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Magical Iceland


52’

Volcanic activity has shaped Iceland’s rugged northern wilderness like no other place on earth; both above and below water. How do animals survive in this harsh terrain? What does it take to live among glaciers, deserts and volcanoes? And how do you cope with waters near boiling and close to freezing at the same time? These are the challenges of living on an island of extremes.

Iceland’s extreme landscapes may be challenging for those that live here, but they are awe-inspiring and breath taking. The icy waters of the Silfra rift, an underwater canyon, are known for having “the clearest water in the world” with a visibility of over 100 metres. At the bottom of lakes and rivers, small sand volcanoes belch and bubble, spewing out hot water that ripples through the sand, creating an ever-changing landscape of craters. And beneath raging waterfalls, Arctic char gather in swarms.

Volcanic rumblings deep in the belly of the earth can also be felt in the oceans surrounding the island. Huge hydrothermal chimneys rise up from the seabed, discharging hot water. They are thousands of years old and still growing. At the foot of the chimneys, monstrous-looking wolf fish guard their eggs.

Even the smallest inhabitants of Iceland’s marine waters, microscopic plankton and algae, dazzle with their unusual shapes and colours. They form the basis of the food chain in the ocean, supporting creatures as large as the filter-feeding baleen whales. An unusual clam, the ocean quahog, is also found here. It has one of the longest life spans of any creature on earth, known to live over 500 years. It’s a remarkable feat, given that these waters abound with starfish that like to feed on the clams. Time-lapse filming reveals the true nature of these colourful stars – they are in fact voracious and merciless predators.

Iceland’s volcanic interior has also had a marked impact on its land-living creatures. Carbon dioxide gas continuously seeps out of Lake Mývatn, and attracts billions of midges and black flies. The apocalyptic swarms form huge columns of black smoke above the lake, earning it the name ‘Mosquito Lake’. Not surprisingly, this abundance of insects also attracts birds, and the region is known to have one of the greatest bird spectacles in the northern hemisphere. The calls of snipe and whimbrels fill the air, while snow buntings breed on the rocky slopes of the volcanoes. Above the black sandy beaches, skuas hunt down Arctic terns returning from their foraging trips and steal their precious fish. And on steep, rocky cliffs and outcrops, huge colonies of breeding seabirds attract one of Iceland’s most iconic hunters – the Arctic fox.

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