Iceland: Expedition for the
Earth’s 2016 Destination
With an area of over 103,000 square kilometres, Iceland has a population of only 329,100 people, making it the most sparsely populated country in Europe. The country’s rich and unique natural landscapes are defined by volcanoes, glaciers and geothermal features. The land is mountainous and covered by lava fields, sand, rivers and lakes. Iceland’s interior is best described as an ‘arctic desert, similar to the surface of Mars,’ while its coastal regions are lush and green, with raging rivers, beautiful waterfalls and colourful geothermal pools, hilltops and cliffs.
Over the past 20 years, an increased emphasis has been placed on conserving biological diversity and threatened habitats. Iceland’s natural wonders are extremely important to the country and the creation of National Parks, Nature Reserves and Natural Monuments has contributed to a feeling of national pride.
Fjallabak Nature Reserve
In the southern region of Iceland, the 47,000 hectare Fjallabak Nature Reserve is a wild and rugged mountainous region shaped by volcanic and geothermal activity. Established in 1979, the reserve’s unique geology and ecology are primarily influenced by the Torfajokull volcanic system which includes the largest and most powerful geothermal field in the country. Within the park, the highland region of Landmannalaugar shows some of the best examples of the area’s impressive features with its colourful rhyolite hills, natural hot springs, deep ravines and lava fields. The Reserve is popular for hiking and features many trails for those who visit the park for its desolate tranquility and breathtaking beauty.
The geology of Iceland is as unique as it is influential. Known widely as the ‘land of fire and ice’, its unique landscapes are ever-changing. Nowhere else on earth can you experience so many geologic processes happening all at once.
Iceland is one of the most active volcanic regions on Earth. Sitting on top of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the island was formed by the action of the spreading North American and Eurasian tectonic plates in combination with the presence of a hotspot. These factors continue to affect the country today, causing earthquakes, eruptions, new volcanoes and the reactivation of old ones. Of the more than 100 volcanoes in the coutry, about 35 have erupted in the past 10,000 years. Recent eruptions include the 1974-1984 eruption at Krafla, a brief eruption at Hekla in 1991 and again in2000, the infamous Eyjafjallajökull eruption that brought air travel to a halt in 2010, and four eruptions at Grimsvotn: in 1996, 1998, 2004 and 2011.
The same tectonic forces that cause Iceland’s earthquakes and volcanoes are responsible for the natural hot springs and bubbling mud pits that are found from the seaside to the most remote areas of the glaciers. Some of the most famous of these are the spouting hot springs, known worldwide as geysers. In fact, the word geyser originates from the name of a famous single spouting hot spring in Iceland: Geysir. Tales of the great Geysir originate from the late 1200s, long before other erupting hot springs in Europe and North America had been discovered. After a period of dormancy, Geysir awoke after an earthquake in 2000 and now erupts sporadically, emitting a jet of hot water and steam 60-80m high. Nearby, Stokkur erupts on a much more regular schedule, throwing a 20m jet every 4 to 8 minutes.
While the erupting springs are a show of explosive force, there are also many springs that can be enjoyed up close. On our journey we will have the opportunity to relax in the natural hot springs.
In addition to the therapeutic and recreational uses of the hot springs, they provide the country with an important source of energy. Geothermal energy produces about 25% of the country’s electricity and heats nine out of ten households in Iceland.
One of the main characteristics of Iceland’s flora is its limited species of vascular plants. Much of the plant diversity of Iceland was erased during the last ice age, and the opportunities for species to become re-established are limited due to Iceland’s isolation and ever-changing landscapes. Here are a few vegetation types you might encounter on the trek:
Mosses make up over 50% of all vegetation cover in Iceland. They are one of the first plants to become established on young lava fields, creating a lush green blanket over the sharp jagged rocks. As a colonizing plant it slowly binds a layer of soil so other plants such as grasses and ferns can later be established. Moss heath is also common at high altitudes.
Found in both high- and lowland regions, wetland species are fairly common in Iceland. They are once believed to have covered about 8-10% of the country, however many lowland wetlands have been drained for cultivation purposes. Wetland species include reeds, rushes, cottongrass, willows and sedges.
Along with directly warming the ground, geothermal heat also affects the mineral and chemical composition of the soil, which influences the types of plants that grow in geothermal areas. While some plants found in geothermal areas may also grow elsewhere, there are some that only grow in geothermal areas and a number of these have been identified in Iceland.
