Earthquakes at Katla volcano, Iceland
A series of small earthquakes has hit Katla volcano in Myrdalsjokull on July 13th and 14th, up to magnitude of 3.1. This has caused no alarm but hit the news in Iceland.
Earthquakes are almost a daily occurrence in the subglacial caldera of the volcano. Earthquakes preceding an eruption are known to be much stronger than these recent ones, mostly of magnitude 4-5. The current seismic activity, along with other signs such as increased geothermal activity, minor flooding of rivers and displacements of GPS stations, does indicate that the volcano is in some kind of a pre-eruption state. Some of the earthquakes, over the past decade, originate at a depth of 15-25 km. They are thought to be signs of rising magma.
Katla has an active magma chamber that is thought to have been injected by magma since the late 1990s; a slow process that may ultimately result in a volcanic eruption that breaks through the ice, showering the environment with ash and pumice as well as causing a very large flash flood, as experienced in 1918.
The annual melting season at the Myrdalsjokull ice cap lessens the ice load on Katla and increases the water discharge in the glacier. Coupled with the tectonic forces, the water pressure changes and water flow can possibly explain the known increase of seismic activity in Katla from each year's summer ablation peak to early autumn the same year. The monitoring system around Katla is well developed, so that a pending eruption will not come as a surprise.
The green star denotes a quake of magnitude above 3.
Why do we recommend that you go to the Secret Lagoon instead of the Blue Lagoon?
If you were visiting Paris for the first time, the first thing you would want to see is the Eiffel tower; if you booked a tour of New York and didn’t catch a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, your tour would not feel complete and imagine going to Sydney and not being able to take a selfie with the iconic opera house?
Iceland is home to some of the largest geothermal plants in the world. Once geothermal power plants have generated the steam and hot water to make electricity, they send it to the place where it is used. The geothermal plant then has to get rid of the waste water with minimal risk to the environment.
In 1981 people started bathing in the pool of excess water from the Svartsengi geothermal power station. As a result of the growing popularity and benefits offered by this by-product in treating psoriasis, The Blue Lagoon, owned by the geothermal power plant, was established and in 1992 the baths opened to the public.
The thermal pool is an accidental wonder, but this doesn’t make it any less special. Who wouldn’t enjoy bathing in warm waters in the heart of the Icelandic countryside and try out the mud mask that does wonders for your skin?
It is no surprise that bathing in outdoor thermal pools in Iceland has become the number one thing to do when visiting Iceland.
There are about 169 recreational swimming centres operating in Iceland,138 of which use geothermal heat, as well as countless natural hot springs, the Myvatn Nature Baths located in the North, the Laugarvatn Fontana and the Secret Lagoon situated along the Golden Circle route.
However, it is The Blue Lagoon that is the most famous of them all. It is attracting a record number of visitors and the luxury brand is so well known that 60% of all tourists that visit Iceland go to The Blue Lagoon, where the water is replenished every two days.
Whilst The Secret Lagoon does not have the same milky blue waters of the Blue Lagoon it is just as stunning, giving you that magical Icelandic experience. It was established in 1891 and is the oldest bathing pool in Iceland.
A natural hot spring feeds the lagoon with 38-39°C water that bubbles up from deep within the earth, constantly replenishing itself so that there is a steady supply of fresh clean water in the pool at any given time. There's a wooden walkway that goes around the baths, several geothermal spots and a little geysir which erupts every 5 minutes.
The Blue Lagoon entrance fee is in the region of £40 per person whilst the Secret Lagoon is approximately £10 per person with one free teacher per 10 students (current rates June 2016).
The Blue Lagoon is in proximity of the airport so to ensure a smooth run of your tour, we will always try to schedule your bathing session on your day of arrival or departure. However, because of the Blue Lagoon’s popularity, if you miss your allocated entry time you could end up queuing for a lot longer or in exteme circumstances even being denied entry.
The Secret Lagoon will be included in your Golden Circle tour and as it is a lot less popular these risks are eliminated, giving you peace of mind whilst offering a similar experience.
At the end of the day the choice is yours and you will have a great time whichever bath you choose.
So to answer the question of why we would suggest visiting the Secret Lagoon instead of the Blue Lagoon? At the Secret Lagoon you will enjoy an authentic Icelandic bathing experience at a fraction of the price without the crowds.
