Solar representations

After a week of grey, wet skies and a conversation with a local student about the drastic reduction in daylight hours over the past month, I decided to graphically investigate Iceland’s unique solar condition.

At this point my representations only investigate the length of time the sun is in the Reykjavík sky over a year-long period (2011). The atmosphere, moods, and excitation that light/darkness create in this country is definitely a part of the Nordic light phenomena. I hope to get further into this qualitative aspect of Icelandic light in future representations.

But for now, I’ve made a few different representations and would like YOUR opinion! Which graphic makes the most/least  sense to you? Which graphic do you visually like the most/least? Why? Please participate and make a comment. 

I am intentionally not describing these graphs…more on them latter.

In order of construction:









I had to include a few pictures that start to describe the qualitative aspect of light. Light here has an extraordinary character, and, at times, is an event unto itself (more later).


Keflavík to Reykavík_travel notes 11

August 20th

Total distance covered: km 306 | 190 miles


Leaving Keflavík, we drove around the Reykjanes peninsula looking for billowing steam and the geothermal power stations of the area. After a quick tour of the peninsula, we were ready to make our way to the capital city, Reykjavík. We had greatly enjoyed the sparsely populated countryside, but we were eager to meet more of the island’s inhabitants. Statistics Iceland provides a comprehensive statistical analysis of the country. Reykjavík is home to 37.34% of the population and 63.54% of the population live in the Capital Region. That being said, the “no tractors” signs along the major roadways into the city indicated that this was going to be a unique metropolis.


Traveling around the country has been an incredible and rewarding experience, but I have to admit that sleeping in the same bed for more than one night sounded divine. Today, I meet the apartment I will live in for the next 3 months. My address: Storholt 1, apartment #5, 105 Reykjavík, Iceland.

Systa, a glass artist, who also runs the apartments, was extremely welcoming. She sat with us and went over places I would soon frequent in the city. It turns out that Systa knew about the dark berries that we had discovered in the country. They are called krækiber and are often used to make jam. She also took the time to give us a few tips on Icelandic pronunciation.

The apartment is perfect! Both Systa’s glass work and her son’s photographs decorate the walls. Systa was proud of Damon, her son, whose photographs created the “Puffin Memorial Exhibition 2007”. After my fascination with the puffins at Látrabjarg, I had to go online to see the digital presentation of the puffin memorial exhibition. If you like puffins, you have to see these pictures!

Situated directly next to the Icelandic Academy of the Arts and within close walking distance to the city center, I felt well positioned. With a large work table and comfortable space, I am excited about this apartment and the research ahead.

We explored Reykjavík and enjoyed meeting a wealth of people. As the majority of my time will be spent in the capital, I will create another page specifically dedicated to Reykjavík.

Translated Terms

While most people in Iceland speak English, my lack of understanding the Icelandic language has, at times, proven difficult. Resources, be it online search engines, library cataloging systems, or articles and books are often written in Icelandic. In a meeting with Kristín Þorleifsdóttir, it became evident that my lack of understanding Icelandic terminology is currently an impediment to this research.

My intention is to use this post as a running record of Iceland’s design and energy vocabulary that is pertinent to this geothermal research. This resource will serve as my online cheat sheet (Icelandic + English). Please feel free to make corrections to my translations, add terminology, and use this resource.


  • aerial photograph                    loftmyndi
  • building                                   byggingarfulltrúa
  • comprehensive plan               aðalskipulagsuppdráttur
  • diagram                                  uppdráttur
  • drawings                                 teikningar
  • energy                                    orka
  • environment                            umhverfismál
  • electrical                                 raf
  • electrical utilities                     rafveita
  • electricity                                rafmagn
  • geothermal                             jarðhita-, jarðvarma-
  • ground                                    jörð
  • heat                                        hita
  • heating                                   hitaveita
  • hot water                                heitur vatn
  • hot springs                             hvera
  • historical                                söguleg
  • industrial                                iðnaðar
  • local (plan)                             deiliskipulag
  • map                                        korta
  • national energy authority       orkustofnun
  • national power company        landsvirkjun
  • nature                                     náttúran
  • nature protection                    náttúruvernd
  • open space                            opin svæð
  • pipe                                        lagnir
  • planning                                 skipulags
  • power                                     máttur
  • smoke                                    reyk
  • steam pipe                             gufulögn
  • streets                                    götur
  • temperature                           hitastig
  • varma                                    thermal
  • volcano                                  eldfjall
  • water supply                          veitustarfsemi
  • wells (bore holes)                  borholur

Hveragerði to Keflavík_travel notes 10

August 19th

Total distance covered:470 km  | 292 miles


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 LagoonBláa 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.

Stöðvarfjorður to Hveragerði_travel notes 9

August 18th

Total distance covered: 650 km  | 404 miles


In Stöðvarfjorður we stayed overnight in a very unique hostel. Kirkjubær is a church that has been converted by a fisherman and his wife to accommodate visitors. The fisherman sold us redfish (krafla) that he had caught a few days ago. It was delicious! When we woke up the next morning, the grey clouds had lifted and large striated cliffs of the East Fjords surrounded us. The geological patters and processes that these striations emphasized, revealed and demanded that one see the landscape in more than a purely pictorial fashion.


