Why You Should Go to Iceland – According to Science

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Thingvellir, courtesy of Bryan Pocius

As of this post, my grand European summer adventure is 158 days away. Part of the trip is a three day stopover in Iceland, so I’ve been doing some research to help make the most of my time there. For a long time, I pictured Iceland as a barren, frozen wasteland (a commonly held perception, if I’m not mistaken), but turns out that isn’t the case, not by a long shot. Not only is Iceland fairly temperate, but the country also has other features that already have my inner geology, astronomy, and conservation nerds geeking out.

It’s the Land of Fire and Ice.

Step aside, George R. R. Martin – Mother Nature cooked up the real Song of Ice and Fire and we call it Iceland. The country sits right on top of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and a volcanic hot-spot, boasting 130 volcanoes in an area less than half the size of Texas. However, nearly 25% of Iceland is also covered by a huge ice sheet. In some cases, this is a recipe for disaster, like when a volcano erupts under the ice as it did in 1996. But this placement is also responsible for some of Iceland’s most famous landmarks. For instance, Þingvellir (anglicized to “Thingvellir”) National Park, a World Heritage site and one of the places I’m most excited to go, is one of the few places on Earth where you can hike and dive in the actively moving tectonic rift between the Eurasian and North American plates.

It’s also the Land of the Almost Midnight Sun.

Although Scandinavia and the North American Arctic are probably the most well-known for it, the Midnight Sun phenomenon occurs anywhere on the planet where the axial tilt of the Earth causes the sun to be visible 24 hours a day in the summer. It’s most extreme at the North and South Pole, where the sun won’t set for months.

While Iceland is close to the Arctic Circle, it only has a true midnight sun for a few days before and after the summer solstice (which will occur this year on June 20th). However, the nights will still be nearly as bright as the days while I’m visiting in early July. I’m stoked for the extra-long sunlit hours and to experience this phenomenon I’ve only ever heard about, but it will certainly be interesting to see how my sleep cycle fares.

Iceland is basically one giant power plant.

If you’re into sustainable energy, Iceland is the place for you – which would make sense, considering the country is sitting on the gateway to a huge geothermal power source. According to the National Energy Authority of Iceland, the country derives 85% of its energy from renewable resources, 66% of which is geothermal. Nine out of every ten households use geothermal power directly for heat. The Hellisheidi Geothermal Power Station is one of the largest of its kind in the world and there has even been some success using molten magma to generate energy. But geothermal resources are not the main source of electricity production – 75% of electricity in Iceland is actually derived from hydropower. The dams that generate this energy, however, are not without their fair share of environmental concerns and controversy.

But that’s a story for another day. I’m sure there are plenty of other very important reasons to visit Iceland – especially that one that has to do with traveling being good for the soul. As I continue to prepare for this trip, I’d love to hear your reasons; leave your suggestions in the comments on things to do, see, eat, and generally experience in Iceland and I’ll see what I can incorporate into this adventure. More updates to come soon, but in the meantime…venture on!

3 comments

  1. I have been there a few times. There is so much to see that one trick we used was to hire a “guide” for a day. Not to see all the “normal things” but to travel outside Reykjavik and see some of the areas around it. I have a name of one we used many years ago, but I checked and he is still in business.

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