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Landscapes of Iceland

Howie EpsteinReady for an adventure? Marvel at the magnificence of Iceland with Howard E. Epstein, professor and chair of the Department of Environmental Sciences at the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences at the University of Virginia. Epstein and a group of alumni and friends traversed rocky coasts and lava fields with UVA’s Alumni & Parent Travel in June 2018.


RamThe Icelandic landscape is unlike anything you have ever seen before. The island was formed from volcanic activity along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and then further modified by its inhabitants, who essentially removed all of the island’s forests for agriculture and grazing animals, beginning as early as 800 AD.

Iceland mountain and reflectionIceland churchIceland remote house

You could easily convince yourself that you are on another planet, with young, volcanically generated landscapes, geothermal activity, geysers, hot springs and pools, water flowing every which way throughout a rough, craggy landscape, and glaciers at the higher elevation.

It is literally the land of “fire and ice.” The term “geyser” actually derives from the name of a geothermal eruption, Geysir, in Iceland. Nearly all of the energy use in Iceland comes from geothermal sources, and there are still ~30 active volcanoes.

This exploration was interspersed with visits to see Icelandic ponies, a geothermal power plant, a superb geological history museum (LAVA Centre), a shark fishery (yes, we ate shark), and a boat trip to the “island of puffins” (I was only mildly seasick). Evenings were filled with great food, beer (for me anyway), excellent company, and maybe a dip in a hot pool.

We ended our tour in Reykjavik, and on the final day, a small group of us visited the Blue Lagoon, a large geothermally sourced collection of hot pools smack in the middle of the moss-covered, basaltic rock landscape common throughout Iceland. It is certainly a tourist attraction, but it was beautifully run and thoroughly enjoyable on our final day.