Volcanoes - A Fact of Life


Volcanic activity is a fact of life in Iceland, where people have learned to live with both its drawbacks, and considerable advantages, such as geothermal energy and dramatic natural environment.

Iceland sits on top of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a 40.000 km long crack in the ocean floor caused by the separation of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Even today, the country is growing by about 2.5 cm per year, as it splits wider at the points where the two tectonic plates meet. Accordingly, the western part of Iceland, to the west of the volcanic zones, belongs to the North American plate and the eastern part to the Eurasian plate, which means Iceland is actually in two continents.

This is also one of the most volcanically active areas on earth. On average, Iceland experiences a volcanic event every 5 years. Since the Middle Ages, a third of all lava that has covered the earth's surface has erupted in Iceland. The largest recorded lava flow in world history occurred in Iceland during the summer of 1783, when a 25-km row of craters, Lakagigar, southwest of Vatnajökull, poured out 14 km3 of lava.

This same geological activity is also responsible for some of the most dramatic features of Icelandic nature. The mountainous landscapes, black lava fields and geothermal pools and geysers are the result of continuous interplay between volcanic activity and the natural elements.

Icelanders have also reaped the benefits in the form of vast resources of geothermal energy. Over 90% of housing in Iceland is heated by natural geothermal heat - one of the cheapest and cleanest forms of energy in existence. Hot springs can be found almost everywhere, and the melt water created by sub-glacial volcanos provides the country with a potential source of hydroelectric power. All this clean energy has made Iceland one of the least polluted countries in the world.

With all this power residing just beneath the earth’s crust, safety is top concern in Iceland. All seismic activity is closely monitored and infrastructure is designed to deal with natural catastrophes. As a result, serious disasters are extremely rare.