Iceland is known for its variety of birdlife and marine mammals and its complete absence of reptiles and amphibians. Iceland has been described as a bird lover’s paradise, with approximately 70 different bird species that breed in the country and a relatively rich and productive marine life. Besides rodents, the terrestrial mammalian fauna of Iceland is composed of just four species, including the Artic Fox, Polar bear, American mink and reindeer. Some of the species you may encounter on the trip include:
The pink-footed goose breeds in the central highlands of Iceland. From mid-September to mid-October it is possible to see them on passage to their wintering grounds in northeastern Europe.
Recognized as a national symbol for Iceland, the Icelandic Gyrfalcon is the largest falcon species in the world. It breeds in the arctic and subarctic regions of the northern hemisphere and preys mostly on large birds, pursuing them with its powerful flight and strength.
Ptarmigan are the only grouse species in Iceland and favourite food of the Gyrfalcon. They are found throughout the country but especially in the heath and grasslands of the highlands.
European Golden-Plover (East Atlantic)
This beautiful shorebird inhabits the tundra, wet areas, fens and meadows of northern Europe and western Asia, from Iceland to central Siberia. The total European population is estimated to be between 440,000-785,000 breeding pairs, with almost half of the breeding pairs’ population found in Iceland in breeding season from March to September.
Arctic Fox are found throughout Iceland but are most common in the Westfjords where the coastline provides a variety of year-round food sources including birds, invertebrates and carrion. As the only land mammal native to Iceland, the arctic fox is truly an important part of the country's natural history and has become quite well adapted to the unusual climate and available resources.
The American Mink is a semi-aquatic mammal which has been present in Iceland since the 1930s, and has become well established in the country, despite being heavily hunted since 1939. The American Mink is active throughout the year and can be seen all over Iceland.
Domestic animals and livestock were brought to Iceland by Nordic settlers in the late 9th and early 10th centuries. Since then they have lived in isolation and have been subject to natural selection, which has resulted in unique breeds that are well suited to the harsh Icelandic conditions.
Over 80,000 of these small-statured horses live in Iceland. Often mistaken by visitors as ponies, Icelandic people fiercely defend their ‘horse’ status! Well sought-after outside Iceland, they are exported and bred worldwide, however importing them back to Iceland – even ones that only left for breeding or show - is strictly prohibited.
These sheep are possibly the oldest and purest domesticated breed of sheep in the world today. There are over 800,000 sheep living in Iceland and their wool is prized for its breathability, warmth and comfort.
With so many sheep on Iceland, it is no surprise that there is also an Icelandic Sheepdog. It is a medium sized dog with pricked ears, a curled tail and thick, weatherproof coat. At risk of extinction in the 1960s, it has since increased in numbers and popularity, helping to ensure its continued presence as a symbol of Icelandic culture.
To learn more about Iceland visit these resources:
Tuesday Talk at The Trail Shop
March 1, 2016
Join the Nova Scotia Nature Trust at The Trail Shop's Tuesday Talk Series on March 15th. Learn more »
Press Release: Iceland 2016 on the upward climb
February 23, 2016
Five intrepid explorers have signed on for an adventure of a lifetime. Read more »
Next Information Night February 24th
February 3, 2016
Join us for our next Expedition Info Night to learn how you can be part of this adventure! more »
Registration Now Open!
December 8, 2015
Don't delay: Register now for Expedition for the Earth: Iceland 2016 Read more »
Info and Launch Night on WTV Media
November 27, 2015
Students from the Radio and Television Arts Students at NSCC's Waterfront Campus stopped by the Launch and Info Night to film a piece for WTV Media on Eastlink TV. Watch Now »
CTV Morning Live’s Cyril Lunney hikes with Wally Berg
November 24, 2015
Expedition for the Earth on Global News
November 24, 2015
Berg Adventures International's Wally Berg and Nova Scotia Nature Trust's Danielly Grandy stopped by Global News to talk about Expedition for the Earth. Watch Now »
Expedition for the Earth Launch
November 23, 2015
Over 65 attendees came out to hear Wally Berg speak about his adventures at the launch of Expedition for the Earth: Iceland 2016 See the Photos »
Expedition Info Night
November 16, 2015
Join adventurer Wally Berg and the Nature Trust for our Expedition for the Earth: Iceland 2016 Info Night. Read more »