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An Icelandic Summer Saga: Day One

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Late-night twilight greetings from Iceland! I’m here with Nat Geo Student Expeditions and a group of (I asked what adjective to use to describe them, and they chose) extraordinary teens. We’ve come to photograph this island, to study the wild geology that put it here just south of the Arctic Circle. We’re documenting the effects of climate change—the melting away of glaciers that have covered Iceland for millennia and that gave it its very name.

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This is one of the most dynamic spots on Earth—scorched by volcanoes, scoured by glaciers, drenched by tsunami-scale floods, and literally ripping apart at the seams.

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Iceland’s Viking history is dense with drama, the stuff of the original sagas.

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The geyser for which all others are known—Geysir—awaits us, along with some of its smaller cousins…

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… plus some of the world’s most powerful waterfalls…

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… a jumble of prodigious icebergs…

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… and a Blue Lagoon so milky-blue and beautiful and strange you’d think you were on another planet.

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Iceland (population: roughly 300,000 people) is three-quarters the size of England (population: more than 50 million). No problem finding solitude here.

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And yet Reykjavík is justly renowned as a vibrant cultural center, full of art, literature, and music. (Sigur Rós, anyone, or Björk?)

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We’ll see colorful Icelandic horses…

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…absurdly adorable puffins…

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…and possibly a few whales.

We’ll visit a geothermal station that distributes hot water far and wide to heat homes and businesses, fill year-round outdoor swimming pools, and warm some Reykjavik streets and sidewalks to keep the ice off in winter.

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We’ll have ridiculously long days, with twilight near midnight and dawn not far behind.

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We’ll witness the high-latitude consequences of global warming, such as glacial thinning and retreat, occurring so quickly you can practically stand and watch them happen.

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We’ll see why Jules Verne put the portal to the center of the Earth right here. Though we may not make it to the planet’s core, we’re on a fantastic journey.

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I’m blogging the experience here and posting photos to Facebook, so won’t you strap on some crampons, fetch an ice axe, grab a camera and come along?

Next up from Iceland: Hot & Cold Running Water.

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Photographs by Ford Cochran and Charles Dye (students in Reykjavik)