Life on Surtsey: Iceland’s Upstart Island

Life on Surtsey: Iceland’s Upstart Island by Loree Griffin Burns was an attractive book of juvenile nonfiction. Its intended audience was for those between the ages of ten and twelve. I was pleased that Burns wrote an intelligent book that did not talk down to her audience as it was captivating for adult readers too and did not try to simplify scientific jargon. In 2015 Burns was invited to join a scientific team on their annual weeklong excursion to Surtsey, the volcanic island that erupted from the sea off the southern coast of Iceland in the 1960’s. Tourists cannot visit Surtsey, and the closest I came to the island was during a boat tour around Vestmannaeyjar in 2015:

Burns accompanied a team of nine [1], which included entomologists, geologists, botanists and a soil chemist. They all shared one small hut without bathroom facilities. She addressed this situation early as surely young readers would all be wondering how everyone did his or her business. It was a wonder to turn each page of this large rectangular book. The page dimensions suited long island shots and captured aerial photos of the island in its entirety. The colours were vibrant: while Surtsey is a grey and black volcanic island, flora has sprung to life and fields of grass and moss dot the island. Many bird species now nest on Surtsey and they too offer splashes of colour to the landscape. After Surtsey burst into life, scientists have taken advantage to study how flora and fauna are introduced to a virgin environment. Burns wrote about the various tests they undertake to document the progress or decline of bird and insect colonies, the rooting of plant life, and island erosion. Surtsey is a fragile island and is only half its size from 1967 so the scientists literally tread carefully when walking about: they make sure to step into their own footprints when heading back. 

It would be a dream of mine to visit Surtsey. One day I will take a helicopter tour. Burns gave me an insight into one of the earth’s newest places which is a rare window indeed. 

[1] Seven of whom are currently listed at the Icelandic Institute of Natural History

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