Water. In Iceland, there is no shortage of water. The effects of this powerful element are highly visible, known and respected. When the words, “Water is everything in Iceland”, parted the lips of a professor from the Icelandic Academy of the Arts, the larger context for this project began to fall into place. WATER. Water makes energy, be it geothermal or hydroelectric, and provides the mainstay for the community. Since the beginning of settlement, communities have formed along the coastline for fishing or adjacent to hot water sources for energy. Water is the critical element in powering the nation, forming its dramatic landscape, initiating communities, and providing a source from which to harvest fish, the nations leading export. (This beautiful graphic is just the tip of the iceberg for the inspiring group Vatnavinir, Friends of Water)(source: Vatnavinir, Friends of Water)
Solid water. Glaciers are prevalent and pronounced in Iceland. Statistics Iceland provides a wealth of data on the country that is used in the following calculations: glaciers occupy 11.57% of the country’s surface area and lakes cover 2.67%. This water coverage (excluding rivers) accounts for 14.24% of Iceland’s surface area. Not only do glaciers cover 11,922 km², but the visual impact of this iced area is stunningly impressive and awe-inspiring. Vatnajökull, an enormous iced landscape, is the largest glacier in Europe. It is 8,100 km². This single ice cap is responsible for almost 70% of the entire glacial coverage in Iceland. Glaciers have also provided inspiration and topics for Icelandic literature. In World Light by Nobel Prize winner, Halldór Laxness, the main character, poet Olafur Karason, finds peace and beauty in the glacier. At the end of the book Olfaur replaces a broken mirror for an invalid child so that she may, once again, see the glacier. He does this act and states, “In this mirror dwells One and All,” before walking to his death on the glacier. Standing near a glacier, it is impossible not to observe the power, process, and beauty of water.
Water makes a splash! The waterfall below, Seljalandsfoss, cascades 200 feet over the cliffs of the former coastline. Walking behind this torrent of water, in the space carved out by the ceaseless backsplash, the auditory turbulence sounded like a jet plane ascending within my brain. The force of water falling excited my body, attuned my senses, and left my mind in whirling wonder…water? On our trip around the country we saw more waterfalls (each uniquely inspiring) than I managed to keep track of. Waterfalls across the country exhibit an enormous amount of power. The political debate concerning hydroelectricity is currently a major issue in Iceland. Andri Snaer Magnason’s book, Dreamland: A Manual for a Frightened Nation is an imaginative and revealing novel on this confrontational issue.
Rivers, streams, rivulets. Even when water isn’t flamboyantly “falling” over the landscape, its visual tracks are left upon the earth. The flow of water is especially detectable on the steep mountainsides. These traces are a constant visual reminder of this dynamic force.
Seeping down to one of Iceland’s many rivers, these veins of water convey both ground and water, as they eroding and water the landscape in one swift motion. The river Thjorsalt is 139 miles long, the longest in Iceland. It is estimated that in one year this single river transports 4.5 million tons of gravel and silt from the central highlands (where it commences). Thjorsa has also been harnessed by power companies for it’s energy. This river and its tributaries alone represent 27% of the hydropower of the country. These flowing veins of water, small and large, are transforming the nation.
I’m not going to make you scroll through all of the drump truck pages…but to give you an idea this next page is 10,000 truckloads (so imagine 16 pages of this being carried from the highlands in one year, from the river Thjorsa).