Harnessing the natural power of heat from the earth has provided Iceland with luxurious spas, space heating, greenhouse cultivation, fantastic swimming and showering facilities and in some places ice-free pavements. Isolated farms use their own bore holes and some of the best salt ever is produced from the sea using geothermal processes. It’s a technology that’s interesting to understand and as a carbon free source of energy, it also feels so good to use and enjoy.
How does this natural heating happen? Iceland is positioned astride the spreading Eurasian and American tectonic plates and here, the outer crust of the earth is relatively thin. This means that at quite shallow depths, the temperature of the rocks in some parts of Iceland can be much higher than elsewhere. Added to this, Iceland has a climate that provides plenty of rain and melt water that filters through the porous lava rock and collects underground. So the combination of a thin layer of ‘crust’ at the surface, the natural heat and a ready supply of water are responsible for creating the catalogue of wonders that geologists and vast numbers of visitors to Iceland find so fascinating. Most will take the trip around the to witness Strokkur, Iceland’s obliging geyser that sends a towering plume of steam up into the sky about every 7 minutes, just one example of many features that include boiling and spitting mud pools, hissing fumaroles and wonderful steaming streams.
It’s not until you experience it for yourself, that the raw power of the geothermal heat that lies beneath Iceland’s varied landscape really makes an impression. The concept of swimming in a pool filled with geothermally heated water is easy to grasp, seeing large zig zag pipes making their way towards Reykjavik to deliver hot water to the city is believable, if a bit odd, and the smell of sulphur near to a hot spring or in some hotel bathrooms is something you get used to. More difficult to grapple with until you’ve done it yourself are some of these: to lie in a shallow hot river situated in a remote valley in water that’s 35-40°C (which is blissful), boil eggs for breakfast in a net in a hot spring and to eat a dinner of bread, lamb or salmon earth cooked to perfection in hot mud. Experiences like these are a powerful way to connect with the awe and magic of nature and in my view, a reminder that they are natural forces to work with and not against, and most of all to savour and enjoy.
More about enjoying geothermal Iceland with Iceland Traveller