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An island divided

Andrea Reinhardsdóttir

Perched atop tectonic plates, Iceland's allure lies in its stunning yet volatile landscape. Þingvellir National Park showcases the rift between continents, while earthquakes and frequent volcanic eruptions punctuate its geological drama. Despite its dangers, Iceland's natural wonders continue to captivate visitors from around the globe.

Sitting atop the tectonic plates that form North America and Eurasia, is the mysterious “Land of Fire and Ice”: Iceland. Iceland’s unique position has defined its beauty and danger from the beginning of recorded history. The plates that control its destiny cause the island to expand nearly one inch per year, this has created some of the most attractive but hazardous geologic phenomena known to the world. Iceland’s global position has provided it countless unique wonders, among which are its constant shifts and movement. For instance, news of Þingvellir ridge is perhaps the most beautiful, and safest attraction as Iceland’s first national park.  There you can walk between the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian tectonic plate. 


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Seen is Andrea Reinhardsdottir in between the North American and Eurasian Tectonic Plates.

Every week, Iceland has 150-400 earthquakes, most of these are exceedingly minor, although, if you should ever find yourself close to the Atlantic ridge, it might become dangerous.  It is estimated that every 100-150 years, there will occur a tremendous and disastrous earthquake in Iceland. In 1912 an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0ML that took place in the Southern Seismic Zone (A.K.A Reykjanes Fracture Zone) this area is 75 to 100 km wide, and situated in Southwestern Iceland. There was also a similar-sized earthquake in 1784, estimated at 7.1ML, this one occurred in Southern Iceland, which resulted in many homes being destroyed. Scientists at the Icelandic Meteorological Office strongly believe that they will be able to predict one hour ahead of time when and where the next big earthquake will occur. Most of the earthquakes are caused by tectonic plates and are rarely felt. Iceland’s volcanic eruptions, on the other hand, have dangerous effects upon the entire island. Skies turn dark, and ash “snows” down upon much of the country.  Iceland actually receives a volcanic eruption almost every four to five years, and home to 130 volcanoes. some that are active and cause mayhem even to this day. The movement of the tectonic plates can disturb these volcanoes. In early April 2010, Eyjafjallajökull, a volcano that is partly covered by ice caps, erupted, its effects were disastrous enough to cause many European countries to close down their entire air traffic for over a week. 

In 2014, Bárðarbunga and Holuhraun, two small, connected volcanoes, erupted simultaneously. Scientists believe that Bárðarbunga and Holuhraun will continue to erupt due to the disturbance in the tectonic plates. This movement of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates could cause even the inactive volcanoes to erupt. ​For a volcano to be considered inactive it has to have been peaceful for over a few centuries. Eldfell is a volcano that was considered inactive for approximately 5000 years, nevertheless, in 1973 this volcano, located in Heimaey Island of Vestmannaeyjar, suddenly erupted without warning. People fled from their homes, hoping to seek shelter elsewhere. This eruption lasted for five months, and consequently, the island was almost entirely destroyed by lava and ash.

Photo of Eyjafjallajokull, South of Iceland, where the 2010 volcano erupted.

In 1783, just a mere year before the devastating earthquake of 1784, a volcano erupted. This was called the Laki eruption, and the ash carried by the wind and threatened the food supply and killed livestock and wild animals. Plants would not grow, and the fish seemed to disappear from the sea, people fell sick and this caused more than 1/5th of the population in Iceland to die. Despite the amount of geological activity in Iceland, it is still considered the 6th safest place for national disasters and remains a very popular tourist attraction.

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