I wanted to conclude my posts about my trip to Iceland extolling the wonders of not only nature at its most spectacular, but also of man at his best, utilizing natural resources to produce hot water and electrical power, thereby eschewing the fossil fuels that pollute the rest of the world. The thought that this small country has managed to do what so many bigger nations have not; that is truly live in harmony with nature, harnessing resources in a marvelously efficient recyclable system that will insure a clean, prosperous future. It seemed an almost Utopian society – but sadly things are not always what they appear to be.
I was certainly impressed by all that I saw while in Iceland . The magnificence of the topography, the hot springs, the awesome natural light shows of the aurora which I was so very lucky to have seen firsthand. Even the animals there had a special twinkle in their eyes – I unfortunately did NOT get to take pictures of the wonderful Iceland horses – but will share with you some photos I found online so you can enjoy these compact yet majestic creatures:
I did get some up close shots of the local sparrows – these colorful guys were natural hams as they came up to me and posed:
And this raven who was a local jokester here seen on his favorite perch, the eave of the National Museum of Iceland – tales were told of him chasing the neighborhood dogs or pretending to be hobbled, only to take off screeching when the dogs approached:
And the landscapes and skyscapes were absolutely breathtaking so much so that i often found myself taking pictures of those rather than the actual place we were visiting. For example – the Hofoi House was the site of the 1986 summit between Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev that effectively set the stage for the cessation of the Cold War:
No, we didn’t visit at night – this was taken around 9:30A. We weren’t allowed inside so I quickly became distracted by the full moon reflecting off the shores of Reykjavik:
A similar distraction occurred during our visit to Perlan (English: The Pearl) which is a landmark building. This structure was built on top of some existing water tanks at the behest of the then mayor of Reykjavik in 1991. Inside are a number of shops, a cafeteria and a large space for concerts, art exhibitions etc – an Icelandic indoor mall of sorts.
However we were invited to visit the outdoor viewing deck that surrounds the dome – which is custom-made for gorgeous panoramic views of Reykjavik. Needless to say I did not visit the shops or cafeteria – I spent all my time looking at the vistas and snapping photos. These were taken around 10A which is Iceland’s sunrise time (thanks Lenore for the two still photos). The sound you hear is frozen snow being crushed as I walked:
Our visit to the Hellisheidi Power Plant also provided visual distractions – the early morning darkness added to the very surreal surroundings – once again I felt as though I was not necessarily on earth anymore:
Adding to this otherworldly feel was the strong smell of sulfur dioxide, or in laymen’s terms “rotten eggs.” For those who may not know – SO2, while colorless, is a toxic, acidic gas (one of the components of acid rain) and it can irritate the eyes, nose and lungs. While at first it stinks, with time one becomes “nose blind” – the same phenomenon occurs with wearing perfume – eventually you have “sensory adaptation” as your smell receptors kind of turn off when a smell is constant. In this case this was good news – for we were going to spend some considerable time in the power plant.
But why is SO2 so abundant at the power plant? Simply, it is a by-product of the plant’s operations. Similarly, SO2 also appears naturally in volcanic eruptions, and if explosive enough, the gas can become tiny particles which can cause alterations in the air. Keep in this mind.
The operations of this geothermal power plant was astounding – Iceland is a leader in creating energy alternatives to fossil fuel and as such had shown remarkable improvement in the quality of their environment – look at these statistic based on December 2014 testing:
This outstanding report is a direct result of creating heat and electricity by harnessing the geothermal power of the earth. We watched a fascinating but simple display on how this is done – here are some excerpts (you can watch the entire program here:
Although Iceland still relies on fossil fuels in the form of imported oil for all its cars, buses (which I found a bit odd with all the clean electricity they can produce) and fishing trawlers and agriculture – its cities are heated and have electricity almost exclusively through hydroelectric and hydrothermal plants such as the one we visited. In fact, even a high percentage of fruits and vegetables are now produced in huge greenhouses using the abundance of geothermal heat, and let me tell you their tomatoes are delish. There are also movements to decrease fossil fuel usage even further by employing hydrogen fuel cells.
Another fascinating and a bit frightening exhibit was an interactive wall panel that recreated the tremors of various earthquake intensities. A bit discomfiting – more to come on that in a moment.
So, with all this marvelous progress to make Iceland clean and energy-efficient – why the title of this post? The reservations frankly didn’t hit me until I started doing a bit of additional research for this post. This is what I uncovered:
1- Geothermal power plants are associated with sulfur dioxide and silica emissions, and the reservoirs can contain traces of toxic heavy metals including mercury, arsenic and boron.
2 – Surface Instability – The construction of geothermal power plants can effect the stability of land. Earthquakes can be triggered due to hydraulic fracturing (rock is fractured by a hydraulically pressurized liquid) which unfortunately is an intrinsic part of creating these plants. (See why that earthquake tremor panel now gives me the willies)?
3 – Geothermal effluent fluids that are the result of the power plants workings are returned to earth and these can contain heavy concentrations of corrosive salt, silica, other toxic elements such as arsenic, mercury and ammonia. The Blue Lagoon, for example was created through the effluents of the Svartsengi power plant in 1976. Although its salinity and mineral content do wonders for the skin (well documented in treating psoriasis etc) and mud facials were offered, we had also been warned not to let our hair touch the water to avoid severe damage. We had laughed at the coach driver who said he wouldn’t go near the Blue Lagoon – now food for thought. N.B. – we all enjoyed the immersion in the Blue Lagoon and no one had any adverse reactions – I don’t mean this to be reactionary but rather a cautionary note.
Don’t get me wrong – Many ideas being carried out in Iceland we should emulate. I don’t think any method is 100% foolproof – and Iceland is certainly miles ahead of us even if there are some hiccups. We just must always keep in mind that we must do everything possible to maintain the precarious balance that provides nature’s bounty and beauty. It is our lifeblood and must be honored and not abused. Icelanders get this – and I truly believe they are constantly working towards better and better ways to harness renewable energy with the least effect on our resources.
Enough soapbox. Iceland is quite unique and I am looking forward to going back!