South West Iceland or the East & North? Choosing the best region for your group
With so much on offer in Iceland it can be difficult to choose exactly where to go or what to do. With new direct flights from the UK to Egilsstadir in the east of Iceland it is now possible to explore a brand new region, a region which is visited by far fewer tourists, particularly outside the summer months. If you would like to show your students Iceland as it was before mass tourism then you need look no further. The east and north of Iceland also has a number of attractions which could be compared with those in the south west, here is a handy list to highlight some of the differences.
The Blue Lagoon vs The Nature Baths
Whilst the Blue Lagoon remains one of Iceland’s most iconic attractions, it sometimes divides opinion due to being over-crowded and pricy. Iceland has no shortage of outside bathing options though and if you are considering travelling to the north of Iceland, the Nature Baths is a fantastic alternative. The milky blue geothermal waters here are a consistent temperature of 38-40°C set amongst natural surroundings. It is far less crowded and less commercial than the Blue Lagoon and at only £10 per person, it is only a fraction of the price.
Gullfoss vs Dettifoss
Iceland has a countless amount of waterfalls of all different shapes and sizes and it is not easy to make comparisons or to choose ‘favourites’. Gullfoss, located on the Golden Circle route, is perhaps Iceland’s most famous waterfall, visited by over 600,000 people every year. That is a staggering 60% of all visitors who come to Iceland and visit this two-tier, glacier fed waterfall which flows into a rift valley. You won’t find anywhere near that amount of visitors at Dettifoss in the north, but that is not to say it isn’t as equally as impressive. Dettifoss is Europe’s most powerful waterfall with an average waterflow of 193m³/s which thunders down to the Jokulsargljufur canyon.
Thingvellir vs Myvatn
Wherever you travel in Iceland you will see plenty of evidence of how the forces of nature have defined this spectacular island high up in the Atlantic Ocean. Dramatic and rugged landscapes are littered everywhere but perhaps two of the finest examples, and the most geographically interesting, can be found in the south west and in the east and north respectively. Thingvellir in the south west is a part of the North Atlantic rift system and demonstrates the divergent North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Myvatn on the other hand is a volcanic region in the north of Iceland which is widely considered as one of Iceland’s most remarkable places, both for its diversity of geographical features and for its natural beauty. Clustered on the south shore are pitted moon-like pseudocraters, formed when lava flowed over marshy ground, causing steam explosions.
Kerid vs Hverfjall
Hverfjall and Kerid are two examples of volcanic craters both of which are thought to have been formed by explosive eruptions. Whilst both are very impressive and worthy of a visit if you are in the area, there is one notable difference to the two. Kerid in the south west has fallen victim in recent years to mass tourism. As part of the Golden Circle it is visited by thousands of tourists every year, including most school groups, which has led to the induction of a visitor fee. This is far from the case at Hverfjall, iconic to the northern region and the Myvatn area, and it is extremely unlikely that you will have to share the experience with other groups or large volumes of tourists.
Seljalandsfoss vs Hengifoss
These two tall and slender waterfalls are iconic to their respective regions although Seljalandsfoss on the south coast is perhaps far better known and thus attracts a larger amount of visitors. Here you are able to walk behind the waterfall which presents fantastic photo opportunities and it is also close to other key sites on the south coast such as Skogafoss and the basalt columns of Dyrholaey. If travelling to the east of Iceland though you will not be missing out as Hengifoss is a fantastic alternative and the scenic hike that leads the way there adds to the excitement and the exclusivity of the location. Standing tall at 128m, Hengifoss is Iceland’s third tallest waterfall and shows clear evidence of how it was formed. The pattern of alternating red and brown / black strata was formed as clay become trapped between successive layers of ash and basalt, turning red as the iron content in the clay oxidised by the volcanic material.
Solheimajokull vs Svinafellsjokull
Hiking on a glacier can be a wonderful experience and is an activity that is enjoyed by many school groups. Experienced guides will teach you how to use basic equipment such as crampons and ice axes and lead you on a memorable trip upon the ice. Regardless of if you are visiting the south west or the east, it is possible to add glacier hiking to any itinerary. In the south west you will be taken onto the glacial tongue of Solheimajokull on the Myrdalsjokull ice field where natural ice sculptures, ridges and deep crevasses await your discovery. In the east you will be able to hike on Svinafellsjokull, a glacial outlet of Vatsnajokull, Europe’s second largest glacier and part of the geographer’s wonderland that is Skaftafell National Park, one of Iceland’s primary areas of natural beauty. Although closer to Egilsstadir in the east, Svinafellsjokull can also be reached from the south west if your group is travelling for a longer period. If you would prefer to hike on this glacier, then please let your Travel Specialist know.
