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Gradual Destruction

04 January 2018 11:05PM Viking Raid

Hello there everybody. The theme of today's post is 'erosion'.

Erosion is a process of slow destruction, of the piecemeal removal of parts of something until what remains is changed beyond recognition. Iceland is famous for its volcanoes - and sure, they're pretty and dramatic and they chuck a lot of fresh rock around, but it's erosion that shapes that dramatic act of creation into something worth looking at.

Today, we're going to take a look at three pretty spectacular examples of erosion from our travels so far.

Fjaðrárgljúfur

Fjaðrárgljúfur is a river canyon, carved not by a glacier but by the water flowing from one as it melts. That trickle of water has taken the same path for about two million years, turning what would once have been a simple path of least resistance into a winding chasm. It's cut through layer upon layer of rock, and left those layers exposed on the side of the canyon.

Fjaðrárgljúfur

What's particularly fascinating about coming here in winter is that you can see the same process happening on a smaller scale in the ice around the edges of the river - a canyon within a canyon, if you like. In that case I guess it's technically melting rather than erosion, but the patterns it leaves are remarkably similar.

Reynisfjara

Half an hour down the road, we find a glorious juxtaposition of creation and destruction, although it appears most people are too busy trying not to get sand blown into their teeth to appreciate it.

The famous black sand at Reynisfjara is made of exactly the same stuff as the equally famous basalt columns above it. The sand is just a little bit further along in its life cycle.

The waves tear at the volcanic rocks, breaking it up into progressively tinier bits. Also the wind. The wind is incredibly strong. It started by trying to push me over, then had a pretty decent shot at ripping my clothes off, and settled for filling my pockets with flying pebbles. Not sand. Pebbles. For once it's not actually that difficult to imagine that a breeze could be responsible for some serious long-term destruction.

handful of sand

Seriously, it was like standing in a sandblaster filled with rocks.

Skógafoss

The last stop on our tour today is a complex one. As with all waterfalls, the cliffs beneath Skógafoss are slowly being washed away by the water flowing over them. The irony is that those exact cliffs were formed by erosion in the first place. To quote the plaque:

The cliffs are ancient coastal cliffs, which were formed by marine erosion at the end of the last ice age. Then the sea level was much higher than it is now, as the weight of the ice age glacier had pushed the land downwards. As the glacier melted and the weight was lifted, the land could rise and the sea level lowered.

Just let that sink in for a moment. The land on top of that waterfall was once covered in so much ice that it was pushed down into the earth's crust, and when it sprung back up, it formed a 60-metre-high waterfall. And there's still ice up there. It's probably still happening, right there under our feet.

Skógafoss

Our journey ends today in the riverside town of Hella, which has a population of about 800, and which has nothing to do with erosion at all.

Just kidding. Erosion is all around us. Like Christmas carols in shops or the heat death of the universe, there's no escaping it. Erosion will come for us all, even you. Slowly, at first, but faster and faster as your layers are stripped away. And when it does, it will grind you down into the finest powder and you will blow away on the wind, probably filling someone's pocket.

Erosion has torn down mountains and whittled away continents. You don't stand a chance.

Goodnight, everybody.

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