Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Our first day in Iceland!

Our first day was a busy one! We visited a power plant, swam in the world-famous Blue Lagoon, hiked up a volcano, toured hot springs, visited an explosion crater, explored a cave formed by a subterranean river of lava, and toured around the beautiful landscape of the Reykjanes Peninsula.
Today we got the seminar off to a whirlwind start. After our plane landed at Keflavik Airport at approximately 9 a.m. local time, we were whisked off to the Svartsengi Geothermal Power Plant. There we heard all about the motivation behind the founding of the plant and its growth and history since its founding in 1974.

The group in front of a generator at the Svartsengi Power Plant.

The plant's original purpose was to supply hot water to the surrounding residential areas to lower heating costs. While it continues to serve this purpose, it also generates enough power to supply a significant portion of Iceland's population with cheap electricity.

The plant utilizes high-pressure water and steam forced to the surface from the lava field below the plant to generate electricity and heat the municipal water supply. Once the ground water has had all of its useful thermal energy extracted, it is piped back into the ground to replenish the ground water reserves. This continuous cycle ensures the plant's sustainability until the geology of the region changes and no longer supplies the necessary heat to the groundwater.

In addition to resupplying the groundwater reserves, some of the water is piped into the nearby Blue Lagoon, a mineral spa that has become Iceland's largest tourist attraction. After our tour of the power plant, we bussed over to the lagoon for some much needed relaxation after the long flight from Minneapolis.

Following the trip to the lagoon and lunch, we began touring several different locations that displayed Iceland's fascinating geology.

Hiking the rim of Eldborg.JPG
Hiking around the rim of the crater of Eldborg.

First, we visited the Eldborg volcano, one of many volcanoes that generated the lava fields that dominate the landscape in this area, which is part of a rift zone.

The rift zone extends along the length of Iceland and is the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, which are pulling apart from one another at a rate of one inch per year. These massive forces are the cause for Iceland's geology and give rise to daily earthquakes (most are very small) that continually update and change the landscape.

The more areas we visited, the more apparent this unique geology of Iceland became. In addition to the Eldborg volcano, we visited hot springs known as the "Krysuvik hot spot," boiling mud pits, a cave that was once a subterranean river of lava, and a mineral-rich green lake that formed in an explosion crater caused by a massive release of hot gases many years ago.

After a bus ride to the town of Laugarvatn, we enjoyed a phenomenal dinner and went back to our hostel for well-deserved sleep.

Krysuvik Hot Spot.JPG
The Krysuvik hot spot

It was fascinating to see all of the ways in which the Icelanders have been able to utilize the resources on which they stand. Their foresight and ability to assess ways in which they could use geothermal energy has allowed them to generate cheap, clean energy for residents as well as boost their economy by creating tourist attractions and lowering energy costs for companies doing business in Iceland.

It was a very full first day for us in Iceland, and we can't wait for what we'll learn tomorrow!