May 6, 2013 by Dr. G
Tomorrow, I leave for what I’m sure will be my most amazing travel all year – I’m off to Iceland! I’m participating in a Chautauqua Short Course being offered through the University of Texas at Austin, titled “Exploring Iceland’s Physical Geography and Geomorphology.” Field seminars such as this are a form of professional development for geologists, as the best way to learn and experience geology is to get outdoors. When this opportunity came up for me to visit Iceland as part of a program led by a geologist for geologists, I knew this would be the best way for me to learn about this fascinating location and take back as much as I can for my students.
My students hear about Iceland all the time in my courses. In every course I teach, I talk about the theory of plate tectonics, and Iceland always comes up because it is so unique. Iceland is at a divergent plate boundary (really a hotspot at a mid-ocean ridge) where molten material (magma) from Earth’s internal, heated asthenosphere is rising and pushing apart the two lithospheric plates, while at the same time the creating new basaltic crust from the cooling lava. This new material causes the pushing apart of the pre-existing, older lithospheric material. Note that the image above shows the Eurasian Plate is moving to the east, while the North American Plate moves to the west. Divergent plate boundaries not only create new crust, but you will also find volcanic and seismic activity in these zones.
(In case you were wondering… there is no divergent boundary going through the United States (not at this point in geologic time, at least!). To keep up on current geologic hazards, view this map of current volcanic activity and earthquake activity in the USA. You can also view a global plate tectonic map in this image.)
So, what will I be doing in Iceland? Visiting volcanic feature after volcanic feature, and bouncing from volcano to geothermal power plant! I’m so excited to get the trip started. This map below is a Google Map created by one of my fellow participants that marks the sites that we will visit – in only five days! Needless to say, I will be busy, I will be exhausted, but I will be so excited to be in one of the world’s most fascinating geologic locations.
I will try to get a post up each evening with a brief summary describing the volcanic landforms and landscapes we visit and learn about. There will not be enough time and space to review all the geology of these features – I’m hoping the photos will entice students to then sign up for my courses to learn more!
To answer some of the questions students have been asking me already… it will take some time to get to Iceland. I have to fly to Boston first, then change planes and continue on to Reykjavik. The total flight time will be approximately six and one-half hours. I don’t speak the native Icelandic language, but English is spoken just about everywhere. Will I be eating any “odd” seafood? Well, I know shark and whale are served in restaurants, but I’m not a lover of seafood to begin with, so I’m sure I’ll be staying away from consuming large marine creatures. Will I see a volcano erupt? Some of you may remember the 2010 eruption of the volcano Eyjafjallajokull that held up air traffic on both sides of the ocean, especially in Europe. The Hekla volcano has everyone keeping an eye on its activity, and I’ll certainly be paying attention to the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program/USGS weekly volcanic activity reports. Of course, we can’t forget about Katla, the focus of the NOVA special Doomsday Volcanoes. Wish me safe travels!