LESSON 24 Iceland,and the Geysers
Iceland is an island somewhat larger than Ireland. It is situated in the Atlantic Ocean, on the confines of the Arctic Circle, amid regions of ice and snow; yet it gives abundant evidence of the volcanic fires(1) which are slum bering beneath its surface.
Among its most remarkable features are its hot springs, which in some places throw up a column of water to the height of a hundred feet. These springs abound on many parts of the coast, as well as in the interior of the island; and in some cases the waters of the ocean are sensibly heated by their action.
The most celebrated of these hot springs are the Geysers,(2) situated in the north of the island, where, within the space of a few acres, more than fifty of them may be seen.
The Great Geyser rises from a mound of flinty earth, deposited by the water, about thirty feet in height, and extending about two hundred feet across. On the top of this mound is a basin sixty feet wide and seven feet deep, in the centre of which is the opening through which the water rises.
A visit to the Geysers is thus described by Lord Dufferin in his book entitled "Letters from High Latitudes," giving an account of a voyage and visit to Iceland:—
"As the baggage-horses with our tents and beds had not yet arrived, we sat quietly down to coffee brewed in Geysers' water, when suddenly it seemed as if, beneath our very feet, a number of cannon were going off under ground. The whole earth shook. We set off at full speed toward the Great Geyser, expecting to see the grand water explosion. By the time we reached its brim, however, the noise had ceased, and all we could see was a slight trembling movement in the centre.
"Irritated by this false alarm, we determined to avenge ourselves by going and tormenting the Strokkur. Strokkur, or the churn, you must know, is an unfortunate Geyser, with so little command over his temper and his stomach that you can get a rise out of him whenever you like. All that is necessary is to collect a quantity of sods, and throw them down his funnel. As he has no basin to protect himself from these liberties, you can approach to the very edge of the pipe, about five feet in diameter, and look down at the water, which is perpetually boiling at the bottom.
"In a few minutes the dose of turf you have just administered begins to disagree with him. He works himself up into an awful passion. Tormented by the qualms of sickness, he groans, and hisses, and boils up, and spits at you with malicious vehemence, until at last, with a roar of mingled pain and rage, he throws up into the air a column of water forty feet high, which carries with it all the sods that have been cast in, and scatters them scalded and half digested at your feet.
"So irritated has the poor thing's stomach become by the discipline it has undergone, that even long after all foreign matter has been thrown off, it goes on retching and sputtering, until at last nature is exhausted, when, sobbing and sighing to itself, it sinks back into the bottom of its den.
"As the Great Geyser explodes only once in forty hours or more, it was, of course, necessary that we should wait his pleasure—in fact, our movements entirely depended on his. For the next two or three days, therefore, like pilgrims round an ancient shrine, we patiently kept watch; but he scarcely deigned to favour us with the slightest manifestation of his latent energies. Two or three times the cannonading we had heard immediately after our arrival recommenced, and once an eruption to the height of about ten feet occurred; but so brief was its duration, that by the time we were on the spot, although the tent was not eighty yards distant, all was over.
"At length, after three days' watching in languid expectation of the eruption, our desire was gratified. A cry from the guides made us start to our feet and rush toward the basin. The usual underground thunders had already commenced; a violent agitation was disturbing the centre of the pool Suddenly a dome of water lifted itself to the height of eight or ten feet, then burst and fell; immediately after which a shining liquid column, or rather a sheaf of columns, wreathed in robes of vapour, sprang about seventy feet into the air, and, in a succession of jerking leaps, each higher than the former, flung their silvery crests against the sky. For a few minutes the fountain held its own, then all at once it seemed to lose its ascending energy. The unstable waters faltered, drooped, fell, 'like a broken purpose,' back upon themselves, and were immediately sucked down into the recesses from which they had sprung."
Where is Iceland situated? What slumber beneath its surface? What are the most celebrated of the hot springs called? What is the peculiarity of the Strokkur? What does the name mean? How often does the Great Geyser explode? How high does it send its column of water?