Classic Geology in Europe 3: Iceland

Iceland seems to set the hearts of certain geologists racing and, reading this field guide, it is abundantly clear why. Set out in this concise and authoritative book is the evidence of how this strange piece of rock – astride the Mid-Atlantic Ridge – is a “natural laboratory”, where the earth sciences can be watched in dramatic real-time. In fact, the volcanic and tectonic processes active in Iceland have given rise to the best exposed examples of seafloor rifts anywhere in the world. And, together with the erosive power of icecaps, extensive river systems, thunderous Atlantic waves and climate change, the geology of this island displays dramatically the balance between constructive and destructive geological processes.

This book is a guide for visitors to Iceland with a penchant for geology. It is beautifully illustrated, with many full colour photographs and diagrams. It starts by setting out an overview of the geology of Iceland, and puts it in its geological and global setting; and only then does it introduce the science of plate tectonics and volcanism, and its difficult terminology. It then discusses in detail a large number of location profiles throughout the island, which a visitor can visit to understand the geology of Iceland and the geological processes that gave rise to its extraordinary geomorphology. It concentrates on the Reykjanes Peninsula, because that is where most visitors first arrive, but includes enough sites across the island to mean that the guide really does cover all of Iceland. It also tends to cover locations from Highway 1, for the sensible reason that this is the main artery around the island.

The authors of this book are both PhDs working at the University of Iceland, with extensive experience of its subject matter. However, they make the interesting point that Icelandic culture cannot be comprehended without also understanding its geology. Therefore, the guide book is of interest not only to students, amateurs and professional geologists, but also to “others attracted by the natural environment and seeking a deeper understanding of what makes Iceland the unique place it is”. I agree and, if you are thinking of going there, you really should think about buying this excellent guide.

Classic Geology in Europe 3: Iceland by Thor Thordarson & Ármann Höskuldsson, Dunedin Academic Press Ltd, Edinburgh (2014). 256 pp., softback, ISBN: 978-1-78046-021-5.