Environment

Gullfoss Waterfall, Iceland

Gullfoss, or 'Golden Falls,' the most beautiful and most popular waterfall in Iceland, is located on the River Hvita in the southwest of the island nation.

5. Location

Plunging nearly 105 feet into a rocky gorge, Gullfoss Waterfall is one of the most recognizable natural sites in Iceland. The cascade, which translates into Golden Waterfall in English, is fed by the Hvítá river in the southern part of the nation. The source of all this water is the Langjökull glacier, Iceland’s second largest glacier. What makes Gullfoss Waterfall so unique is its dramatic flow through wide curves and finally down over two step-like formations.

4. History

Along with being a beautiful Icelandic landmark, Gullfoss Waterfall also has an interesting story. During the early 1900’s, the area encompassing these falls belonged to Tómas Tómasson and Halldór Halldórsson. Many speculators were hoping to invest in Iceland in this era, popular projects included electricity production. Being the perfect site for a hydroelectric power plant, the owners rented the area to foreign investors. The investors never achieved their goal, some say due to a lack of money and others say due to Sigríður Tómasdóttir, Tómas’ daughter. According to local legend, she loved the waterfalls so much that she threatened to throw herself off of them if the hydroelectric plans proceeded. Today, a memorial stands in her honor at the top of the falls. The government of Iceland later purchased the area which is now protected as a nature reserve.

3. Habitat And Biodiversity

#3 Habitat And Biodiversity

Located at the meeting point of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, Iceland has a distinct ecological environment. The country has been well-preserved yet lacks large numbers of native species, largely due to its geographic location. Prior to the 9th century AD, the only land mammal living here was the Arctic fox. Settlers brought with them horses, mice, rats, American mink, reindeer, and rabbits. Only six species of freshwater fish can be found here. Available habitats on this island provide shelter to many migrating birds every year. Occasionally, polar bears pass through the region and along the coastal areas, seals and sea lions are common. Of the 470 vascular plant species surviving here, researchers believe roughly 50% are Ice Age survivors.

2. Tourism And Tourist Activities

#2 Tourism And Tourist Activities

Gullfoss Waterfall is part of the popular Golden Circle day tour that many visitors take during their stay. People enjoy hiking around sites like this waterfall as well as visiting nearby hot springs and geyser sites. Riding horses and snorkeling are other common activities as part of this tour. For those interested, the Hellisheidavirkjun turbine and generator can also be visited to learn about electricity production.

1. Threats And Conservation

This country’s economy relies on natural resource production and exportation, and the government has always been interested in preserving the environment in a sustainable manner that still allows for economic development. The fishing industry has recently been respecting catch limits set by marine scientists to revitalize sea life off the coast, the results have been positive. Freshwater found within the country is considered some of the most pristine in the world thanks to environmental conservation efforts. Electricity needs are mainly generated by the geothermal energy here resulting in low levels of air pollution.

With all of these efforts, Iceland still faces the serious problem of vegetation loss due to wind erosion. Soil erosion leads to desertification of once diverse and fertile landscapes. The government has dedicated a division, the Soil Conservation Service, to this problem and they have been working to revitalize plant growth in critical areas since 1907. Increasing tourism and energy demands has also put pressure on the country to develop its natural areas, some of which are the largest left in Europe. The government will continue to focus on improved development plans that keep nature conservation at the forefront.

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