all over Iceland and show up as thick ash beds and/or vast lava fields.

Today’s topic was the spreading of continental plates, how the American and Eurasian plates move apart, and which types of geological features this rifting created and is still creating. One of the best places to see this is the Krafla volcanic field, a gorgeous place to spend a whole day. Dark lava fields, cracks and fissures, bubbling sulphur pools, orange-yellow ridges, and steaming soil still testify for the volcanic eruptions and earthquakes that took place here some 30 years ago. Much has been written about the famous Krafla fires, which occurred during the years 1980-1982 and which created these enormous black lava fields covering 35 km2.

The large rift, which separates America from Europe, is spectacular and really illustrative – a deep fissure, partly covered by collapsed lava and volcanic rocks, and partly completely open. It is possible to stand here having one foot in Europe and one foot in America!

Now the area seems relatively quiescent, but the hot steam, which emerges from cracks and fissures clearly shows that the next eruption may come any day. It is quite dangerous to go too close to these hot steams, where the smell of rotten eggs merges with sulphur precipitates and hot lava rocks. It is hard to imagine a more dynamic geological place than Iceland.

Today we also started shooting for the department film. To be more exact – Nerys was filming, and I was acting as her assistant, carrying the tripod and pointing out what I thought were really cool geological features.

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