Orca On

The video above is the shortest, clearest primer we could find to explain how this machine technology works. With Orca now on we will get the chance to see how much promise this process holds for carbon capture’s machine approach versus the tree approach, which we now know needs some reconsideration:

World’s biggest machine capturing carbon from air turned on in Iceland

Operators say the Orca plant can suck 4,000 tonnes of CO2 out of the air every year and inject it deep into the ground to be mineralised

A worker on a CarbFix carbon injection well in Iceland in 2017. The company is involved in the new Orca plant designed to draw carbon dioxide out of the air and store it as rock. Photograph: Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images

The world’s largest plant designed to suck carbon dioxide out of the air and turn it into rock has started running, the companies behind the project said on Wednesday.

The plant, named Orca after the Icelandic word “orka” meaning “energy”, consists of four units, each made up of two metal boxes that look like shipping containers.

Constructed by Switzerland’s Climeworks and Iceland’s Carbfix, when operating at capacity the plant will draw 4,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the air every year, according to the companies. Continue reading

Carbon Capture Closer

Fans draw air into Climeworks’ direct air capture plant in Zurich, Switzerland. CLIMEWORKS

Our thanks as always to Jon Gertner for this news.  Combining capturing carbon with other goals is not new, but it has been goal-setting elusive of significantly robust results; we are getting closer:

The Dream of Carbon Air Capture Edges Toward Reality

Next month, an industrial facility in Iceland will join a growing number of projects to remove CO2 from the air and put it underground. But major hurdles, including high costs, remain before this technology can be widely deployed and play a key role in tackling climate change.

Climeworks’ Orca plant under construction near Reykjavik, Iceland. CLIMEWORKS

In early September, at an industrial facility located about 25 miles southeast of Reykjavik, Iceland, the Swiss company Climeworks will mark the opening of a new project named “Orca.” At least in a conventional sense, Orca doesn’t actually make anything. It is comprised of eight elongated boxes that resemble wood-clad tanks. Each of these boxes — known as “collectors” — is roughly the size of a tractor trailer, and each is festooned with 12 whirring fans that draw a stream of air inside. Within the collectors, a chemical agent known as a sorbent will capture CO2 contained in the air wafting through. Continue reading

Sublime Icelandic Lava

The Fagradalsfjall eruption, on April 9th. Einat Lev, a volcanologist, says most active volcanoes are so dangerous or remote that they preclude casual visits. She said of Fagradalsfjall, “We’ll never get this kind of access anywhere, in any other place.” Photograph by Brian Emfinger

Our attention to Iceland started in 2013 and by late 2014 it might have seemed like an obsession. For good reason, whenever we see news about Iceland we pay attention and share here. And so it goes again:

Chasing the Lava Flow in Iceland

At a volcanic eruption, the sublime experience of watching land submerge land.

By mid-March, the people of Grindavík, a commercial fishing town at the western end of Iceland’s southern coast, were exhausted. For the previous three weeks, a strong seismic swarm had produced thousands of earthquakes per day, ranging from gentle tremors to tectonic disruptions powerful enough to jolt a person awake at night. Svanur Snorrason, a journalist who lives near the town’s harbor, told me that locals were “pretty much going insane” from sleep deprivation. “Earthquakes, or bad and very dangerous weather, we are used to it,” he said. “I don’t think people were afraid, but they were very tired.” Continue reading

Geothermal Cooking, Just Because


Jon Sigfusson, the chef at Fridheimar, a restaurant in Reykholt, Iceland, picking herbs for cooking lamb. Credit Bara Kristinsdottir for The New York Times

Thanks to Peter Kaminsky, who helps answer the question Why Cook Over an Icelandic Geyser? and does so with gusto:

REYKHOLT, Iceland — Standing in the mud of the Myvatn geyser field in northern Iceland, Kolla Ivarsdottir lifted the lid of her makeshift bread oven. It had been fashioned from the drum of an old washing machine and buried in the geothermally heated earth. All around us mudpots burbled and columns of steam shot skyward, powered by the heat of nascent volcanoes.


