Between Tectonic Plates: Snorkeling the Silfra Fissure

Grace Tang ‘21
Staff Editor

My hands were numb and shaking as I descended into the freezing waters of the Silfra fissure in my dry suit and gear. It was unclear whether the shaking was due to excitement, dread, or the sheer cold, as my foggy brain was still reeling from only three hours of sleep after arriving in Reykjavik that morning.

Going on a trip to Iceland in the middle of January seemed like a great plan during August when I was booking plane tickets in the midst of sunshine and great weather. Now, as I descended into the crystal-clear waters of mid-winter in Iceland, I wasn’t so sure. When I lifted my head above the water, all I could see were snow-covered tundra and cliffs on either side, with impressively sized icicles dangling off the edges.

Astoundingly, the cold, gray landscape above the water was transformed into a dazzling, colorful new world as soon as my head descended beneath the surface. The waters in Silfra are likely the purest on earth. They originate from local glaciers which are filtered through porous rock, and clean enough to drink while snorkeling. The colorless waters also greatly improved visibility and it was possible to see almost 100 feet beneath me as I swam.

Though no wildlife inhabits the Silfra fissure, the snorkel was not boring by any means. The geology of the craggy bare-rock walls, bright green algae, and vibrant blues and greens of the water are beautiful and awe-inspiring. Some portions of the fissure are narrow and shallow while other areas widened and deepened unexpectedly hundreds of feet below. The trip ended when we veered left and the waters opened up into a blue sandy lagoon. I couldn’t stop looking around in wonder at everything as I floated by, fascinated by the incredible scenery. It was a very different experience from a normal snorkel, without the typical tropical fish and sea life. Rather, the beauty of the land itself was the main attraction. Because the heavy dry–suits were cumbersome and the water was so cold, the 300 foot swim was much more tiring than I had anticipated. Thirty minutes later, I was quite happy to be sipping hot chocolate on a tour bus.

Located on the famous golden circle route at Thingvellir National Park, I highly recommend the Silfra snorkel any able-bodied swimmer. The Silfra fissure is located between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates and is deemed a UNESCO world heritage site. The glacial water is the clearest in the world, and at its narrowest portion, it is possible to almost touch the two continental plates on either side. The tour is available year-round; however, there is one catch for this extraordinary opportunity. Whether you go on the tour in the high of summer or mid-winter like me, the temperature of the water remains steady at approximately 30 degrees Fahrenheit as the waters originate from a glacier. Despite the cold, snorkeling in Iceland is definitely an adventure one should experience at least once in their life.