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What Two Plates are Meeting in Iceland?

20-05-2024

What Two Plates are Meeting in Iceland?

    No, we are not referring to what you can find at some of our local eateries, but one of Iceland’s geological marvels and a big reason why we are called the Land of Fire and Ice.

    If you would like to learn more about this interesting natural phenomenon and what it means for Iceland, read on. The entire situation is quite intriguing and offers visitors some once-in-a-lifetime experiences too.

    So, What Two Plates are Meeting in Iceland?

    When we talk about the plates here in Iceland, we are referring to tectonic plates. These plates are large sections of the earth’s crust and upper mantle that can move. Depending on the extent of these movements and where they occur, they can cause all sorts of disasters, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions.

    Iceland is situated on top of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, one of the few places on earth where these tectonic plates and their effects can be so clearly seen above ground. The question of what two plates are meeting in Iceland probably signifies the first misconception about the ridge.

    There are no two tectonic plates meeting in Iceland. In fact, the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are pushing apart, causing all the volcanic ruptions (and, of course, eruptions) on the island. The pushing apart of these tectonic plates at a rate of about 2 centimeters a year is ongoing and is the reason why Iceland is seemingly always expanding from east to west.

    Does That Mean Iceland is Part of Two Continents?

    One can get really technical and enter into lots of debates regarding what tectonic plate Iceland is on, but even though Iceland is fairly midway, essentially straddling both continents, it is officially part of the European continent.

    Experience the Continental Divide for Yourself

    There are quite a few spots in Iceland where one can experience the continental divide with the tectonic plates pushing apart. These include:

    The Bridge Between Continents: Walk Over the Divide

    The Bridge Between Continents is a small footbridge (a mere 15 meters) but holds great significance. This is where you can cross the “divide” of the Eurasian and North American continents created by a stress fissure (caused by the tensions of the parting plates).

    The bridge is located in Sandvik and makes for quite the outing as one can cross the bridge and then get a personalized certificate of the occasion from the Reykjanes Geopark Visitor Center or the Reykjanes Information Center at Duus Cultural House.

    The bridge is also known as the Midlina Bridge (loosely translating to midline bridge), but even though most know it as the Bridge Between Continents, it’s actually called the Leif the Lucky Bridge. It was named as such because Leif Erikson is a famous Icelandic explorer and, according to the Sagas, was the first European to set foot on the North American Continent more than 1000 years ago.

    The Silfra Fissure: Swim in the Divide

    The Silfra Fissure is yet another spot where you can experience the separation but in an almost other-worldly way. This fissure or tear is filled with the clearest glacial water, where one can now go diving or snorkeling and quite literally lie suspended between two continents. The clear waters of the Silfra promise visibility of almost 120 meters, although you will need to wear a dry suit due to the freezing temperatures of the water, irrespective of the season.

    The Silfra Fissure

    To dive the Silfra, you must have sufficient diving experience and provide a valid diving license. But the snorkeling is available to anyone who wishes to have the experience. You will find the Silfra Fissure in Thingvellir National Park, less than an hour’s drive from the capital city of Reykjavik and one of the first stops for most on a Golden Circle road trip.

    The Almannagja Gorge Trail: Walk the Divide

    The Almannagja Gorge trail can also be found in Thingvellir National Park and makes for a great outing if you enjoy immersing yourself in nature and going on hikes (although you don’t need to be very experienced or a fitness buff to take on this trail).

    You see, this 8-kilometer trail winding its way through the canyon with its high cliff walls, breathtaking views across the landscape, and beautiful natural wonders such as Oxararfoss Waterfall is entirely paved and more like a place one goes on a leisurely stroll than a hike in the traditional sense of the word.

    The Almannagja Gorge Trail

    Most will be able to finish the entire trail in about an hour, depending on their pace. But here, the whole gorge you’ll be walking through has been created by the continents steadily drifting apart, allowing you to essentially “walk the line” of where these two “worlds” are separating further away from one another.

    What Does the Future Hold for the Separating Plates?

    Even the future of the separating plates is up for debate. Some, quite logically, think that if the plates continue to drift apart, the entire island will one day simply split in half.

    Others, thinking a bit further, perhaps, argue that this will never be able to happen due to the volcanic activity on the island. That’s because the constant drifting apart is countered by lava from volcanic eruptions filling up the fissures or tears. At the end of the day, only time will tell which side had it right.

    Experience the Divide for Yourself

    We hope that this article has clarified the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and its implications for the island and that it has resolved the question of whether Iceland is part of North America or Europe. The fact that one can experience this incredible phenomenon so immersively here in Iceland is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

    If you are planning on partaking in any of the above-mentioned activities, we recommend that you rent a motorhome in Iceland. That way, you’ll have taken care of both your transport and accommodation here on the island and will be able to not only drive the popular Golden Circle route with Thingvellir as a stop along the way but you’ll also be able to camp at Thingvellir.