We drove the southeast coast of Iceland faster than expected and decided to stay in Hveragerði. It was exciting to be in this town, as it is one of the communities I will investigate in further detail. The town is full of vegetation and steaming hot areas, so I was thrilled with the surroundings. As we were now only 28 miles east of Reykjavik we were closing in on our circumnavigation of the island. While we could easily have spent the entire day in Hveragerði, we only visited the central geothermal park (I couldn’t pass that up). We decided to take advantage of the rental car and continue to explore more peripheral sites.
The large geothermal park is centrally located within the town. The town itself is built above a hot-spring field. The entrance to the park is a geothermally heated greenhouse. This is a fitting opening as horticulture is a flourishing and important business in the town. There were more fences and railings in this park than we had previously encountered at other geothermal areas. However, this was the first time the geothermal area we explored was located in the center of a community. Here, houses abutted the fenced park. Previously the geothermal areas we experienced were situated in vast lava fields without human occupation. From remnants of old pipes to new pipes and holes spewing steam, this area offered a wealth of community and geothermal history.
Gullfoss (“gold falls”) is a waterfall that descends the Hvítá River in staircase-like cascades. At the final stage, the roaring water plunges at a right angle into a 105-foot deep crevasse. This spectacular sight draws flocks of tourists the average summertime flow 140 m³/s. There have been questions controversies as to whether this waterfall’s tremendous power should be used to generate electricity. This issue has sparked tremendous controversy throughout Iceland. Currently, however, the waterfall is owned by the State of Iceland and is protected.
On our trip from Hveragerði to Gullfoss, we were fortune in meeting Avi. He was traveling around the country by himself (well, he and his large backpack, which he lovingly referred to as his companion). Avi had been sidetracked in his travels due to his search for a “hot pot” the night before. He was trying to get back to a more populated area to catch a ride. Yes, there was a culture of finding the good “hot pots”! He told us that his favorite (other than the hot pots in the Mývatn area) was located where hot and cold rivers meet near a hiking trail outside of Hveragerði. This friendly hitchhiker had shared with us a “hot” gem, and I couldn’t wait to check it out!
Geysir was not gushing when we arrived. It had stopped spouting its 200 foot eruptions in the early 20th century. Some believe that Geysir stopped spouting due to the accumulation of rocks clogging up its opening. These rocks had been thrown into it by tourists who were attempting to set the geyser off. Others believe that these rocks, while damaging, were not the only reason for Geysir’s dormancy.The English word “geyser” actually takes its name from this place. The Merriam Webster dictionary tells us that “geyser” is, “a spring that throws forth intermittent jets of heated water and steam,” and it originates from, “‘Geysir’, hot spring in Iceland, from geysa to rush forth”. The geyser at Geysir is believed to have come into existence around the end of the 13th century when a series of strong earthquakes and eruptions occurred in the area. Today, while Geysir was dormant, Strokkur (another geyser in close proximity) shoot off smaller bouts of water and steam. Mudpots, steam vents, and hot streams all populate the Geysir Park.
Hellisheiði Power Station is the newest of the five geothermal power stations in Iceland. Located in the Hengill region (very close to Hveragerði), this power station is a combined heat and power plant (CHP). The newness and expense of the plant was evident in the intricately designed and modern visitor center. We had to paid to visit the Geothermal Energy Exhibition show in the power station, but it was definitely worth the money! We were introduced to the building (descriptions of design intent included) and geothermal processes by a personal tour guide. Video, as well as multimedia touch screens, were loaded with information on geothermal energy, its historical uses and the current ecological factors in geothermal processing. While I thoroughly enjoyed the educational aspects of this exhibit, the undercurrent on the company’s (Mannvit) ideas on sustainable green energy was less appealing. The energy production capacity for the plant in December 2010 was 213 MWe. My goal is to be able to explain to all of you what this figure actually means.
The Blue Lagoon ( Bláa Lónið) is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland, statistics indicate that more people visit the spa in one year than occupy the country. The lagoon is a geothermal spa located in a lava field in Grindavík. The steam from both the Svartsengi power plant and lagoon is visible from the Keflavik International Airport. Only 8 miles separate International arrival and this “hot” destination. Re-use of hot water resources and the geothermal aspect of the Reykjanes peninsula are key ingredients in the spa’s functionality. Super-heated water from the Svartsengi power station is used to produce electricity as well as to provide heat for the municipal hot water heating system. After the water has gone though this system then enters the lagoon. In other Geothermal plants I have encountered on this trip, the cooler by-product water is either injected back into the bore hole or left above ground in the landscape. This inventive re-use system provides recreational, social, and medicinal benefits for its users. The blue waters and black, silica-edged lava rock (along with an incredibly designed site and structure) create an incredible atmosphere that is other-worldly.