Land of Fire and Ice
Anyone following my posts from Iceland will know that I’ve for the most part only encountered ice and thankfully no fire on my various visits. However, every now and then when visiting Iceland, you’ll come to a place where you’re made very aware just how thin the earth’s crust is where you’re standing. It may just be a whiff of hydrogen sulphide on the air (which may or may not make you hanker after an egg salad sandwich as it has frequently done to me on these trips) or you might see a column of steam rising from a mountainside.
On this latest visit, equipped with a vehicle capable of tackling one of the main mountain ‘F’ roads that crosses the interior of Iceland, I decided to visit Hveravellir, a very beautiful place of thermal springs and bubbling fumaroles.
A fumarole is a small hole or vent in Earth’s surface through which volcanic gases escape from underground. Fumaroles are also known as steam vents because the most common gas they emit is water vapor or steam.Fumaroles have little water in their system unlike other types of hot springs. What does enter the system is boiled away before it reaches the surface. This leaves only steam and small amounts of gas such as hydrogen sulfide (already mentioned) and sulfur dioxide (the initial biting aroma of a lit match). Sometimes as the sulfur dioxide cools when it escapes from the vent, the sulfur in the vapor crystallizes around the vent, forming yellow deposits. The temperature of the gases emitted from a fumarole may reach as high as 750°F (400°C).
I spent a very happy couple of hours surrounding by boiling springs and hissing fumaroles as I marvelled at the fact that the Earth’s crust is typically between 30 and 50,000 metres (20 to 30 miles) around the world while in Iceland, it’s a mere 6 or 7,000 metres.
The colours at Hveravellir are mind-blowing. The blues, you feel you just want to dive into the colours they are so vivid. Probably not a good idea as the water is a boiling point of course.
This area of Iceland is known as the badlands where convicts were banished to. There are stories, that to survive, these convicts rustled sheep and boiled the meat in these springs.