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Between Two Continents

Posted on 8/2/2016 12:32:00 PM in Travel Trivia

The stretch of the Reykjanes Ridge that runs through Thingvellir National Park is as beautiful as it is geologically significant.

Question: Where in the world can you snorkel or walk between two tectonic plates—and straddle the boundary between two continents that have an ocean between them?

Answer: Reykjanes Ridge in Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is part of the largest submarine mountain range in the world, meaning the majority—or in this case, more than 90%—of the range is submerged beneath the ocean’s surface. It rests on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, separating the North American and Eurasian Tectonic Plates in the North Atlantic, and the South American and African Tectonic Plates in the South Atlantic. Some of this mountain range is large enough to extend above sea level, particularly in Iceland.

Iceland is home to the largest portion of exposed Mid-Atlantic Ridge in the world, and one of the only places where you can stand upon it on dry land. The section of the ridge that runs through Iceland is called the Reykjanes Ridge, which is among the most impressive geological features in Thingvellir National Park.

Those with a bit of claustrophobia may want to forgo the option to snorkel or scuba dive here; in some places, the space is so narrow that you can technically touch North America and Europe at the same time, although the plates are separating at a speed of roughly an inch per year. It’s far easier—and more comfortable—to take to dry land and walk between the plates where they are tall enough to jut out of the ground. A path has been constructed in Thingvellir National Park just for this purpose.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, if you will, when it comes to Iceland’s natural wonders.

  • Going green: Geothermal fields, which contain energy that is generated and stored in the Earth, cover up to 20% of the country’s electricity needs. Plus, geothermal water, or water heated by the Earth, provides heat to about 90% of homes in Iceland. Conversely, while the nation is quite green when it comes to energy, only a quarter of its area is actually covered in vegetation, and 1% is suitable for growing crops.
  • Frozen solid: One contributing factor? Approximately 11% of the entire country is covered by glaciers. The largest glacier in Europe, Vatnajökull, is located in Iceland.
  • Pardon the eruption: Iceland is home to 30 active volcanoes that act up in a variety of ways—from eruptions under glacial ice to plumes of ash that shoot miles into the atmosphere. In 1963, a new volcano named Surtsey emerged from the Atlantic off the southern coast of Iceland, and erupted for more than three years.
  • Feeling blue: Immerse yourself in one of the many naturally heated geothermal spas found throughout Iceland, filled with mineral-rich water that supposedly possesses healing powers. The most popular of the spas is the Blue Lagoon, which maintains a steady temperature of 99–102 °F.
  • Water, water, everywhere: The combination of frequent rain, snow, and glaciers create the perfect formula for waterfalls, especially in the summer when the glaciers experience periods of melting. As a result, waterfalls of all sizes can be found throughout the island, including the tallest, Morsárfoss, which measures 787 feet, and Godafoss, one of the smallest at just 39 feet.

Related Article:

Iceland’s Huldufolk
In a place where nature can be equally beautiful and forbidding, perhaps it makes sense that the people of Iceland believe in natural spirits—but they take them more seriously than you might think.
Read story »

Perhaps you’ll have the opportunity to walk between two continents when you visit Thingvellir National Park during O.A.T.’s Untamed Iceland adventure. Get a glimpse of Iceland’s geothermal activity in this short film:

Courtesy CNN

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