Inside the gap between the continents

3 minutes to read

Do you remember when in probably seventh grade, you learned about the "tectonic plates" and "plate tectonics" scientific theory describing the large-scale motion of Earth's seven plates? I do. However, I don't remember if at the time my geography teacher told us about a spot where we could actually take a walk between two of these plates, or, in other words, between two continents! The truth is, most tectonic plate boundaries are underwater, but in Iceland you can in fact see two different tectonic plates from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge above ground. The place is Thingvellir National Park, just 50 km east of Reykjavik.

photo: Thorsten Henn
photo: Thorsten Henn

A visit to Thingvellir (Icelandic: Þingvellir) National Park is the best geology lesson one can get - it's a place where geological processes are playing out right in front of you. A place where the planet Earth is still young, where this amazing island was formed as a result of turbulent interactions of the two tectonic plates. These are the Eurasian and the North American tectonic plate, and they still haven't stopped moving! According to the latest measurements by the Icelandic National Land Survey Iceland is expanding 2 cm per year as the eastern part of Iceland drifts to the east and the western part drifts to the west. The new lands in the North Atlantic Ridge are permanently being created by magma coming out from the earth's core, and at the same time the European and North American tectonic plates drift apart.

Thingvellir (Þingvellir)
Thingvellir (Þingvellir)
Islande
photo: Olga Gavrilova
photo: Olga Gavrilova

Thingvellir, however, is not only famous for its stories from the center of the Earth. Curiously, it's also a place where the history of the Icelandic nation began, the first parliament gatherings occurred, and where almost all its major historical turns happened. This national park is one of the three main stops within the Golden Circle (Icelandic: Gullni hringurinn), a popular tourist route in southern Iceland, covering about 300 kilometres circle not far from Reykjavík. The other primary stops on the route are the Gullfoss waterfall, and the geothermal area in Haukadalur, with its geysers Geysir and Strokkur.

Geyser Geysir
Geyser Geysir
Skólavörðustígur 16, 101 Reykjavík, Islande
Gullfoss
Gullfoss
Gullfoss, Islande
Silfra
Silfra
Silfra Diving, Iceland

As if it was not amazing enough, you can still dive between the two plates, inside the clearest and the cleanest water you can imagine. There are very few places where diving between Earth’s crust is even possible, and this one is special because the visibility is great too - it reaches beyond 100 meters! The place is called Silfra, it's a fissure between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates right here in Thingvellir National Park. The rift was formed in 1789 by the earthquakes that "played" with the two tectonic plates. Right now you can touch both sides while diving, but don't forget that year after year they are drifting apart.

photo: Lindsay Lou
photo: Lindsay Lou

Thingvellir National Park can also be a great spot to go "hunting" aurora borealis. But, be careful. While looking up during the night and trying to take a perfect photo of this unique phenomenon, you can even fall inside the crack between the continents! It's a great story to tell later on, but it can be dangerous.

photo: SasinParaksa
photo: SasinParaksa

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The author

Natacha Costa

Natacha Costa

Hello, I will tell you about the south of France, the Azores, Iceland, among other places, here on itinari. Traveling has taught me more than any school, and I am excited to be sharing this passion of mine with you!

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