A Partial Eclipse in the Land of Fire & Ice, 1 Aug 2008

 


Introduction

I had originally hoped to follow up the Libya eclipse with a trip to Mongolia to catch the next total eclipse, but time and finances did not permit it. Instead, with the eclipse track passing close to the north pole before heading into Asia, we decided upon Iceland as being sufficiently far north for a decent partial eclipse, plus offering enough of interest should we be clouded out.

In the event we were clouded out for the first half of the eclipse and caught a glimpse of the sun only well after maximum. However, in general the weather was good, with some glorious sunny days, making a contrast to the miserable weather being experienced in the UK at the same time. Therefore, despite the less than perfect view of the eclipse, our short but busy visit to explore this wonderful northern land was a great success.


Eclipse in Reykjavik

The day unfortunately dawned cloudy, but we neverteless headed up to Hallgrimskirkje (Hallgrim's Church), a magnificent modern church built on a low hill near the centre of the Icelandic capital Reykjavik. I judged it would be a good spot from which to view the eclipse.

The altocumulus cloud was not thick but it was enough to blot out the sun and the time of maximum eclipse came and went without so much as a glimpse. However, after a few minutes the cloud did begin to thin, and through thinner patches the sun was weakly visible through eclipse glasses. I managed to catch some shots of the sun during the declining phase of the eclipse, when the Moon was moving off the Sun, with this being the best...

Partial eclipse at 0937UT

Clouds rolled in again so we had only interrupted views of the rest of the eclipse, so we decided to take a closer look at Hallgrimskirkje and explore Reykjavik, before heading off to the interior on a Golden Circle Tour in the afternoon.

I was disappointed to see the church tower under repair and covered in scaffolding. I visited Iceland on a school trip in 1980 and at that time the church was under construction, so I have yet to see it in a pristine state! This picture shows the tower and a statue of Leifr Eriksson silhouetted against the clouds we had to contend with...

Leifr Eriksson & Hallgrim's Church

 

However, the interior of the church was as shiny and clean as when it was new...

Organ in Hallgrimskirkja

and the view from the tower, thankfully still open to the public though covered in scaffolding and green netting, was still a good way to get the measure of the world's most northerly capital city...

View NW from Hallgrimskirkja

Despite a lot of new of new building in the intervening years since my last visit (and still continuing judging by the number of cranes), Reykjavik has lost none of its nordic charm. It is home to many strange sculptures...

Statues in Hverfisgata district

some alluding to Iceland's Viking heritage...

Solfar sculpture near Raudararvik

houses and roofs clad in painted corrugated iron...

Front door of house in Frakkastigur

contented cats enjoying the warm summer sunshine (now the eclipse was over)...

Cat outside house in Frakkastigur

and people doing the same thing in volcanically heated thermal pools in and around the city....

Blue Lagoon near Keflavik


Exploring Beyond Reykjavik

For many, the real treasures lie beyond the city in the remote and rugged interior, home to many volcanoes, glaciers and waterfalls. We had only a few days to explore so had a couple of days for trips out of Reykjavik then flew north for a couple of days based in Akureyri.

Everyone should do a Golden Circle tour taking in Iceland's most famous geological phenomena. We used Gray Line Iceland Excursions.

Thingvellir, the ancient parliament seat and one of the few places in the world where an active mid-ocean spreading ridge can be seen on dry land...

Looking NE across the Mid-Atlantic Rift at Thingvellir

The rift valley is several kilometres wide and is growing by an average of 2cm a year. Here we stand on the American edge and look across to the European side, with an uneven, sunken and watery no-mans'-land in between.

Next stop, Gullfoss, Europe's greatest waterfall as measured by the volume of water thundering over the edge into the canyon below...

Gullfoss with snake of visitors on the approach

Then Geysir, the erupting spout of superheated water after which all others are named...

Eruption of Strokkur at Geysir

The actual spout named Geysir is no longer active but Strokkur provides regular entertainment for visitors.

Thermal regions are common in the central rift zone that runs through Iceland from southwest to northeast and in places the steam and hot water has been harnessed for electrical power generation, town heating (including under-pavement heating we saw being installed in Reykjavik) and heating greenhouses. Tomatoes and bananas seem to be a speciality...

Bananas in Eden Greenhouse at Hveragerdi

Beyond the regular routes of tour buses there is a lot more to see if you hire a vehicle (expensive) or take a 4x4 safari with a guide, which is what we did. The following day we visited the Langjokull ice-cap, set in barren lunar landscape, in fact so convincing that NASA trained the lunar astronauts here...