Mr. Sigfusson, left, and Kjartan Olafsson, a restaurant critic and fish exporter, putting food into the communal geothermal oven. Credit Bara Kristinsdottir for The New York Times

Ms. Ivarsdottir, a mother of three who sells her bread in a local crafts market, reached into the oven and retrieved a milk carton full of just-baked lava bread, a sweet, dense rye bread that has been made in the hot earth here for centuries. She cut the still-hot loaf into thick slices. It is best eaten, she said, “completely covered by a slab of cold butter as thick as your hand, and a slice of smoked salmon, just as thick.” We settled for bread and butter — still a supernal combination. Continue reading

Northern Lights, Iceland Edition


The northern lights over Iceland in February. The glowing orange area on the left side are the lights of the capital, Reykjavik. Jamie Cooper/SSPL via Getty Images

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for letting us know where they still take these things seriously:

Iceland, History, Moving Forward

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 11.33.11 AM

 A scholar of the Icelandic Presidency swiftly became a Presidential front-runner. ILLUSTRATION BY JASU HU

This article had me in the first sentence, naming Iceland and mentioning historian together. Seth educated himself, with the help of a great university and its incredible historical archives on Iceland, to be a historian of the bachelor variety.  What he learned from those archives and some well structured thinking have served him well since then in Costa Rica.

In his next posting, in Baja California Sur (Mexico), I expect the foundation in history, combined with these last two years of applied practice, will be even more valuable. You will hopefully start hearing about that this week, but meanwhile have a read about current events in Iceland:


How a scholar of the nation’s Presidency swiftly became its Presidential front-runner.


When I heard that the historian Guðni Jóhannesson was running for President of Iceland—not only running but entering the final weeks of the campaign as the clear favorite—I was intently curious to be present when and if he won. Continue reading

Please Do Not Close The Door, Iceland

lead_large (2)

The Northern Lights above the ash plume of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano Lucas Jackson / Reuters

We have had a thing for Iceland for a few years now, mainly due to Seth’s honors thesis. But none of us currently contributing to this blog have actually been there, yet. There is a plan in the air, very vaguely, for several of us to meet up there one day soon. Thanks to writers such as the Atlantic‘s Feargus O’Sullivan, and our own ongoing discussion on travel conundrums, we are not rushing into the plan, but contemplating it in back burner mode. We know we cannot wait forever:

Iceland vs. Tourists

It’s not easy fitting 1.2 million annual visitors onto an island of 330,000 residents.

A 3-minute Visit To Iceland


It is about two years since several of us took turns reading drafts of Seth’s honors thesis. We had been reading the summaries of his archival research since the summer of 2013, and by March 2014 he was describing Iceland in centuries past in a manner that made us hope such a place still existed. This small video makes us think it may still exist. It reminds us: we must go soon (as 19th century adventurers also said). It is too beautiful to describe in words, so instead may we recommend clicking on the image above and just going for a few minutes?

President of Iceland to Speak at Cornell in T-minus Two Hours

10421239_10152851517090132_6600294053230348364_nIn less than two hours, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, the fifth president of Iceland, will deliver a talk at Cornell’s Einaudi Center, as part of the Foreign Policy Distinguished Speaker Series.

Since I have a very personal academic connection to Iceland, I will be viewing the live stream of the speech at CornellCast’s webpage, and I invite you to do the same! The site helpfully provides a countdown of the talk for those of us in diverse time zones.  Continue reading

Conquering Iceland’s Mountains: The Alpine Club (Part 3)

“Turquoise Falls, Bruarfoss” © Jerome Berbigier

Continued from Part 2.

As it turned out, it was a British law student, William Lord Watts, who became the first man to truly answer Longman’s call and embark on some serious exploring. In the introduction to his book Across the Vatna Jökull; or, Scenes in Iceland; Being a Description of Hitherto Unknown Regions, Watts started by taking issue with the concerned British subject at home who saw the exploration of wilderness as a waste of “money, time, and labour,” or “utter folly,” explaining that everyone had a mania for something or other, and his own “may be to wander amongst unknown or unfrequented corners of the earth.” Calling for “a truce to critical stay-at-homes,” Watts advanced to the meat of his trip itself.

