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The Geyser in Geysir (Iceland)

It was a cold and blustery October day! Our tour bus had stopped at a desolate site where a group of visitors had lined up, cameras at the ready, all anxiously waiting. Then suddenly it happened! Perhaps by now you’ve guessed what these people were waiting for. Right after I took this photo, I rushed...

It was a cold and blustery October day! Our tour bus had stopped at a desolate site where a group of visitors had lined up, cameras at the ready, all anxiously waiting. Then suddenly it happened!

NG_BLOG_ICELAND GEYSIR IPerhaps by now you’ve guessed what these people were waiting for. Right after I took this photo, I rushed to the spot where they were gathered, in order to click away another pair of images, and made a video, to nature’s resounding announcement, “Thar she blows!”

Visitors to the Strokkur geyser in Iceland’s Haukadalur geothermal area are treated to this spectacle every 10 minutes or so. The slo-mo reveals the effects of the superheated water breaking through a dome created by surface tension!
Below ground level abound regions of hot and warm geothermal zones. These two photos, taken less than a second apart, show an erupting geyser. As everyone knows, water boils at 100°C (212°F). But at Iceland’s “Geysir,” approximately an hour’s drive from Reykjavik, underground water superheated to 250°C (482°F) by volcanic activity below ground, forms huge bubbles in the deep pool of water. A bubble (lower photo) is seen just as it breaks the surface of the pool, and bursts forth with explosive drama (upper photo). The particular bubble I captured measured around 3-4 meters in diameter and its eruption reached 10-15 meters (35-50 feet) above ground in the form of scalding water and steam. The period of the eruptions is between 5-8 minutes. The pool is cordoned off to keep visitors at a safe distance. I am posting a photo of a warning sign in the workshop.
NG Blog Sign 2

The Norsemen, popularly known now as the Vikings, swept out of Scandinavia and colonized the Northern Atlantic Island of Iceland between AD 870 and 930. From there they sailed west to Greenland (ironically covered in far more ice than Iceland), and then by AD 1000 established an outpost in what would become Nova Scotia, Canada. Almost 500 years before Columbus discovered the New World, the Viking Leif Erickson already had a discovered the New World. North America and its natives, and Greenland and its lack of fertile ground, however, turned out to be much too inhospitable even for the Vikings. They vacated the premises and returned to Iceland. In Iceland the present population is almost all homogeneous in its Norse genes, and they still speak a brand of the original language closer to the original Norse, than do the Scandinavians of Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

Geologically, Iceland, is located on the mid-Atlantic Ridge, where a continuous seam or fissure on the planet, witnesses the birth of new land. Entire continents, rafted on tectonic plates glide over the surface of the earth. In their collisions they create mountain chains, as they did with the Himalayas. Then in other regions, in subduction zones, the plates plunges into the planet, creating deep fissures, trenches. Thus in places the plates undergo separation and in other places collision.

The magnificent islands of French Polynesia and the American islands of Hawaii, all located on the mid-Pacific ridge, were similarly created by volcanic activity. The earth’s surface grows on these ridges, but then in distinction, contracts at subduction zones. The surface area of the planet remains constant. The ridges and subduction zones are collectively known as “fault lines.” The worst of earthquakes occur at subduction zones, e.g. in Alaska, Chile, Japan…

In Iceland, that wondrous land of ice and fire, the North American Plate and the Euro-Asian Plate separate with a speed of 2 cm per year. A wide fertile valley exists in Iceland, created by the lava that has emerged over time and cooled down.


The Pohutu and Prince of Wales Feathers Geysers at Whakarewarewa, Rotorua, New Zealand. While hiking through the Redwood Forrest in Rotorua, we reached the peak of a hill, and alas came upon this valley of geysers, mud pools, and extinct volcanos.

Just two months earlier, at a spot diametrically opposite from Rotorua — 12,800 km through the center of the earth — we were in Iceland where we also saw geyser in Geysir, Iceland.

Both countries, Iceland and New Zealand, lie on a mid-ocean rift area or ridge.,The former is in the North Atlantic, the latter in the South Pacific. NG_Blog Rotorua

We had been warned about the pungent sulfur odors enshrouding Rotorua. As it turns out, one gets used to the smells after a few days, or perhaps the natural beauty of nature hypnotizes the visitor dulling the senses against picking up the noxious fumes. The turquoise water visible on the right is reminiscent of a pristine swimming pool. But one has to guard against the temptation to take a dip into these waters… this is a pool with scalding hot water. Indeed, it is pets, especially dogs, that are especially vulnerable and must be kept on a lease. They would perish from a mere plunge.