Lunar landscape near Langjokull

In the winter this would all be covered in snow, but Langjokull is one of a number of permanent icecaps, although permanent for how much longer? This glacier once reached the plain below and the icecap itself is so thin at the edges that you can simply drive onto it, which we did.

Receding glaciers on Langjokull

Nearby there is a flat lava plain where you can descend underground into the heart of solidified lava flows. These lava tubes are created when a newly erupted basalt flow hardens on the outside but the still liquid centre then runs away to leave a hollow core...

Lava tube at Stefanshellir

These are quite unlike normal caves in limestone, and their form is eerily reminiscent of the interior of the alien spacecraft in the film Alien. In closeup the shiny black walls and roof are covered with frozen rivulets and droplets of lava, some with little beads of water hanging on...

Lava droplets in Stefanshellir


Exploring the North

For two days we were based in the northern town of Akureyri, staying in a temporary hotel that uses student accommodation in the summer holidays. Strange as it seemed the landscape here seemed more green and fertile and well farmed than in the centre and south.

A coach tour to the Myvatn (Lake Myva) area brought more waterfalls and volcanic delights...

Godafoss...

Godafoss

The eastern shore of Myvatn at Skutustadir where lava flowed over marshy ground and the superheated steam created exploded through the lava to form "pseudo-craters"...

Skutustadir Pseudo-craters

Eroded lava on northern edge of Myvatn...

Eroded lava flows beside Myvatn

At Reykjahlid where in 1729 a lava flow overran the village destroying houses and the church, whose only remains are a low square wall - a new church lies just beyond...

1729 Lava flow beside Reykjahlid church

Dimmuborgir (in English "Dark Castles"), the remains of a lava lake. Fresh water springs emerging beneath cooled and solidified parts of the the lava to leave a series of rugged arches and spires after the rest of the lake subsequently drained away...

Towers & arches at Dimmuborgir

Volcanic Fissure at Threngslaborgir where a fissure eruption has left a chasm that still contains hot water at the bottom. This area is the northern extension of the rift zone seen at Thingvellir and is more geologically active - if you had to nominate a single spot where Europe and America are dividing this could be said to be it. In this south facing view, Europe is on the left, America on the right.

Volcanic fissures at Threngslaborgir

Not far away is Hverir, where fumaroles and boiling mud pools belch steam and sulphurous fumes and leave the land covered in yellow, brown and reddish stains...

Fumarole at Hverir

Volcanic crater Viti sits on the sife of the Krafla volcano. It last erupted in the 18th century, and may do so again, but for now is filled with a blue lake...

Viti crater on side of Krafla volcano

A day trip to Husavik took us to 50km from the Arctic Circle, which just misses the northern tip of mainland Iceland. This former whaling base is now home to many whale watching boats, and we were pleased to get up close to Humpback whales...

Humpback whale with Viknafjoll Mountains beyond

The town itself has a pleasant harbour...

Husavik harbour

A nordic church with yet another sculpture...

Husavik church

And is home to a stocky breed of Icelandic horses...

Three Icelandic horses near Husavik


The Sky

Not forgetting the astronomical theme of this website I ought to say something about the sky. We had a good many clear skies, apart of course from the morning of the eclipse, but being summer time and so far north it did not get truly dark at night. A few stars bright were able to show themselves, but there was no aurora (Northern Lights) - not dark enough and probably none anyway given the quietness of the Sun at the present solar minimum.

However, there was one showing of Noctilucent Clouds, as seen from our hotel room in Reykjavik...

Night view north from our room in Hotel Cabin

The normal tropospheric clouds near the horizon are dark and in shadow but high up are wispy blue ice crystal clouds on the very edge of space, still illuminated by the sun below the northern horizon. For a while I wasn't convinced that they even were noctilucent clouds because their extensive all-sky appearance was rather different to my more familar edge-on view as seen from southern England, where they seldom stray far from the horizon.

And last but not least the sun goes down on our last evening in Iceland marking the end of an excellent visit...

Watching the Sun set into the sea NW of Reykjavik

All in all an excellent short break and I can thoroughly recommend a visit to Iceland with its friendly people and unique landscapes. The collapse of the Kronur since the 2009 banking crisis makes it much more affordable now than when we went, and perhaps we shall go for a winter visit some time to see snow and the Northern Lights.


29 Mar 2006 Solar Eclipse Home

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