Friday, 1 April 2011

Iceland Day 2!

Today was a real Icelandic experience! We have had the full range in weather, from sunny and warm, to sleet and driving rain! It would be fair to say all our waterproofs were fully tested today, and not all of them made it through! (unfortunately my own trousers fall into that category)

We started the day with a trip to a fantastic waterfall Skaftelfoss (? - spelling to be amended when i can find an Icelander to ask). This is the one you can walk all the way behind on a wide ledge, and look out across the Glacial flood plains through the water:

For the more adventurous/well dressed, you can stand underneath the falling water, for a few minutes at most! As demonstrated by these students! (This may have been the downfall of many of the failed waterproofs today)

from there, we went to another unpronounceable waterfall, which for those of you in either mine or Nikkis's classes will have seen at least once on one of the many Iain Stewart documentaries. This is the one he Paraglided off from, and used (for those who can remember it) in the rather dramatic Scottish widows video:

If you came on the trip and are reading this in retrospect, can you spot the waterfalls, the coastline and arches and waterfalls we went too, as well as a particularly infamous lava flow? Let me know if you've worked it out! This started out as a wet stop, but we did manage to get some great photos, like this one:

From here it was on to the southern coastline, which is filled with spectacular coastal features such as arches and stacks, and some huge caves. A couple of members of staff had to make a desperate run for shore when a very large wave took them by surprise, and we had a nice walk along the top of one of these arches. The marine energy is high in Iceland for a couple of reasons, firstly, the Gulf stream is important for Iceland, as much of the North Atlantic deep water sinks just to south, and this sinking motion at the northern most tip of the gulf stream, helps to drag warm water across from the Gulf of Mexico, which in turn, gives the UK its nice CTWM climate. Secondly, there is no land to the south of Iceland until you hit Antarctica! So there is a large fetch, plenty of wind, and finally, lots of deep depressions from the passage of the Rossby waves in the Polar Jet. 

The interplay between the high energy and hard rock coastlines produces some textbook landforms. The Arches and stacks tend to form in the lava flows on the coastline which are in some cases well over 100m thick. Dyrhouley coastline has a series of arches, as pictured, filled with seabirds whose main defense mechanism is to produce smelly vomit to coat their attackers.

Here's Nick doing his best Geographer pose!

And some nicely silhouetted students by the sea:

After lunch, we went on to the Sandur, and drove through the Laki Lava fields, a truly impressive, if menacing reminder of the power of some of these Icelandic volcanoes. Laki erupted and formed these lava fields in 1783, the fissure was a typical Icelandic eruption and was over 24km long and with over 100 active craters. The eruption lasted several months, releasing enough CO2 and SO2 to affect global climates for a few years afterwards. The lava covers an area of 600 square KM, the same size as the Somerset Levels, the immediate area during the eruption was utterly destroyed, the lava flows over 60km from its source, drying up the glacial rivers and utilizing their beds in order to flow downhill efficiently. The lava is unusual, it has a high concentration of fluorine, poisonous to both humans and animals in large quantities, it has however, led to the formation of some really spectacular moss, it is thick, often over 6 inches thick, and a very bright green, but that is all that grows here, other vegetation would not have anywhere near enough soil to grown here (think succession and pedogenesis – 3000 years to form 1m of soil and this eruption created a new lithosere)

So, we finished the day with an outstanding dinner of roasted Icelandic Lamb, with sweat potatoes and chocolate pudding, and added a Huish Cairn to the Cairn Field:

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