Sheep dotted EVERY landscape we saw! From the small hillocks to the linear lines of inscriptions, these creatures are affecting the land with their powerful hoofs. Even the drainage swales are created in preparation for their winter feeding. On this journey, sheep have provided great entertainment; from spotting them in the most bizarre and unfathomable places, to pondering the implications a species has on the terrain. 


Skeiðarársandur is the largest glacial outwash plain in the country. This is an immense landscape composed of grey stone and gravel interwoven with glacial tributaries making their way to the ocean. It was oppressive. The dark grey was everywhere: in the dark clouds overhead, in the gravel below and even in the reflection of the water. It made me feel grey. The processes leading from ice to ocean proved to be extremely powerful and visually descriptive. This outwash plain is one of the most difficult parts of the Ring Road to maintain. Massive flooding can be sudden and extreme as geothermal heat and volcanic eruptions melt Iceland’s icecaps. Global warming has also contributed to the frequency of these flood events. They can be so sudden and so massive that the floodplain fills with water and continuously washes out bridges. We actually saw where one of these bridges was swept aside by a flood. A temporary bridge had been installed in its place, so crossing was possible. It was impressive to witness the powerful effects this flooding had recently employed on the landscape, and the ease with which human construction had been tossed aside.


Núpsstaður is a farmstead situated west of Skeiðarársandur. Besides having importance as a productive farm the location and layout of this outpost were of great significance. On the fringe of this outwash plain, the farmers here used to served as guides to travelers journeying across Skeiðarársandur. Protected by the impressively high cliffs, Núpsstaður’s turf houses are nestled deep into the terrain. Construction and siting of this farmstead was derived entirely from the conditions of this site. These turf houses date from the 18th and 19th centuries and are in the care of the National Museum of Iceland. The raw state and condition of these houses brought a sense of reality to this type of living.


Vatnajökull + it’s icy fingers cover more than 8% of the country. This MASSIVE glacier remarkable. White ice stretches as far as the eye can see, while it’s glacial ice water weeps towards the flood plain. We stopped next to one of its tributaries carrying blue and white icebergs out to sea. It was a grey day, but the small amount of light reflected off the glacier and brightened the sky. The reflected light in the middle of this glacier must be almost unbearable. I recently finished reading World Light by Halldór Laxness. He describes this glacier as heavenly and comforting, “Where the glacier meets the sky, the land ceases to be earthly, and the earth becomes one with the heavens; no sorrows live there any more, and therefore joy is not necessary; beauty alone reigns there, beyond all demands.”


Seljavellir is a swimming pool/ hot pot situated at the foot of the Eyjafjoll Mountains. Nestled in a narrow valley and carved out of the mountainside, this pool is magical. A sheer rock cliff comprises one of the pool walls. This along with a mountain stream cascading alongside the pool embed the visitor directly into this extraordinary landscape. A short walk into the valley provides magnificent views of basalt formations and prepares the psyche for reflection and contemplation.

Mývatn to Stöðvarfjorður_travel notes 8

August 17th

Total distance covered: 322 km  | 200 miles 


Lake Mývatn (“Midge Lake”) derives its name from the huge number of midges (flies) that surround this body of water. The flies didn’t bother us. This area had so much to see and do that we found it difficult to leave. Numerous hiking trails of varying length and difficulty allowed visitors the chance to explore this unique geothermal terrain. We decided to spend the morning here and continue our investigation of the area. Our first hike explored around and through the pseudocraters on the southeast side of the lake. These landforms looked like craters, the bottom portion of a volcanic cone with it’s top blown off. The prefix ‘pseudo’ is added as these craters are not actually vents from which lava has erupted. They are not connected to a magma conduit. Instead, these landforms were created by steam explosions when hot, flowing lava came into contact with lake water. The porous lava rock absorbs the nutrient-rich lake waters creating the conditions for a dense carpet of vegetation. Directly surrounding the lake, green life flourished. Close by however (in areas like Hverir where we hiked yesterday), vegetation is extremely sparse. This juxtaposition makes the lakeside flora extremely attractive to humans and birds alike. I was especially intrigued as to what lay just beyond the crest of these pseudocraters. I rushed off to peer inside. I gazed down at the interior concave bowl where it’s center had begun to rise and form another, much smaller, pseudocrater.  It was as if the smaller landform had reverberated off its limiting walls and started the process of crater formation all over again. The form and its echo brought to mind the impact of a single drop of water on a still lake. What an incredible landform to play in, hide amidst, and be enveloped by. I imagined the joy this earthwork could bring to families and children alike.


