A tale of ice and fire: Time travel in Iceland

23 pictures

About 11 percent of Iceland is covered in glaciers with a full eight percent coming from the Vatnajökull glacier in the southeast of the country. With an area of 8,300 sq km (3205 sq mi), it has the same mass as all of the glaciers on mainland Europe put together. This shot was taken at the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, a spot where the massive glacier has an outlet, or an area where the giant ice lake flows outwards. This wall is the site of regular calving, where chunks of ice drop into the lagoon to become icebergs.(Credit: Michael Franco/New Atlas)

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Driving along Route 1, the "Ring Road" that encircles the island country of Iceland, it's easy to feel as though you've traveled back in time and are witnessing the Earth as it was when it was just getting started. In many ways that's actually the case and New Atlas checked out some of the science behind the sites.

Iceland sits atop a hot spot – an area where molten rock spews from the Earth's mantle. As if that wasn't primeval drama enough, the country also straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge tectonic plate boundary, the spot on our planet where the North American and Eurasian plates are pulling away from each other. On top of all that – literally – sits a collection of glaciers that grind and sharpen the landscape and feed a collection of mighty waterfalls that plummet Earthward and carve their way through the mostly treeless volcanic landscape.

New Atlas recently took a tour of "Island," as the locals know it, and we were not only blown away by the beauty of the place but by some of the science behind its good looks as well.

The color of an iceberg can tell you a lot. In this berg, the stripes of black represent volcanic eruptions that spewed ash on top of ice over time. The blueish tint to the ice shows that the iceberg flipped over recently. That's because when the ice first calves from the glacier, it is compacted so tightly that light coming through it takes on a blue hue. After the iceberg flips over, as they do from getting top heavy, the ice eventually turns white as the sun creates tiny cracks in its structure.(Credit: Michael Franco/New Atlas)

This is a story best told through the images, so click through the gallery to see and read more about what we discovered in this land of ice and fire.

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