A geyser (generic, international word) is a vent in Earth’s surface that periodically ejects a column of hot water and steam. The word comes from the geyser in Geysir, Iceland, specifically from the verb, “geysa” (“to gush”) in the Icelandic (Viking) language.

Even a small geyser is an extraordinary phenomenon of nature. Some geysers are especially dramatic, characterized by eruptions that blast thousands of gallons of boiling hot water up to a few hundred feet in the air others are noteworthy for their regular periodicity.


• Beehive Geyser (Wyoming, United States)
• Beowawe (Nevada, United States)
• Bolshoi (Greater) Geyser (Kamchatka, Russia) – seeValley of Geysers
• Castle Geyser (Wyoming, United States)
• Daisy Geyser (Wyoming, United States)
• Diamond Geyser (Orakei Korako, New Zealand)
• Excelsior Geyser (Wyoming, United States)
• Fan & Mortar Geysers (Wyoming, United States)
• Fly Geyser (Black Rock Desert, Nevada)
• Geysir (Haukadalur, Iceland)
• Giant Geyser (Wyoming, United States)
• Giantess Geyser (Wyoming, United States)
• Grand Geyser (Wyoming, United States)
• Great Fountain Geyser (Wyoming, United States)
• Ledge Geyser (Wyoming, United States)
• Kereru Geyser (Whakarewarewa, New Zealand)
• Lady Knox Geyser (Waiotapu, New Zealand)
• Maly (Lesser) Geyser (Kamchatka, Russia) – see Valley of Geysers
• Minguini Geyser (Orakei Korako, New Zealand)
• Monarch Geyser (Wyoming, United States)
• Morning Geyser (Wyoming, United States)
• Old Faithful Geyser (Wyoming, United States)
• Pohutu Geyser (Whakarewarewa, New Zealand)
• Prince of Wales Feathers Geyser (Whakarewarewa, New Zealand)
• Riverside Geyser (Wyoming, United States)
• Sakharny (Sugar) Geyser (Kamchatka, Russia) – see Valley of Geysers
• Splendid Geyser (Wyoming, United States)
• Steamboat Geyser (Wyoming, United States)
• Steamboat Springs, (Nevada, United States)
• Strokkur (Haukadalur, Iceland)
• Velikan (Giant) Geyser (Kamchatka, Russia) – see Valley of Geysers
• Waimangu Geyser (Rotorua, New Zealand)
• Zhemchuzhny (Pearl) Geyser (Kamchatka, Russia) – see Valley of Geysers

• Crystal Geyser (near Green River, Utah, United States)
• Mokena Geyser (Te Aroha, New Zealand)
• Soda Springs Geyser, (Idaho, United States)
• Wallender Born (aka Brubbel), (Eifel, Germany)
• Andernach Geyser (de) (aka Namedyer Sprudel), (Andernach, Vulkanpark, Germany) World’s Highest
• Herlany (near Košice, Slovakia)

I would like to dedicate this post to Dr. and Mrs. W. K. Sutton — good friends from days at Oxford University — who hosted us in Rotorua, NZ

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Meet the Author

Bulent Atalay
Bulent Atalay, a scientist, artist and author, has been described by NPR, PBS and the Washington Post as a “Modern Renaissance Man.” He is the author of two successful books on the intersection of art, science and mathematics, with Leonardo, the pre-eminent Renaissance man, serving as the foil. His best selling book, "Math and the Mona Lisa," (Smithsonian Books, 2004) has appeared in 13 languages. Professor Atalay's academic background is in theoretical physics. He travels around the world lecturing at academic institutions and on cruise ships on the "A-subjects," art, archaeology, astrophysics, atomic physics and Ataturk, confessing that he knows much less about the "B-subjects," business, banking, biology and botany... He is the President of the Ataturk Society of America (ASA), dedicated to promoting Ataturk's ideals of science and reason over dogma and superstition, of a secular state with full equality of genders. For more details click on Bulent Atalay