Due to the geological location of Iceland (over a rift in the American and European continental plates) there is a high concentration of volcanoes in the area and a high amount of geothermal activity. This is exhibited in a number of different forms such as geysers, boiling mud pots, sulphurous fumaroles and hot springs. This geothermal activity is being utilised in Iceland for power generation. Five major geothermal power plants exist in Iceland, which produce approximately 26.2% (2010 of the nation’s electricity. In addition, geothermal heating meets the heating and hot water requirements of approximately 87% of all buildings in Iceland. Apart from geothermal energy, 73.8% of the nation’s electricity is generated by hydro power, and 0.1% from fossil fuels.
There are a number of geothermal active areas in Iceland that you can easily visit to witness these phenomenon.
Geysir sometimes known as “The Great Geysir”, is a geyser in southwestern Iceland. It was the first geyser described in a printed source and the first known to modern Europeans. The English word geyser (a periodically spouting hot spring) derives from Geysir. The name Geysir itself is derived from the Icelandic verb geysa, “to gush”, the verb from Old Norse. Geysir lies in the Haukadalur valley on the slopes of Laugarfjall hill, which is also the home to Strokkur geyser about 50 metres south.
It is interesting to walk along the path towards Geysir in air temperatures of around 6 deg C with near boiling water passing next to you in the small stream. There are of course warning signs pointing this out very clearly … and the fact that the nearest hospital is 62km away!
The mineral rich waters produce some wonderful rich and vivid colours as it leaches across the surface of the ground. Close to the main Geysir there is a very small geyser known as Litli-Geysir.
Research shows that Geysir has been active for approximately 10,000 years. The oldest accounts of hot springs at Haukadalur date back to 1294, when earthquakes in the area caused significant changes in local neighbouring landscape creating several new hot springs. Changes in the activity of Geysir and the surrounding geysers are strongly related to earthquake activity. In records dated 1630 the geysers erupted so violently that the valley around them trembled. The placename “Geysir” has been first mentioned in written sources in 18th century and, as unusual natural phenomena were of high interest to the society during the Age of Enlightenment, the term became popular and has been used for similar hydrothermal features worldwide since then.
In 1845, it reached a height of 170 metres. In 1846 the research of Geysir by Robert Bunsen resulted with the explanation of the mechanism of geyser activity. Measurements of Professor Bunsen in this year showed that Geysir was erupting 43 – 54 m high.
History of recent centuries shows that earthquakes have tended to revive the activity of Geysir which then subsides again in the following years. Before 1896, Geysir was almost dormant before an earthquake that year caused eruptions to begin again, occurring several times a day, lasting up to an hour and causing spouts of up to 60 metres in height. In 1910, it was active every 30 minutes; five years later the time between the eruptions was as much as six hours, and in 1916, the eruptions all but ceased. In 1935 a manmade channel was dug through the silica rim around the edge of the geyser vent. This ditch caused a lowering of the water table and a revival in activity. Gradually this channel became too clogged with silica and eruptions again became rare. In 1981 the ditch was cleared again and eruptions could be stimulated, on special occasions, by the addition of soap. Following environmental concerns the practice of adding soap was seldom employed during the 1990s. During that time Geysir seldom erupted. When it did erupt, it was spectacular, sending boiling water sometimes up to 70 metres into the air. On the Icelandic National Day authorized government geologists would force an eruption.
A further earthquake in 2000 revived the geyser again and it reached 122 meters for two days, thus becoming one of the highest known geysers in history (Waimangu Geyser in New Zealand erupted up to 460 m high, but stopped erupting around 1900). Initially eruptions were taking place on average eight times a day. By July 2003 this activity had again decreased to around three times per day.
The nearby geyser Strokkur erupts much more frequently than Geysir, erupting to heights of up to 30 metres every few minutes. Strokkur’s activity has also been affected by earthquakes, although to a lesser extent than the Great Geysir. Due to its eruption frequency, online photos and videos of Strokkur are regularly mislabelled as depicting Geysir. There are around thirty much smaller geysers and hot pools in the area, including Litli Geysir (‘Little Geysir’).