In his descriptions of his several expeditions, Watts usually employed a calm, scientific and lawyerly tone that make his bursts of romantic and athletic enthusiasm in certain scenes all the more exciting and believable. Nodding to his biggest audience, he also used some of the Continue reading

Conquering Iceland’s Mountains: The Alpine Club (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1.

If Longman’s unorthodox address is interesting as a sign of Iceland’s attractiveness to the middle-class British authentic-seeking traveller, the responses to his suggestions are even more so. In a May 18 article The Critic wrote a review of the Longman’s address that effectively summed up the perceived position of Iceland in the global context of travel and exploration. The author suggested that any adventurous Briton who had already “used up Ireland and Scotland” and “[did] not care to ascend Mont Blanc for the dozenth time” might turn to Iceland for their future travels, as it had spectacular scenery equal to Switzerland and critics were growing tired of “oft-repeated tales” in countries they knew intimately through so many books. The contributor continued by explaining that:

Aerial view of Iceland © Sarah Martinet

We do not ask the good-natured traveller to kill gorillas in Africa after Mr. Du Chaillu’s fashion, or hunt bisons on the American prairies with Mr. Grantley Berkeley. Our request is much more reasonable. Iceland may be reached by the expenditure of a single five-pound note: and in that uncockneyfied land a solitary Englishman may pay all his daily travelling expenses, including those which will be entailed on him by a retinue of three horses and a guide, for twenty shillings.

Continue reading

Conquering Iceland’s Mountains: The Alpine Club (Part 1)

Aerial view of Iceland © Sarah Martinet

It has been months since I’ve mentioned Iceland on the blog, partly because I was exhausted with the subject after completing my thesis in mid-April, but also because I’ve been occupied with less academic matters over the summer. Another reason for revisiting the topic is that over the summer I had the honor of learning that my thesis was added to the Kroch Library Rare and Manuscript Collections–hopefully somebody will find it useful eventually! Now that the volcanic dust has settled and the borrowed library books have been returned, I feel there are a couple facets of nineteenth-century British travel to Iceland left to explore here.

I’ve written about some of the qualities exhibited by British travelers to Iceland before, but Continue reading

If You Happen To Be In New York City


It has been a while since we have seen any old maps of Iceland, or old images of anything for that matter, so combined with a few select Raxa bloggers receiving a near-final copy of Seth’s honors thesis for review a few moments ago, this announcement came as a pleasant surprise:

Last week, the New York Public Library released twenty thousand maps from its extensive collection, which includes more than four hundred thousand sheets and twenty thousand books and atlases, as free, high-resolution digital downloads. In announcing the newly accessible maps, the N.Y.P.L explained that the holding includes more than a thousand maps of New York City from the seventeenth century to the twentieth century, “which detail transportation, vice, real estate development, urban renewal, industrial development and pollution, political geography among many, many other things.” Continue reading

Qualities of the 19th Century British Traveller in Iceland: Part 2

Glymur, Hvalfjörður, 1200-1500 feet deep.

In addition to being the first outsider to see several attractions in Iceland, Baring-Gould was also well known for his translations of the sagas he so admired. Anglo-Icelandic scholar Andrew Wawn believes Baring-Gould to have written “the first Iceland travel book to show any real awareness of manuscripts of sagas and eddic poems.” Thus, Baring-Gould’s actions set him apart once more as one of the discerning travellers discussed in Part 1 of this section. But does he engage in snobbish attempts to actively disparage tourists in addition to distinguishing himself as one who often strays from the beaten path? At one point he states that “Certainly a tourist who runs to the Geysirs and back to Reykjavík gets no true idea of Icelandic scenery,” and at the beginning of his book, when he arrives in Reykjavík, he satirically laments the presence of crinolines (i.e. petticoats) fashionable back home in one of the Danish stores. Neither of these examples is particularly harsh. When it comes to anthropogenic environmental degradation, however, he becomes more critical. It is instructive to quote Baring-Gould extensively here on the scene of a boiling hot spring whose conduit is obstructed by stones:  Continue reading

Qualities of the 19th Century British Traveller in Iceland: Part 1

Goðafoss. Gelatin silver print by Henry A. Perkins, courtesy of Cornell University Library’s Fiske Icelandic Collection, Department of Rare & Manuscript Collections.

