Tectonically Speaking, Iceland is Awesome

HON195 Student Post: Benjamin Currie, Finance Major; Honors Minor

Career Aspirations: To work in the outdoor industry

Tectonically Speaking, Iceland is Awesome

During the summer, there are very few attractions in Iceland that are not extremely crowded with tourists. This morning, however, we drove to Reykjanes and our tour bus pulled into a hidden parking lot. There were no other cars around. Only a few short feet from the car was a small foot bridge that crossed both the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. In geology, the theory of tectonic plates says there are nine massive plates that structure the entire earth. Two of these plates run smack against each other in the Reykjanes peninsula. As I stood on the bridge straddling North America and Europe, I was able to admire the wonderful view of the ocean and miles of rugged terrain. On each end of the bridge were small paths that led down to the black sand that’s been trapped between the two rock plates. As we stood in the sand, a starting and finish line were drawn for us to have a race between the plates. The race started in North America and ended in Europe a few moments later, tectonically speaking. After spending about thirty minutes in this strange land that connects two massive continents and plates, we boarded the bus to head to Gunnuhver.

Foot bridge

As we were approaching Gunnuhver, I noticed the sky was clouded by the thick steam that was being released from the vents in the ground. It had an eerie look to it and as we were talking, the electronics in our new tour bus started to malfunction, [at which point we learned about] the ghost of Gunnuhver.

Geo Steam

Once we arrived, I was able to roam freely along the wooden paths that weaved in and around the vents. It was very exciting being able to watch up close and even walk through the steam as it was being released. It felt like I was walking through an old western movie with the steam surrounding the path, soaking my clothes. I had to be careful where I walked though, because the ground temperature in some spots was well above 100 degrees Celsius. I really enjoyed watching these vents since we have been learning so much about geothermal energy. It’s crazy to think that these geothermal vents have enough energy to power the entire country.

Walkin on fire.png

After lunch we were gifted with the opportunity to tour one of the largest fish processing plants in Iceland, Stakkavik. Unfortunately I was not able to photograph my experience because they had a strict rule against it. We were lucky enough to even get a tour of their place. For sanitary reasons, as soon as we entered the building, we were given hair nets, shoe covers and a plastic throw overs to wear. I followed our guide to the balcony where I was able to oversee the operation in the assembly line. I sat and watched the entire process from start to finish. The first step in the process is to remove the the tongue of the cod that has become a luxury recently. Once that is complete the fish is thrown on a conveyor belt where a few men drop the fish in a machine that removes the heads and sends them off out of sight. My favorite part was watching the skin being removed through the glass floor. I felt like I was watching a surgery take place as the young workers displayed wonderful filleting skills, waving knives around too fast to follow. After that, the fillets are sent for packaging. It was unreal to watch the transformation from the butchered, frozen cod to beautiful fillets ready to be consumed all around Iceland and beyond.

Once the factory workers went on their lunch break, we were guided into the meeting room where they talked more about their company and showed us videos of their fishing operation. We were all amazed when they said the factory produces over 30,000 pounds of groundfish every day. This statistic surprised me very much once they showed us underwater footage of their long lines. It turns out that 40% of the hooks are wiped clean and numerous fish get hooked and break free. Even with this high failure rate the company is still able to comfortably fill its quotas. Iceland issues quotas to fisherman as a way to record and limit how many fish are being taken from certain areas. As our tour was ending I was able to look back out at the assembly line one more time. What really fascinated me was how little waste was left behind. Every part of the fish was utilized from head to tail. By watching this company work, I was truly convinced that Iceland is much further ahead of the U.S when it comes to their fishery. Icelanders have created new products that turn what used to be wasted material into delicacies for residents. Doing this with a goal of using 100% of the fish.  

Shortly after lunch, we finished our day at the Reykjanesvirkjun power plant. A good way to end the day because I was able to learn about how they harness the geothermal power that I watched in the morning. I was fascinated to learn that everyone’s hot water is produced by pipes that run through these Geothermal areas. While I was there I was also able to acquire little known knowledge about the Blue Lagoon that remains hidden to the world. It turns out that the waste water from the plant is actually released into the Blue Lagoon. Proving the world wrong that the lagoon is a natural world wonder. 


After a long day of exploring Reykjanes, it was time to board the bus back to Keflavik. We watched the landscape change drastically from the interesting buildings in Reykjavik to the dark desert like terrain of Grindavik. Trying to reflect on my day, I couldn’t help but think about how the tiny island of Iceland is capable of having so many more wonderful traits compared to anywhere else I’ve ever been. In an area the size of Kentucky, there are volcanoes and lava fields, geothermal steam vents, a variety of gorgeous waterfalls, steep cliffs, and an amazing coastline providing habitat for popular ground-fish species. There is truly no other place that can compare.