As we approach the highlands, we can clearly see signs of the massive erosion.
The queen of volcanoes, Hekla, has contributed its portion through the decades.
I mentioned to you how plants are used to battle soil erosion. One of them has certainly worked wonders, but is also hard to control, so it has spread to become unwanted by many. Others love the beautiful colors and the plants ability to produce nitrogen, which helps new plants to grow in the otherwise less nutritious soil, where it has been used to tame the wild and unpredictable plains of sand and volcanic soil in our country.
This plant is the lupine. During my farming days, I learned to appreciate the lupine. We owned about 300 hectares on the open gravel area called Gunnarshólmi, which is the remains of a massive glacier flood, with little to no vegetation.
This is an area where the pioneers of land reclamation protected from more damage when they built a long natural wall of rocks, using mostly their man-power and ancient equipment.
In cooperation with the SCSI, a few farmers—us included—planted the lupine into the gravel. They harvested the seed every year for 10 years. At the end of the period there was noticeable soil in the gravel, the lupine retreated, while grass and trees took over the field.
Here in Gunnarsholt they have also used the lupine for the same purpose, and we will see some by the road where they still are doing their job.
As we stand here, we should take the time to enjoy the view. We are literately surrounded by volcanoes. To the east we can see Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull. Then Tindfjöll and Torfajökull, and to the north sits the queen herself, Hekla, dominating the horizon. In the background to the northwest, we see a glimpse of Langjökull and Hofsjökull, the second and third largest glaciers in the country.
Our journey today leads us towards Hekla to start with, then we will be driving the Kjölur route, which is between the two large volcanoes.
Hekla has erupted 18 times in historical times. It is the only one of its kind, being the only ridge-shaped stratovolcano in Iceland, where repeated eruptions occur from the same fissure.
Andosols dominate the Icelandic soils when covered by vegetation, as Vitrisols do in desert areas. In some wetland areas there are highly organic Histosols.
In Iceland we can see many instances of the freeze-thaw cycles, acting on frost susceptible soils, causing intense cryoturbation.
In several areas soil erosion has severely degraded many ecosystems, forming barren surfaces devoid of vegetation.
On our drive now, we will see what we call an Icelandic rofabard landscape, where the non-cohesive Andosols under the root-mat are undermined by erosion forces. Bare, gravelly desert (Vitrisols) are left behind. The sheep contribute to the erosion by rubbing up against the rofabard and carving more of the soil out.
We will make our first stop by the road where we can take a short walk through this desert volcanic soil from Hekla, to see some beautiful waterfalls.
From here we will continue the indirect route towards our next short stop by Gullfoss waterfall, where we will have an early lunch, before we start our trip through the highlands on route Kjölur.