Text by: Agata Ryszkowska
Unless you don’t live in Iceland or you haven’t traveled here yet, chances are that you are not aware of the high quality of local water. But the legend around it doesn’t only evolve around the drinking water. This precious liquid is an inherent element of the Icelandic culture, market and energy system.
Iceland is often referred to as ‚the land of fire and ice’ which is very accurate, as its landscapes both include multiple volcanoes and glaciers. Iceland is located in the southern part of Arctic which creates the perfect environment for glaciers. Thanks to the vast basaltic plateau, flat volcanic mountains and volcanic craters it’s even more possible for glaciers to appear. They’re not only huge tanks of water, but they also are the creators of typical Icelandic landscapes – the narrow fiords, U-shaped valleys, sharp mountain peaks and vast lowlands.
Glaciers in Iceland cover about 11% its area, whereas the most impressive one (Vatnajökull) is said to take around 8.300 km2. They are strictly connected to the whole water environment, creating multiple ice caves, rivers, waterfalls, lakes and so on. Sometimes during their heavy melting period they can cause an often dangerous occurrence called jökulhlaup which is literally translated to a ‚glacial run’. It’s a type of rapid glacial flood usually caused by geothermal heating or volcanic activity which results in abrupt water release from lakes and water reservoirs. It can be extremely dangerous; they may permanently change the landscapes, ecosystems, roads, bridges and hydropower plants build on glacial rivers.
Glaciers are obviously a tourist attraction as well. They provide multiple ways of activities, such as glacier hikes that vary in difficulty levels, snowmobiling, glacier climbing or sightseeing the glacier caves, as it was mentioned before. It’s a huge part of the tourism market in Iceland.
The current river system in Iceland has been created about 10 000 years ago due to the seismic and volcanic activity. The landscape is constantly being carved by various factors such as wind, glacial water, rivers. For example – thanks to the wild rivers we get to travel and admire the breathtaking valleys or canyons, filled with turquoise water.
Rivers as well as glaciers, are the creators of major tourist attractions in Iceland, even if you sometimes don’t think of them that way. Rafting, fishing, canoeing or cascading waterfalls, which are claimed to be the biggest magnet for the tourists. You can’t blame them though! Dettifoss located in the Northeast part of the country is claimed to be the second most powerful waterfall in Europe with the average water flow of 193 m³/s, which comes from the Vatnajökull glacier. It’s best to reach the waterfall from the east, although the road during winter time is often closed due to the harsh conditions. Also remember to bring some water/rainproof gear if you want to get close! Be cautious though, the paths around it get extremely slippery.
Rivers and electricity
It’s often said that Iceland is a totally sustainable country when it comes to power as it uses renewable energy. And that’s true; over 90% homes gets their energy from geothermal sources but when it comes to companies and overall industry, the story gets a bit different. Only 27% of the energy in Iceland has a source in geothermal activity, whereas the majority of the rest is hydroelectric. You can’t skip the fact that it changes the environment and it certainly has its impact on the hydrologic ecosystem, but at the same time it’s way more efficient and eco-friendly than producing energy with fossil fuels. There are about 20 large hydroelectric power plants in Iceland and about 200 smaller ones.
Geysers and hot springs
It’s impossible not to mention these things while talking about Iceland. You might not be aware that the official term ‚geyser’ derives from Geysir, which is located in southwestern Iceland. It was the first geyser ever that was described in a printed source and the first one that was introduced to modern Europeans. Unfortunately its activity has greatly decreased; you can still admire Strokkur, Geysir’s neighbor which can hurl boiling water up to 40 meters.
Iceland is geologically a very young island; it’s still evolving and building itself. It’s located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge which runs right through it. It’s typical for such lands to have many geothermal sources underneath their surface. On their way to the top, they heat up the groundwater which later can be seen as geysers, hot springs etc.
Besides the fact this sort of energy is used to produce power, it also has its use in SPA and wellness. It’s a huge part of Iceland’s tourism industry. There are numerous thermal baths all over the country, for example Blue Lagoon, Mývatn Nature Baths or newly open Vök Baths, which also happens to be eco-friendly. Besides such typical touristy places the Icelanders themselves religiously go to local swimming pools to relax at any time of the day.
The tap water
Drinking cold water straight from the tap is 100% safe in Iceland. There’s absolutely no need to buy the bottled one, which has been brought to the supermarkets due to the tourists demand. The tap water tastes extremely good, it’s free from chlorine, calcium or nitrate. About 95% of it comes from the 10-140m underground springs so it’s naturally filtered and never comes with any pollution. It’s also constantly monitored so if there’s any sort of sudden situation, you’ll definitely end up being informed. Just make sure not to drink, cook or brush your teeth with the hot water as it smells and tastes like rotten eggs as it contain sulphur. Don’t be afraid though to shower with it though, the smell goes away once you’re all dried up.
Being rich in such a gem as naturally pure water, Iceland has come up with an idea to fulfill the demand outside its borders. There’s no surprise that exporting bottled water is a growing industry in Iceland. The largest importers are claimed to be Canada, China, Denmark, Russia and the UK. There are also plans to export it to places that aren’t so lucky to have an access to clean drinkable water.