In Photos: the Lava Fields, Snow-Capped Peaks, and Lunar Landscapes of Iceland
The topography of Iceland is a study in contrasts, an island whose verdant lowlands, spewing volcanoes, snow-capped mountains, barren lava fields, and deep fjords are as alien as any place on earth.
There’s little wonder why American tourists are currently heading to Iceland in droves.
But even if you can’t count yourself among this year’s crowds, you can still witness the country’s majestic scenery in Primordial Landscapes: Iceland Revealed, a new photographic portfolio from powerHouse Books, out July 7. Paired with poems and words by geophysicist Ari Trausti Guðmundsson, the images by naturalist Feodor Pitcairn capture with striking clarity an untamed land of contrasts, where Mother Nature is at her finest. Read on for a preview.
Lake Jökulsárlón, in Southeastern Iceland, shimmers with the reflection of a magnificent iceberg. This lake, located at the edge of Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest ice cap, formed slowly when part of the glacier began to recede in the 1920s. The glacier continues to calve (split), releasing more icebergs into the expanding lake. The image is one of 41 photographs taken by Feo Pitcairn on display in this Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History’s new exhibition, “Primordial Landscapes: Iceland Revealed.”
Mýrdalsökull Ice Cap
This eroding glacier flows from the large Mýrdalsökull Ice Cap in the south of Iceland. The distant snowy mountains are remnants of a large volcano that erupted 53,000 years ago.
Central Northern Iceland
A beinakerling (bane-a-kettling) is a stone pile built gradually by travelers, who each place a rock onto the pile for good luck. This ancient tradition is still kept today. Historically, an animal bone, wrapped in a sentiment-inscribed piece of skin or paper, was often added. This one is at the roadside in central Northern Iceland.
Vatnajökull Ice Cap
A new landscape of lakes, scree (broken rock) slopes, hills, and large boulders is revealed after a glacier retreats at the edge of the big Vatnajökull Ice Cap. Soon vegetation settles in, and the land is scattered with hardy flowers, grass, moss, and lichen. Glaciers in Iceland—and throughout the Arctic—are vanishing due to a rapidly warming climate.
Torfajökull volcanic system
This steam plume is found in the highlands of the Torfajökull volcanic system in the central southern highlands, which contain big, powerful geothermal fields. Geothermal fields are subsurface reservoirs of the Earth’s heat. On the surface, they produce visible hot springs, geysers, and steam plumes.
Torfajökull volcanic system
The vivid colors found in the rugged central southern highlands of the Torfajökull volcanic system come from geothermal activity, silica-rich volcanic rocks, and alpine vegetation. The brilliant blue-green color is a striking example of rock transformed by geothermal activity.
The light-colored pumice (a porous volcanic rock) seen here originated from an explosive eruption of the Askja volcano in 1875 in the northeast of Iceland. Pumice and ash from the eruption heavily impacted parts of Iceland, starting a wave of emigration to Canada and the northern United States.
Geothermal area of Mt. Námafjall
Inactive steam vents such as these, as well as active ones, are found throughout the geothermal area of Mt. Námafjall in northeastern Iceland. Steam vents form when rainwater and snowmelt seep into hot volcanic rocks in the Earth’s crust. The process leaves colorful chemical deposits on the vents’ surface.
The Bárðarbunga volcanic system eruption
The Bárðarbunga volcanic system, to the north of Vatnajökull Ice Cap, is the largest of its kind in Iceland. This volcanic fissure (a long opening in the Earth’s crust) has been its main source of recent volcanic activity. By January 2015, the eruption had produced a lava flow bigger than Manhattan Island, New York.
Keldur, in southern Iceland
This old farmhouse at Keldur, in southern Iceland, reflects the mixture of traditional building styles found on the island. Until concrete became available in the early 20th century, timber, stone, and turf were used in various combinations for construction.
Northern lights above the Mt. Hekla volcano
The aurora borealis, or “northern lights,” come from the Earth’s magnetic field being continuously hit by electrically charged particles from the Sun. They are transported toward the magnetic poles, where they collide with nitrogen and oxygen molecules in the upper atmosphere. These molecules absorb the energy and then release it as visible light.