Eruptions at Geysir can hurl boiling water up to 70 metres in the air. However, eruptions may be infrequent, and have in the past stopped altogether for years at a time.
See the video of Geysir erupting here.
Námafjall Hverir Geothermal Area
The Namafjall geothermal field is located in Northeast Iceland, on the east side of Lake Myvatn. At this area, also known as Hverir, you may see many solfataras and boiling mud pots, surrounded by sulfur crystals of many different colours. The area is quite smelly but something one gets used to after a while. The soil in the area has little growth and is sour due to erosion and the sulfur from the atmosphere. Indeed, the old rock-covered boreholes in the area give off a lot of hot steam, so caution is advised.
You can walk around this area by following the wooden walkways which circle around boiling mud pools and mud pots and steaming fumaroles giving off sulphurous gases.
Historically sulfur would be much sought after in the area. The same is true of the geothermal power. In 1969 a power plant was built west of the mountain, at Bjarnarflag, by the Laxa Power Company. This company later merged with Landsvirkjun. The plant currently produces 3MW of geothermal energy.
See the video of the bubbling mud pots and steaming fumarole here
Geothermal Power Plants
Geothermal power plants are very important for power generation in Iceland. The Námafjall Hverir Geothermal Area is very active and geothermal energy is utilised there in a number of locations. As you approach Lake Myvatn and look down from the higher area you can see numerous steam spouts where the geothermal energy is being tapped.
Close to the Krafla Volcano is the Krafla Power Station which is a 60-megawatt (MW) geothermal power station.The power station draws heat from some 33 boreholes, about 15 of which are used at any one time. About 15 employees work there, full-time.
The first trial boreholes were drilled in 1974. Seismic and volcanic hazards threatened development, but production wells were sunk and the power plant built. Operations began in 1977, and in 1996, a second steam turbine was installed, and additional drilling took place. It reached its target of 60 MW in 1999.
Consumption of primary geothermal energy in 2004 was 79.7 petajoules (PJ), approximately 53.4% of the total national consumption of primary energy, 149.1 PJ. The corresponding share for hydro power was 17.2%, petroleum was 26.3%, and coal was 3%. Plans are underway to turn Iceland into a 100% fossil-fuel-free nation in the near future. For example, Iceland’s abundant geothermal energy has enabled renewable energy initiatives, such as Carbon Recycling International’s carbon dioxide to methanol fuel process
Hot Springs, Spas & Hot Baths
With all of the geothermal activity in Iceland this means there are many hot springs, spas and hot baths in Iceland from small private baths to large public bathing pools. Some springs are boiling hot and some are just the perfect bath temperature.
One of the most well known hot baths is Blue Lagoon Spa which has become quite a tourist attraction and is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. The spa is located in a lava field in Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula, southwestern Iceland. Bláa lónið is situated approximately 20 km from the Keflavík International Airport and 39 km from the capital city of Reykjavík, roughly a 20-minute drive from the airport and a 50-minute drive from Reykjavík.
There are numerous public hot baths around Iceland and another one I visited was the Myvatn Naturebath close to lake Myvatn and the geothermal active area at Námafjall Hverir. You can sit in this large hot bathing pool with wonderful views over Lake Myvatn.
My drive around Iceland included visiting the more remote north west part of Iceland and I stayed at Heydalur Country Hotel which was using the hot geothermal waters to maintain an internal hot tub as well as creating a huge hot greenhouse where fruits and vegetables were being grown.
During this stay at Heydalur I had the opportunity to use a private hot tub on the opposite side of the remote fjord, Mjóifjörður. The hot pool was fed directly by a pipe from the mountainside and the temperature of the water was perfect bath temperature. It was so relaxing to sit in the lovely hot water with a magnificent view over the fjord. Apparently if you are lucky you can even see whales in the fjord from here sometimes.
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6 thoughts on “Geothermal Activity in Iceland – Geysers, Mud Pots, Fumaroles, Power Plants & Hot Springs”
Looks amazing as always. I want to visit some of those hot baths the locals go to. I’ve been to Blue Lagoon but the locals say it’s too touristy.
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