Golden Circle vs Diamond Circle
The Golden Circle in Iceland perhaps needs no introduction, a popular tourist route of the iconic sites in the south west including Gullfoss, Thingvellir and Geysir. The Diamond Circle is less known even though it encompasses some of the country’s most spectacular locations. Within this 260km loop of the diamond ring road, there are enough sites to keep a geographer happy for days. The Nature Baths, Dettifoss and Myvatn are all included in the loop but there is plenty more to discover. For example, see, hear and smell the bubbling mud pools of Namaskard; hike amongst the eerie lava formations of Dimmuborgir; visit elegant yet dramatic Godafoss waterfall; witness the gigantic horseshoe-shaped canyon of Asbyri, and much more.
South Coast vs East & North Coasts
The coastlines in Iceland are some of the most impressive in the world. Dyrholaey and the neighbouring black sand beach of Reynisfjara on the south coast are very popular with tourists, many of whom travel on day trips from Reykjavik to marvel at the jointed basalt columns, high cliff tops and the black volcanic sand. The Tjornes Peninsula on Iceland’s northern coast is less known but perhaps as equally as impressive in terms of its geological history. The fossil layers found here were formed at the end of the Tertiary period and locally found fossils include petrified wood, fossilised crystalline, whale and shark bones and lignite. This makes it possible to trace changes in climate, vegetation and marine life from the beginning of the last Ice Age. The dramatic coastlines of the eastern fjords of Iceland are also very impressive, often shadowed by mesmerising mountains and scattered with idyllic fishing villages.
Whilst the south west of Iceland remains a fantastic location for school groups, it is important to remember that there is far more to the country than the sights of the Golden Circle or on the south coast. In the last 10 years, Iceland’s tourism industry has more than doubled and many visitors stick to the mentioned sites due to their familiarity, convenience and locality to Reykjavik. If you would like to get off the beaten track or to see a side of Iceland that is still largely untouched by tourism (particularly in the winter months) then we recommend visiting east and north Iceland for a truly authentic Icelandic experience. This is now an area just as easy to explore thanks to new and direct flights from the UK to Egilsstadir in the east, exclusive to Discover the World.
Glacier Hiking and Lava Tube Caving - What You Should Know
For many, glacier hiking and lava tube caving are integral parts of any school trip to Iceland. These experiences, when operated by trained professionals, provide safe and memorable experiences whilst also providing excellent educational opportunities.
As tourism figures in Iceland continue to increase rapidly, so do the number of adventurous activity suppliers. It is therefore vital to ensure you choose a provider that doesn’t reduce quality and safety standards in order to offer competitively priced trips.
Here are some questions you may wish to consider before choosing an operator:
What is their minimum participant to guide ratio?
There is no national recommendation for participant to guide ratio in Iceland. However, safety advisors say that the ratio should not be above 12:1 for glacier hiking and 14:1 for lava tube caving. Based on this and to ensure safety and overall experience, Discover the World will never exceed these ratios.
What are the qualifications of the guides?
As a minimum, guides for glacier hiking should have undergone specific training with an internationally recognised accreditation. In Iceland the most commonly recognised qualification is from the Association of Icelandic Mountain Guides (AIMG) and many of the guides that we use not only hold this qualification but also exceed this by gaining further qualifications abroad. Some of these guides are amongst the most experienced in Iceland and even work with the AIMG to train other guides, they work exclusively for us on the UK school trip market.
What equipment do they use?
Discover the World Education trips always include a harness, helmet, ice axe and 12 point crampons, which are worn by participants and guides. This gear goes beyond the minimum safety requirements and that of many other operators.
What risk assessments are in place?
Our guides have the knowledge to select the terrain tailored to the group’s needs and are not restricted to that which most other operators follow. In addition, emergency response plans are reviewed after all glacier & caving tours, to ensure group's safety and enjoyment by an emergency response specialist.
We understand that budget remains a primary deciding factor when considering tour operators, for many school groups. However, the above four questions should still be considered if you are planning on taking your students glacier walking or lava tube caving.
When partaking in these activities, the little extra cost involved to use the most qualified guides, the safest equipment and the most stringent health and safety procedures could prove to be priceless as well as giving peace of mind.