Sunday, February 28, 2016

Flora of Iceland

Heather, Calluna vulgaris in bloom
Iceland is famous for stunning landscapes: waterfallls, glaciers and volcanoes. It's plant life however, also deserves attention. While low in species numbers, Iceland flora is jewel like and fascinating. It aptly illustrates the tenacity of life in a diversity of unlikely conditions.

Caluna vulgaris
Pleistocene glaciations wiped out Icelandic Boreal Forests. Succeeding glaciations left fewer and fewer species of flora. Iceland is far from Europe and North America, so species were not easily reintroduced onto the island. The only forest forming tree to return to the present interglacial was the downy birch.
Betula pubescens

Downy Birch leaves
 Other tree species native to Iceland are the uncommon Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), the extremely rare aspen (populus tremula) and abundant shrubby willows. 

Wooly Willow

Salix lanata
Human settlement, begining about 1140, served to decimate the remaining birch forests. The grazing of sheep, an important source of wool and food for Icelanders, prevented the regeneration of the birchwoods, even after human clearing had begun to decline.

Nearly a million sheep roam Iceland freely in the summer.
They are rounded up come fall.

Munch, Munch

Horses also graze, and they always face the way the wind is blowing.

The dominate plants are groundcovers and mosses, they form a colorful tapestry.

Thymus praecox

Wooly Moss colonizes the Lava.

It is gray or green, depending upon conditions.
 It gradually producing soil for the next line of succesion.

Racomitrium lanuginosum 

Marsh Grass, Parnassus palustrus, nestled in moss.

Fluorescent green algae thrives in moist areas.

And in hot springs.

Lichens also help to make soil. Mary's Falls.

Eventually grasses take hold. 
Vatnajokull, the largest glacier in Europe, is in the background.

 Many areas of Iceland have desert conditions, 
and poor soils, such as lava fields.

Sea Campion, (Silene uniflora), growing on lava. Flowers are fading here.

Armeria maritima. 
Another strangely named plant that survives desert conditions. 
This time, mountain scree.

Saxifraga aizoides, growing on glacial deposits.

There are also meadows. Here, with Wooly Willow and Cotton Plant

Eriophoum scheuzeri

Whooper Swans in a meadow.

A common plant in iceland is Angelica archangelica.
 "Angels Herb" in late summer.
Seen growing on the right, along the water in the Gjain Valley.

Because of it's lack of vegetation and its windswept nature in the middle of the Atlantic, Iceland has an erosion problem. Spruce and Aspen have been imported and planted as windbreaks. Lupine and Lyme Grass are also being planted for erosion control. Introducing non-indigenous species may not be a good idea.

Lupine, Lupine nootkatensis.

Lyme Grass, Leymus arenarius.

Goodbye Iceland! Harlequin Ducks in non-breeding plummage.
Histrionicus histrionicus

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important. ~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Glaciers, Volcanoes and Water Falls: South Iceland

Iceland is an astonishment. It is one of the few places that the mid-atlantic Ridge is  exposed, and the the tectonic forces of the earth laid bare.

The mid-atlantic ridge, is a submarine mountain range that extends 40K miles around the earth, and is the site of sea-floor spreading. Its volcanic activity slowly separates the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, and formed the island of Iceland.

Volcanoes and  massive glaciers shape the landscape, Waterfalls flirt with light and rainbows glimmer. Mosses struggle to colonize the lava, and exquisite wildflowers grace rock crevices. A later blog will focus on the ecosystem.

Mid-Atlantic Ridge exposed, Thingvellir National Park.

Rift Valley, formed by spreading tectonic plates.
 That is the River Sog, the longest spring-fed river in the country.
Thingvellir is a Unesco World Heritage site. 

The Allthing, or IcelandicParliament

was established here in 930 and remained until 1789.

Scenes from "The Game of Thrones" were shot here..


Thingvellir is on the north shore of Lake Thinvallavatn,
 the largest natural lake in Iceland

This blasted landscape was formed by the retreat of  Langojokull.
 Jokull is "Glacier"; Long glacier.

Nature Explorer Super Touring Jeep on Langjokull.
We had a driver-guide.
This was their "Complete South Iceland Tour"

Geysir. From which all other geysirs get their name.


Lenticular clouds wandering in the area.

Gullfoss. "Foss" is waterfall.

From the right vantage, it looks as if the falls are disappearing into the earth.
Thingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss, comprise the "GoldenCircle" tour.


Surface water and glacial melt water
 are filtered through a lava field

The lava dates from 800 AD


The river Fossa.

Drops from a height of 122ft. Second highest in Iceland.
Hai-foss, high falls.

On the way to Landmannalaugur, in the interior highlands of Iceland.
Landmannalaugur is on the edge Laugaharan Lava field.

Kerith Crater

The patterns on Icelandic sweaters were inspired
by the snow on the volcanic mountains

Landmannalaugur, the Rhyolite and Obsidian mountains

Landmannalaugur is in the interior highlands of Iceland.

Landmannalaugur is on the edge of Laugaharan lava field.
Can you see the Obsidian shining in these rocks?

There are hot springs to bathe in in this valley

Leaving Landmannalaugur,
the Valley of Eldgja.

Nature paints

Eldgja is the longest valley in Iceland.

Vatnajokull is the largest glacier in Iceland.

Vatnajokull gives birth to the famous Jokuksarlon Glacial lagoon.

The icebergs drift down a river, to the volcanic sand Ice Beach. 

Where they are eventually swept out to sea

Further along the coast, sea stacks and the Basalt beach of Vik,
 one of the wettest places in Iceland.

Cliff of Basalt columns, formed by cooling lava.

Thorsmork is a mountain ridge named after the Norse god Thor.
It is between  the Tindfjallajokull and Eyjafallajokull glaciers

Eyjafajallajokul. The volcano that erupted under this small glacier,
 caused all the travel delays in 2010.

The rainbow followed us all day.
Rainbows are "common" in Iceland.
 Because of the latitude, the light is low in the sky.

Glacial river in Thorsmork. Both Landmannalaugur and Thorsmork
 are popular hiking grounds.

Uradafoss, more water flows over this falls than any other in Iceland.

We had been very lucky with the September weather, but today was gray.
The coastal weather is wetter and grayer than the interior..Time to head home.
Mudpits in the rain, on the Reykjanes Penninsula
More evidence of the earth's restlessness
The Indian Head bids us farewell. A crater lake in the background.
Reykjanes Penninsula, near Keflavik Airport.

Perhaps to return at the end of the rainbow.
A good beginning makes a good ending ~ Iceland Proverb

Map with most places marked.