Flat Iceland

June 10, 2014

Flat Iceland

Photographer: Stu Witmer
Summary Author: Stu Witmer

When you think of Iceland you think of ice, right? Glaciers, icecaps, icebergs, ragged mountains and volcanoes. Well, you wouldn't be wrong there, but Iceland also has some very flat spots. The particular flat spot shown above is in the south of Iceland with the Atlantic Ocean in the far distance. Closer to the viewer is the Skafta River and the Stjornarsandur, an outwash plain or sandur created by repeated glacial floods known as jokulhlaups that are engendered by volcanic activity beneath ice caps and glaciers. This sandur is part of Iceland known as the Fire Districts, home of some of the most violent and destructive volcanic activity on Earth. As recently as 10,000 years ago, this land was at the bottom of the sea. Continual deposition of flood debris together with advancing flows of basaltic lava have built the plain we see today. Some of the thickest, most fertile soil in Iceland is the loess dropped here by wind and flood. In historic times, there have been three major eruptions in the Fire Districts. Two of these were basaltic fissures just north of here know as Eldgja (934-40) and Laki (1783-4), that produced the largest flood-lava eruptions on Earth in the last 1,000 years. The third was the Oraefajokull volcano in 1362, a Plinian eruption that was probably the largest pumice eruption in historical times in Iceland. This event devastated the area and gave it its name (Oraefi is Icelandic for desert). Other active volcanoes of the Fire Districts include Katla, and Grimsvotn, Iceland’s most active volcano. While the larger eruptions can create more dramatic jokulhlaups, there is evidence that the landscape such as seen here is shaped more by the smaller more frequent floods. Photo taken September 6, 2011.

Photo details: Camera Model: Canon PowerShot SD1300 IS; Focal Length: 5.0mm; Aperture: f/2.8; Exposure Time: 0.0025 s (1/400); ISO equiv: 80.