formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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October 18, 2016 Volcanic inspiration

The Liberty Gazette
October 18, 2016
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: What do two pilots do when visiting a new place? Find the airports, of course, and meet other pilots which leads to great conversation because the small world of aviation gives us a special connection no matter where in the world we are.

Iceland’s main airline airport is in Keflavik and considered one of the most important emergency alternate landing airports for planes crossing the North Atlantic. When the volcano Eyjafjallaj√∂kull erupted in 2010 aircraft all over Europe were grounded, but depending on the winds planes could still land at Keflavik or another major airport in the northern part of Iceland, Acureyri.

Icelandair has named all 28 aircraft in it’s fleet after Icelandic volcanoes. We were aboard Askja, named after a volcano in the highlands, just a bit northeast of the center of the country. Askja last erupted on Mike’s birthday in 1961. The area it’s in was used by astronauts during training for the Apollo program to study geology in preparation for the lunar missions.

We noticed a few other interesting facts and made some comparisons. About the size of Kentucky in land mass, Iceland’s population is only about 325,000, yet there are 33 public airports, making the people-to-airport ratio about 9850:1. About 27 million people live in Texas and our state has nearly 400 airports - a 67,500:1 ratio. Interesting stat, because Texas has a lot of airports compared to other U.S. states.

Mike: Mountainous Iceland is in an active volcanic zone, the highest point there is 6,920’ above sea level. Even though Guadalupe Peak in west Texas towers at 8,751’ much of the land mass here is pretty flat. Icelandic mountains stretch out into the seas like long fingers - the fjords are glaciated valleys of water between elongated mountainous land masses, and driving Ring Road around the country includes winding around these fjords. In some places wind was blocked by mountains, and in other places our little rental car rocked through strong wind streams.

This sub-polar climate makes coastal temperatures less reactive to seasonal changes than you might think, being that it’s called Iceland, but the wind can be strong in some areas. The Tundra climate zone is where to find interior highlands and icecaps.

Three huge glaciers feed the country’s 31 named and countless unnamed waterfalls. Rounding the curves along Ring Road offers plenty of surprises, another waterfall, more spectacular than the one we just passed.

At Thingvellir National Park we stood in a rift valley with one foot on the North American and one foot on the Eurasian tectonic plates, less than a league from the Althingi, Iceland’s - and the world’s - first parliament, established in 930 A.D. Sessions were held here until 1798.

The geology of the area is fascinating where up-thrust volcanic rocks are in constant flux as the tectonic plates collide, and cascading waterfalls feed rivers.

Walking the trails and crossing several foot bridges, we looked down into crystal clear water at 20-pound brown trout as they got stuck and then unstuck from the shallow bottom trying to swim upstream. The rivers flow into Thingvallavatn, the country’s largest natural lake, where people come from all over the world to go diving in the abyss known as Silfra, a large fissure between the two tectonic plates. The water is known for its purity and extreme clearness. One dive company advertisement likens it to “liquid meditation Iceland-Style.”

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