From Iceland — So What's This Earthquake I Keep Hearing About?

So What’s This Earthquake I Keep Hearing About?

Published September 10, 2012

So What’s This Earthquake I Keep Hearing About?

An earthquake of the magnitude 4.6 on the Richter scale struck on Thursday August 30th. Its epicentre was near Reykjavík and it was felt all over the city. It was especially noticeable given that it happened at lunchtime, so people were awake and mingling, resulting in a lot of “did you feel the Earth move?” conversations, which would be funny if that bit of innuendo worked in Icelandic.
Are earthquakes frequent near Reykjavík?
Not frequent, but they do happen from time to time. That is not to say that Reykjavikings are blasé about the ground rippling beneath them. As a rule, not much ever happens in Iceland, so any kind of geological occurrence will set the heart racing. In fact, with geology being so regularly in the news, Icelanders incline towards geology nerdery. Since Iceland’s historical record is mostly made up of farmers whining about the weather, each other, and unusually stubborn sheep, the countryside is not exactly chock-full of sites of historic import. But it does have craters, rifts, and lava fields. Lots and lots of lava fields.
Iceland is North Dakota with volcanoes?
Shush now, I hear Fargo is lovely this time of year. But yes, places of geological significance far outnumber historic ones. However, while Iceland lacks for attractions in the vein of, say, the birthplace of General Mortimer “Skullstacker” Cuddlesworth, we make up in having a wide selection of volcanoes that at one time or another killed every living thing within a few hundred kilometres, and could do so again any minute now. Any second now, really. The view from the top will take your breath away. You really should hike up there.
That’s okay, I’ll just take a look on Google Maps.
Your call. You will miss a killer view. But yes, the earthquake was a godsend for a news-starved island. Like with most everything else, Iceland has to import its news. It is not feasible to grow enough to support over three hundred thousand people. Some people optimistically tried to launch a twenty-four hour Icelandic news network, but it went under fairly quickly.
Was it any good?
I never watched it, because “oh dear lord kill me now” would have been the only reasonable response. But I like to imagine that most of the station’s airtime would have been filled with depressed, tanned blond people saying: “There is nothing to report except that my life is without meaning. Go outside. Unless the weather’s bad. I haven’t seen the outside world for ages. They have me chained. They gave me the key but the will to free myself has been ground out of my soul.” Though come to think of it, that is basically the same experience as watching Fox News.
And that relates to the earthquake… how?
Oh yeah, that. The topic under discussion. Well, you see, even though it was a mediocre earthquake, it was an event. It was a thing that had happened. In the depths of late summer, any kind of occurrence that can easily be reported on is at a premium. The Icelandic term for a news-drought is “cucumber season.” The official explanation is that during late summer the Icelandic media will become so starved for news that they will start interviewing farmers who grow that most unglamorous of all the vegetables, the humble cucumber.
Official explanation? I take it there are unofficial ones.
Not really, but the term is old enough, going back at least to the fifties, that the origin has been lost. I like to think that some ill-tempered mid-century newspaper editor used to fling cucumber slices at reporters who could not find anything to write about. Or perhaps the term cucumber season was, like fascism, a dick joke too many people took way too seriously.
I still don’t know what this has to do with the earthquake.
The earthquake was a piffle. It happened in a known geologically active area, it came, it went, and in any country where newsworthy things happened with any regularity, no one would have given it more than a moment’s thought. It was caused by a violent rupture in the ground, which was the result of friction between two tectonic plates. It was just another event in the billion-year dance of continents. I know that sounds impressive and all, but when things like that happen all the time, you want something a little more special.
Oh no, so Icelanders are geology hipsters?
Yes. You have not even heard of the best earthquakes. Actually, you probably have, because they get mentioned in tourist brochures. And really, when you get right down to it, earthquakes are inherently populist. Like a classic disco song at a wedding, Blame It on the Boogie, YMCA, or Staying Alive, an earthquake always gets everyone’s ass shaking.

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