For my previous post on part of my drafted chapter, click here.

Historian John Pemble, in his book on Victorians and Edwardians travelling in the Mediterranean, has written that “the claim to be a ‘traveller’, as opposed to a ‘tourist’ or an ‘excursionist,’ was in most cases only a special kind of snobbery … [implying] revulsion from the British masses.” This claim is in fact up for debate. On the one hand, a certain author on Iceland might lampoon so-called tourists for behavior that he engages in himself with seemingly no distinction other than his privileged background. On the other hand, Continue reading

The Guidebook and the Beaten Track (Part 2)

Hot springs in Iceland’s Fjallabak Nature Reserve. Photo via DailyMail Online

As I wrote in Part 1, I think a brief inspection of Murray guidebooks over time hints at the image that a Briton considering a voyage abroad would hold in his mind of a place like Iceland. The first edition of A Handbook for Travellers in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Russia, an 1839 volume by Murray intended for travel through most of Scandinavia, states in the Preface that, Continue reading

The Guidebook and the Beaten Track (Part 1)

Basalt pavement, Kirkjubær (Síða). Collodion print by Frederick Howell ca. 1900, courtesy of the Fiske Icelandic Collection in the Department of Rare & Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.

It’s now been almost exactly a month since I finished my first draft of a thesis chapter, and shared the introduction to it here on Raxa Collective. My goal was to spend part of my academic break as a comfortable vacation without thinking of Iceland and instead focus on enjoying my time in India with family, and apart from the niggling worries that pop up when I’m trying to fall asleep every now and then, I’ve succeeded. But school starts up again in less than two weeks, so it’s about time to rev up the Iceland think-engine again, and a good way to do that is by sharing some more of the draft as it stands so far. What follows is a section of the “Cockneys in Iceland” chapter with the same title as this post, de-annotated, slightly altered, and divided into two parts for readability.  Continue reading

Cockneys in Iceland

The Cockney Tourist, or Where Shall We Go To? © Look and Learn / Peter Jackson Collection / The Bridgeman Art Library

Earlier last week, I completed a working draft of one of my thesis’ chapters. Its subject matter is a bit different from what I’ve been writing about in previous months, because I more closely address trends in travel and travel literature rather than the travellers’ interactions with the environment around them. Here’s an edited (and de-annotated, so comment for further reading) version of the introduction to this chapter:

After the Napoleonic Wars, as continental Europe reopened to British travel during the 1820s, there came to be an exaggerated perception that sightseers were swarming sites of the Grand Tour, previously inaccessible due to both military and socioeconomic barriers. Many aristocratic Britons considered this type of tourist, the mere excursionist, distinct from themselves, the sophisticated travellers more interested in natural history, authentic culture, and exploration. Iceland, with its near-mythical  Continue reading

A Thesis Hypothesis


This week, the time has come for me to officially lay out some of the terms of my honors history thesis that I have been writing about for a few months now. Although this “hypothesis,” or explanation of what I expect to argue, won’t set my focused topic in stone, it will certainly be instrumental in guiding me at least in a broad sense as I move forward with writing this semester, and it will also help show my advisors what path I plan to take. Without further ado, here is my thesis hypothesis in a 400-word nutshell. Continue reading

The Big Thaw

2009 Jökulsárlón, Iceland. Destined to melt, an 800-pound chunk of ice glows in moonlight, from the National Geographic story “Meltdown.”

2009 Jökulsárlón, Iceland. Destined to melt, an 800-pound chunk of ice glows in moonlight, from the National Geographic story “Meltdown.”

On our pages we like to narrate stories, sometimes stories that people would rather not hear. If a “picture is worth a thousand words” then James Balog’s images for National Geographic tell a poignant narrative.

The pictorial language has the unique ability to penetrate the human heart and mind and photography has the power to alter the course of civilization through perception. My main subject has been the collision between human needs and nature, it’s always seemed to me that’s one of the pivotal issues of our moment in history Continue reading