Hverfjall Crater loomed in the distance. This enormous, grey-black landform, similar to the pseudocraters, was the result of molten lava meeting the lake waters. Around 2,800 years ago, an explosion resulted in magma meeting water and Hverfjall crater was created. This large, wide landform of ash and pumice rises 656 feet and stretches 3,280 feet in diameter. After climbing the steep slope of small, coarse lava rock, I stood on the rim and peered down at the 460-foot drop to the concave center. This hiking ground proved to be completely different from yesterday. The ground in this area was completely different from yesterday. Today, the ground provided grip for our hike rather then sticking to our boots as it did yesterday. There were no plants on the steep slopes of this crater.  Black and shades of grey comprised this MASSIVE scene.


Along the roadside we spotted a steaming earthen hut. Our guidebook informed us that we could find Hverabrauð (“hot spring bread”) baked in underground ovens in this area. However, to our great disappointment, we were informed at the Visitor’s Center that the ovens were no longer open to the public. Had we discovered someone else’s subterranean oven used to bake bread or cure fish?


A horse coral made from lava rock also attracted our attention as we drove the eastern side of Lake Mývatn. The eclectic combination of wooden gates set off against the lava rock was magnificent. 


Storagja + Grjoagja are old, hot springs that were popular bathing holes until their heat dissipated in the ’90s. While the baiting culture has obviously gone elsewhere, these caves are evidence of one that existed in the past. People often socialized, in the warm waters of the area. While we had enjoyed the Nature Baths last night, I was curious as to what other kinds of hot pools might exist. Where were the “hot springs” in use now? How could I find out where they were? Who frequented these places?


On the road to the Krafla Power Station, both a shower and toilet stood out in the open. The darker soil surrounding this installation emphasized the stark white of the porcelain bowl. What was this? Laughing, Mom and I reminisced about the exposed outhouse we had seen in the Westfjords. Was this a comment on privacy?


We decided to revisit the Krafla Power Station in hopes of finding the Visitor Center. In front of the larger buildings, one drive had potential. With no, “employees only” signs, we continued on to discover a small parking area abutting a gated mass of powerlines. A tiny sign introduced us to the Visitor Center. Our car was the only car in the small parking area, so I was a bit unsure if we had found the right place. During our time driving around the Lake Mývatn area, the parking lots have been full. Here, we were alone. Once we stepped inside, we were greeted kindly by a young Icelandic woman. She asked if we would like to view a short film on geothermal energy. While the video was helpful in describing the buildings onsite and their functions, it offered only an extremely simplified version of harvesting geothermal energy. I was most impressed with the drill heads on display in the lobby. As we were still the only visitors, the lady spent some time discussing these large drill heads. She informed us they were made of industrial diamonds. She also invited us to go up to the top floor and look out at the generator. We were excited to see the inner workings of the plant. As we climbed, floor after floor, doorways leading off the stairwell had signs asking us to keep out. At the top flight we emerged onto a large platform overlooking the floor below. There sitting alone was a sole generator. I’m not sure what I was expecting to see, but this one, quiet machine was definitely not it. Again, where were the people? Slightly disappointed, we headed back down the stairs. At the bottom, beside the doorway, we saw a plethora of hardhats. I wondered when those had stopped being part of the tour? By this time, two more visitors had arrived and were watching the video. We thanked this friendly lady and left the Visitor Center. Outside, the massive buildings, power lines and the complex network of pipes seemed like a completely different world.


We headed for the East Fjords, winding our way through large mountain passes. The mountains in this area are the largest in Iceland, although I must admit, I didn’t feel as dwarfed as I had in the Westfjords. We were headed to Stöðvarfjorður, a small fishing village. While we didn’t have time to visit all of the fjords, I was still particularly interested in Reyðarfjörður. This small town had recently acquired the country’s largest aluminum smelting plant. After taking Julie Bargmann’s Regenerative Technologies course, I can’t help my fascination of industrial landscapes. What impacts might this plant have on its surroundings? Was this plant contaminating the ground? What effects do such a huge operation have on the surrounding community? What do aluminum smelting plants even look like? How is our consumption-crazed society impacting this small town? The building was ENORMOUS, almost a mile long. It felt very separated from the surrounding community, around the bend and out of “sight” sat the enormous factory. We only had a quick glace at this humongous building sitting on the water´s edge. All access was limited. I need to learn more about aluminum smelting if this site is going to have a greater import. What was this industry doing? Where was the power for this immense plant coming from? Why here? Where was the aluminum going? Now that I am in Reykjavík doing research, I am especially happy that we made it to this aluminum smelting plant. I will come back to this topic later, but ALCOA is intrinsically linked to the issues of politics and power in Iceland. The book, Dreamland: A Self-Help Manual for a Frightened Nation by author Andri Snær Magnason describes with wit and imagination political implications surrounding major energy (in particular hydroelectricity) issues and environmentalism in Iceland. 

The Drive from Reyðarfjörður to Stöðvarfjorður was considerably shorted by a 3.5 mile tunnel through the mountains. At first appearance, this tunnel was extremely daunting, a big pipe driven though the mountains? After driving through the tunnel, however, I was impressed with the amount of safety pull-offs and its roomy interior.  It turns out the company, Mannvit, built this tunnel and other similar to it in Iceland. Mannvit is also involved in geothermal works and “green energy”, perhaps this information will prove to be valuable later?