Photo Essay: Iceland at the Cutting Edge of Climate Change

by |April 13, 2015
Panorama by Martin Stute, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. CLICK FOR LARGER SIZE

Carbon injection site, Hellisheidi geothermal power plant. Courtesy Martin Stute. CLICK FOR LARGER SIZE

Iceland has a complicated relationship with climate change. As in much of the far north, global warming is already exerting many effects here–arguably both good and bad. Yet the country contributes relatively little to the warming, since most of its energy comes from geothermal and hydro plants, which produce little carbon dioxide. Now, it is on the scientific cutting edge of the issue. With the aid of scientists from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the University of Iceland  and other institutions, its main geothermal plant is running the CarbFix project, which traps CO2 emissions and pumps them back underground, to be turned into stone. The new technology may help not just Iceland but other countries to cut CO2 emissions.

All photos: Kevin Krajick unless otherwise credited.


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A system designed by chemical engineer Magnus Thor Arnarson (left) separates carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide from steam. Reykjavik Energy, which runs the plant, put it into full-time operation in September 2014. The concept was proved up when chemical tracer tests at a nearby pilot site indicated that pressurized carbon injected into basalt below was rapidly solidifying. The new separator removes about 20 percent of the plant’s emissions; planned expansions should eventually remove all.

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Tom Foster Edinburgh Landscape Photographer Recent comment authors
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Tom Foster Edinburgh Landscape Photographer

Oh Iceland is such an amazing place in terms of renewable energy. The geothermal energies the Icelandic people have is surely going to be a massive boon in the years to come when fossil fuel prices inevitably will go up. I also wanted to say that I found it incredibly interesting that Icelandic houses in Reykjavik get cold AND hot water pumped to their houses (rather than just cold and relying on domestic boilers). There are huge tanks of hot water across the city (such as at Perlan) and this is then pumped directly to the city. Very efficient, means… Read more »