6. Hot Springs in Iceland

Iceland should be full of ice, or so we thought as we landed there on our way to the Copenhagen Convention. But we were greeted by a scene from a moon – landing. Volcanic lava had sculpted the country into a pitted moonscape. We then found that Iceland is volcanically and geologically active. Most of the landscape consists of plateaus of sand and lava fields, where they say, elves live! It is also the home of the first Viking explorers of North America. Today Rotary here is healthy and flourishing. It is also the only NATO country with no standing army.
When we opened the tap to wash up, we found ourselves recoiling from hot sulphurous water. “It’s very good for your skin”, said our host who said the tap water from the bowels of the earth were full of beneficial minerals and chemicals and also naturally heated. Later, I read that such ground water is geo-thermally heated from the Earth’s mantle. Rocks deep within the earth heat the water. In volcanic zones like Yellowstone Park, USA, water is heated by contact with molten rock or magma. Sometimes it is so hot that it builds up steam pressure and erupts in a jet or geyser, above the surface of the earth.
When the Iceland was first settled, it was extensively forested. In the late 12th-century, Ari the Wise, described it in Íslendingabók as “forested from mountain to sea shore”. Permanent human settlements greatly disturbed the isolated ecosystem of thin, volcanic soils and limited species diversity. The forests were heavily exploited over the centuries for firewood and timber. Deforestation, climatic deterioration during the Little Ice Age and overgrazing by sheep imported by settlers caused a loss of critical topsoil due to erosion. Today, many farms have been abandoned. Three-quarters of Iceland’s 100,000 square kilometers are affected by soil erosion, 18,000 sq km (6,900 sq mi) so seriously as to be useless.
Iceland has the highest flowing hot spring in Europe – Deildartunguhver. A beautiful spa has been built around it. I only dipped a tentative, washed foot, into it. Elizabeth Springs in Western Queensland, Australia had a flow of 158 liters per second in the late 19th century. Sadly today due to man’s intervention, the flow has been reduced to about 5 liters a second. The Dalhousie Springs complex in Australia had suffered the same reduction in flow. The frying pan lake – a volcanic rift valley in New Zealand is the world’s largest hot spring. Every continent has its hot springs. One of the best geo-thermal energy reservoirs in India is at Tattapani Thermal Springs. The famous thermal spring with the highest temperature in the UK is found in Bath. It left us astounded at how seriously the ancients took their baths.
These natural wonders in the world’s waterscapes need to be protected for the future generations.