Beneath the Surface in Iceland

Location: Reykjavik, Iceland

Today was extreme geology fun day. Our tour today first took us to Leiðarendi cave in a lava field south of town. We donned caving helmets and strapped on LED helmet lights and made our way across the lava field to the cave entrance. The entrance itself was a small hidden hole in the ground. A fresh rope double staked into the ground provided the only support down the steep icy path to the depths within the cave.

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The hardest part of the cave was in the first 20 meters or so. It was still cold toward the front and the icy deposits were all over the cave floor. In the summer this would not be a issue, but today it was a very slippery and scraping against the tough walls was a guarantee. Travel deeper into cave was not much easier, ice was replaced with uneven rock piles and stacked boulders which all required careful maneuvering to pass. But the effort was well worth it, we got to see many aspects of this lava tube including a variety of colors, stalactites and stalagmites, and sparkling bacterial colonies. Toward the back of the cave, there were even remains of a 800+ year old lamb. Archaeologists date it back to one of the earliest settlers on the island. It appeared that this goat was trying to escape a volcanic eruption which occurred at the time.

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stalagmite

 

Getting out of the cave was nearly as much fun, but strangely easier than we dreaded.

Our next stop took us north of Reykjavik and back to þingvellir park. We were going below the surface again today, but not underground. Instead we were going snorkeling in the silfra fissure. Slifra is one of the rifts between the North American and Eurasian plates. It is connected to the lake and it therefore flooded. The source of water from the lake is from a nearby glacier. But to reach the lake the water must first spend 20-30 years being filter through lava rock. The results is crystal clear water. Visibility is over 160 m!

Yes it is still essentially winter in Iceland, yes it was snowing, and yes it was really cold. But the water was only 2 C, not freezing. But yeah, still really cold. So to help, over our normal clothes we wore these teddy-bear suits, essentially a down full body suit. It was very comfortable! So comfortable and warm in fact, that the dive instructor later told us the he frequently has to stop people from stealing them. On top of the warm body suit we had to wear a tight dry suit, which kept the water from leaking through. A rubber choke collar completes the set. A lot of air naturally got trapped inside and provides ample buoyancy while snorkling. We were also given special padded thick latex gloves and head gear to make us marginally less frozen in those areas. It took about an hour for everyone to get their gear on properly.

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We had a 5 minute walk to the Silfra Fissure which feeds into the lake, crossing a street. It´s pretty comical to see people in snorkel and scuba gear crossing the road in Iceland. After reaching the lake, we donned our masks, snorkel, and flippers and walked into the water.

We are ready!
We are ready!

It was still cold. Especially in the unprotected area of our lower face.

But the view was magnificent! Perfectly clear water. We could see the two continental plates within arms reach on either side. Crustal rock, pulled apart from by plate tectonics littered the lake bed. We had a gentle swim through Silfra, aided in part by the glacial water current which feeds the lake. It was a scenic, awe inspiring, and cold 20 minutes before we made it to the lake proper. The fissure was at times over 25 m deep. We could easily see the bottom. Toward the end of the fissure we could see an island on the lake over 160 m away. The water was so clear that is appeared to be only a very short distance away.

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At some point during the snorkel it started snowing.

Instead of venturing further into the lake, we were directed to a nearby lagoon. Our guide called it the true blue lagoon. A gentle jab at the popular tourist trap near the airport. We spent some time exploring this shallow blue area before getting out to go back to the hotel. It was a cold, snowy walk back from the lake to the van to get changed. It took about 20 min for everyone to strip off the swim gear.

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An amusing scuba crossing sign.
An amusing scuba crossing sign.

The ride back to the hotel was uneventful. But we did have a short stop to sample dried cod, and Icelandic staple.

Speaking of which, we had dinner again tonight at the hotel restaurant, Satt. We came back to have the baby-back ribs because, they were some of the best ribs we ever had!

After dinner we went out to watch the northern lights.This time we went with a different company, Gateway to Iceland, which used a van instead of a large bus. Tonight we ventured to a dark corner in the southwest section of the country, not far from the international airport. There weren´t many clouds in the sky, and it was pretty dark. Our guide pulled over in a nice secluded spots in farm country. We quickly got off the bus and set up our first camera. We pointed it at a patch of sky slightly brighter than the rest. We learned a lot from our experience on Saturday. Meanwhile the driver started to gather the other passengers around. He explained that it can take a while to find the lights even on the best of nights, and that paitence is a necessaity. He began to explain that sometimes cameras can see the lights before humans when…

Rachel´s first photo returned. We spotted the aurora within a minute. Ryan shouted, “we found the lights. it´s over there” and pointed in the direction of the aurora. And that´s pretty much how the rest of the night went. We spotted the aurora and helped out a few others with their camera work.

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There was one really good aurora tonight. We saw it do its dance in the sky, and at times could see both the greens and reds with the naked eye. The camera however spotted other colors, such as blue, purple, and pink.  Unfortunately the best photos were taken using a camera with the SD card, so we can´t upload those photos today. We hope to show those pictures and others later this week after we return home and can properly process them.

During the tour, the driver moved the van twice more to get a better view in the sky. A great improvement over last night.

Tomorrow, we sadly have to fly home. We plan to be Icelandic and lounge around in a hot tub in the morning, then fly home in the afternoon.

Total steps: 12,593

Total continental plates steped upon: 2 (North American and Eurasian)

Total northern light colors seen: 5 (green, red, pink, purple, blue)

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p.s. The hotel (Icelandair Natura) helped us secure a refund for the Northern Lights tour from the previous night.

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