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The Great Geysir

Posted on Aug 24, 2014 by in ISLANDS, NATURAL WONDERS, SPOTLIGHT | 0 comments

One of Iceland’s greatest natural attractions, the Great Geysir is a spouting hot spring situated in the Haukadalur Valley in southwest Iceland. The word “geyser”—the general term for erupting hot water fountains—has been in use since 1647 and is derived from the Icelandic word geysir, which means “to gush” Majestic columns of hot water shooting out from the mouth of the Great Geysir make it a spectacular geothermal phenomena.

The Great Geysir is the world’s oldest known geyser. Though the exact date of its formation is not known, the first written record of the Geysir’s activity dates from 1294, when the thermal areas of southwestern Iceland were modified to a great extent by earthquakes. As strong periodic tremors increased activity in the Geysir area, it gained fame and popularity since erupting geysers were unheard of in the rest of Europe.

For centuries, the outbursts of the Geysir were considered to be supernatural, with no concrete explanation for their occurrence. It was the German chemist Robert Bunsen who first came up with a scientific explanation for the Geysir’s eruptions after visiting Iceland in 1846. He summarized the of water below the surface in high temperature geothermal areas—areas of volcanic and seismic activity—where the subsurface temperature is greater than 392°F (200°C) at a depth less than 0.62 miles (1 km).

Geysers are formed where subsurface hot water ascends to the surface through narrow channels in the earth’s crust. When water at considerable depth in the geyser pipe boils, it gets converted to steam, and expands to occupy greater volume within the pipe, forcing the water above to spurt out of the mouth of the geyser. The consequent decrease in pressure within the pipe allows more water to boil and form steam, and a chain reaction is set up.
The Geysir’s activity has been interspersed with periods of dormancy. It    lay silent for almost 40 years before being jolted out of its slumber by an earthquake in 1630. A long period of inactivity also preceded its reawakening in 1896 following a series of earthquakes. A period of extensive activity followed, leading to eruptions at a frenetic pace; the Great Geysir would erupt once every 30 minutes in 1910. However,  it became almost dormant yet again in 1916. Artificial  channels dug in order to lower the water table and clear out Geysir’s silica-clogged channel failed to have much effect in reviving activity. Tourists tried to stimulate eruptions by throwing rocks into the vent, a practice which is strictly prohibited now. The earthquake of 2000, however, led to another awakening, and today the Geysir erupts every day, though not with the same force as before.
The Geysir has been drawing travelers, explorers, and naturalists from around the world for centuries. Despite its declining activity, no visitor to Iceland gives this majestic and powerful geyser a miss even to this day. Commemorative coins and stamps issued by the government have immortalized the Great Geysir.

Occupying roughly 1 .2sq miles (3sq km) at the surface, the Great Geysir area is a thermal park atop a vast bubbling cauldron of geothermal activity. Hot and cold springs, hissing fumaroles, and sulphurous mud pots of unusual colors dot the surface. Beautiful and delicate silica sinters decorate the area around the hot springs. Other remarkable geysers in the area include the less majestic but very active Strokkur (Churn) and Litli Geysir (Little Geysir). Primitive plants are also found in the area. The small Laugarfjall mountain situated a short distance away offers a panoramic view of the Geysir area.


Until 1894, the Great Geysir was part of the local farm, Laug. The owners sold the area to James Craig, who later became the prime minister of Northern Ireland. Craig fenced the land and collected entry fees from visitors for a year, and then gifted it to a friend who dropped the entry fee. The site was eventually purchased by the filmmaker Sigurdur Jonasson, who presented it as a gift to the people of Iceland.


Encrusted with colorful minerals, the vent of the Great Geysir in Iceland is about 60ft (12m) wide.

The Great Geysir has been known to spurt streams as high as 200ft (61m) at the peak of its activity.








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