Why study Earth Science in Iceland?
Owing to Iceland's geographical position in the North Atlantic, and its geotectonic position over a mantle plume and astride the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, geological and tectonic processes are extraordinarily rapid and easily observed in Iceland. On the constructive side, some 20 to 30 volcanic eruptions occur every century on average, producing lava in the order of 45 km3/1000 years. This production is counterbalanced by equally rapid destructive processes: thermal contraction, erosion by the North Atlantic waves, and by glaciers, wind, and rain. Chemical erosion, too, is surprisingly rapid owing to the highly reactive nature of the volcanic glass created in the Pleistocene subglacial eruptions.
In Iceland, some 400 km are exposed of the Mid-Atlantic ridge, allowing the student to observe and investigate the tectonic processes of crustal accretion, the central rift, fracture zones, submarine/subglacial volcanism and associated features and processes. The volcanics, too, are surprisingly varied both compositionally and in terms of appearance - from picrite to rhyolite, from glass to plutonic rock. Associated with the volcanoes are numerous geothermal systems, ranging from fresh-water to saline, and from warm to super-critical temperatures. Over 40% of Iceland's total energy consumption is geothermal, being an example of environment-friendly exploitation of nature.
Glaciers, large and small, cover about 10% of the country. This permits the hands-on study of periglacial environments similar to those that existed in Europe and N-America 10,000 years ago. The glaciers feed large glacial rivers in which subglacial volcanic eruptions and geothermal areas occasionally cause large floods (jökulhlaup). Nowhere on Earth are glaciers and large ice caps more easily accessible for study than in Iceland.
So, why study Earth Science in Iceland - under the guidance of University Professors having long research experience and who are active in the international arena in their respective fields of study? Modern geology is process-oriented, and Iceland is exceptionally well suited for the study of various geological processes. Here the raw elements that have shaped the Earth throughout most of its 4.5 billion years' history are creating and molding the surface and lithosphere faster than in most other places. Therefore, geophysicists and physical geographers alike, geochemists, petrologists, and human geographers, will all benefit a great deal from studying in Iceland - how the forces of nature created the Earth we know, and how they shape the people living in Iceland.