I was in Iceland last week. I’ve not been to a ‘new’ country this year until Iceland and I loved it. Iceland is ‘new’ in more ways than one. It is geologically new, created 16-18 million years ago due to being located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the Earth’s crust is being ripped apart. It is also new in the sense of a civilisation, having only been settled in 871AD, give or take a few years. So new, in fact, that we not only know the date Iceland was settled but also name of the Viking who ventured across the seas and first thought that this land was a viable place to live. His name was Ingólfur Arnarson.
Today, the land yields both fortune and misfortune for modern Icelanders. Six geothermal power stations provide all electricity, as well as hot water, to the 320,000 inhabitants and over 1 million tourists who visit each year. In fact, there is an excess, and hot water is used beneath pavements and car parks to melt the snow in winter preventing the need to clear it, and needless to say, the showers are ace; powerful and scorching. Most incredibly of all, the escaping energy beneath the ground is used to heat huge greenhouses meaning that tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and many more fruit and vegetables are grown in Iceland; look out for a tomato from Iceland in a supermarket near you soon! But where this land gives it also takes. It is alive; it moves, causing earthquakes, and lava and ash erupt from fissures. On average the continental shelves move apart 2cm each year. The eruptions create a black, barren, infertile land impossible to cultivate. Infrastructure is destroyed and mountains remodelled. The land is not just that of fire, it is also one of ice. Icecaps and glaciers cover the interior. The mix of both fire and ice creates unique hazards as the volcanic eruptions rapidly melt huge volumes of ice causing devastating floods know as jökulhlaups.
Those who travel to this land are constantly left in awe of the power of nature, the fragility of our own existence but also in admiration of how Icelanders have harnessed it’s natural power. Whether it is relaxing in the blue lagoon, marvelling at the Northern lights, snorkelling the clear waters along the Mid-Atlantic ridge or stood beneath one of many spectacular waterfalls, Iceland never lets you forget that the Earth is in charge.