Iceland: Straddling the Continents

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Straddling the Continents in Iceland

In 2012 I had the pleasure of visiting Turkey to attend a conference as an invited keynote speaker.  During that trip, I was able to see awe-inspiring sites, ancient ruins from the Roman Empire dating back three centuries before Christ, museum artifacts from millennia past, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the underground Cistern, and the Sultan’s Palace to name a few.  The Turkish people are warm and friendly and welcoming.  It is a trip that I will always remember and hope, one day, to be able to do it again.

Istanbul is a city of two continents.  Part of it is in Europe and part in Asia. The city is divided by the Bosphorus Strait connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. In addition to being a key shipping route, the Bosphorus forms part of the continental boundary between Europe and Asia.  As I rode a tour boat up the Bosphorus in Istanbul, I was struck by the fact that I was straddling two continents on that ride.  Iceland gave me the opportunity to do it again.

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Looking down the canyon between the ridges of the Mid-Atlantic Rift in Iceland

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the longest mountain chain in the world, is formed by the up-welling of magma from deep below the earth’s surface on the ocean floor.  It creates an underwater mountain chain about 2-3 kilometers high and pushes the continental plates of North America, Europe, Africa, and South America apart.

While almost all of the ridge is below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, the rift rises to the surface in, …you guessed it …, Iceland.  We drove to Þingvallavegur, Iceland on the northwest side of the lake where the mid-Atlantic rift surfaces.  As you can see in the picture, I am standing in the rift with ridges on either side.  This is a point above the sea floor where North America and Europe are moving apart at about the same rate per year that your fingernails grow.

I’ve now straddled Europe & Asia in Turkey and North American & Europe (actually the Eurasian tectonic plate) in Iceland.  Now on to the San Andreas Fault to be able to straddle the North American and Pacific Plates… I guess I’m going to need some serious scuba gear to do the rest.

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