Hvítserkur, an Iceland Sea Stack

October 22, 2018

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October 2018 Viewer's ChoicePhotographer: Patti Weeks 
Summary Author: Patti Weeks 

The island of Iceland is basically a volcanic hotbed, lying at the junction of the still active North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Some distinctive features stand as monuments to the island’s volcanic past. Situated about 50 m (164 ft) off the shoreline on the east side of Vatnsnes peninsula in northwest Iceland is one of Iceland’s iconic volcanic formations — a sea stack called Hvítserkur. At high tide it's 15 m (49 ft) high; at low tide, one can walk around its base. A popular nesting place for seabirds, such as gulls and fulmars, the white color splashed on the dark volcanic monolith is bird guano. The name Hvítserkur comes from hvít which means white and serkur which means long shirt.

The stack’s geologic history is not certain, but it's generally thought that it was originally a magma dike that formed a few hundred meters underground, and filled a fracture in the bedrock. It may have continued all the way to the surface in a fissure eruption or it may have been an intrusion along a fissure of a nearby volcano. The surrounding rock has been eroded by the surf, leaving this basalt oddity exposed.

Some people see an image of a dragon (facing left in the photo) drinking water from the bay. Icelandic folklore tells of a giant troll from the Wesfjords, who became annoyed with the persistent sounds of church bells. During the night, he waded across the deep fjord to tear down the bells of Þingeyrakirkja church. But taking too long to complete the task, he turned to stone when caught in the daylight as the Sun rose.

While the stack is about as wide as it is tall, it's only one to 2 m thick. In the 1950s residents of the area were fearful that the unstable stack would collapse, due to the 3 holes on its base. So the farmers and other residents filled the smallest hole with concrete. (visible at the bottom right of the top photo.) Many believe that Hvítserkur withstood a large earthquake in 1963 in the north of Iceland because of the concrete reinforcement. Hvítserkur was commemorated on an Icelandic stamp in 1990. The bottom photo is a wide shot of Hvítserkur, looking northeast across the Húnafjördur fjord. Photos taken September 10, 2018.

Photo Details: SONY DSC-HX400V camera; 25.06mm focal length; 1/160 exposure; f4.5 aperture; ISO 80. Second photo same, except 4.3mm focal length; 1/1250 exposure; f3.2 aperture.