Icelands glacial rivers are nature's abstract paintings. It seems obvious that rivers this wild and stunning are
protected, yet the harsh reality is that many have been dammed, mainly to provide power for aluminum plants. A massive
conservation movement is underway to preserve these rivers, but will it succeed? At Glaciers End gives a voice to
Icelands glacial rivers providing both a cultural and environmental perspective on the journey from glacier to sea.
Exploring Iceland's intricate glacial rivers with photographer
and writer Matt McDonald
Every stream is a moving, living museum.
FROM HEADWATER TO RIVER MOUTH
MANY SEE BEAUTY
OTHERS SEE MONEY
Iceland’s leaders looked to other resources where they had a unique advantage, and they finally noticed the power of
their glacial rivers. They could be more than just beautiful, their flow could be turned into money. There was an
industry desperate for cheap power. Aluminum production, or smelting, is one of the most energy intensive industries in
the world. Once the aluminum industry discovered that operating in Iceland was one-third cheaper than the global
average, massive foreign companies began vying for control of Iceland’s “cheap” glacial power. The government put forth
plans to harness all of Iceland’s major rivers. Dams, and the heavy industries that swallowed up their power, were to be
the new pillar that propped up the struggling Icelandic fishing industry. This was Iceland’s chance at its own
It’s a pivotal time to be humans.
We didn’t ask for it, but here we are. Our entire history and survival has been a journey dependent upon the land. Yet,
our modern world insists that we are separate – somehow superior – masters of our environments. It’s infinitely easier
to keep a river a river than to turn a dam back into a river. A few more large dams will have a significant impact on
Iceland’s rivers and landscape.
Currently, Iceland’s government is working hard to create a Highland National Park, which will protect much, if not all,
of the Highland – the source of these great glacial rivers – from future industrial development. The result of this
national park process will make a powerful statement about what the country values. Will it be industry, or preserving
the land for human health and enjoyment? The decision will determine what millions and millions of us will discover in
the Iceland of the future.