Photos: © Layne Kennedy

In case you haven’t heard, we’re giving away a trip to Iceland. As a result, this photo essay is a bit of a divergence from our usual tough-as-nails coverage, wherein the prettiest pictures we run are of, well, politicians. But we’re not just shilling here — Iceland is a hotbed of Grist-worthy news.

Iceland is known as the land of fire and ice thanks to dramatic glaciers and volcanoes, but recently the country’s reputation has been running hot and cold among environmentalists, too. In 2003, the country raised hackles by rejecting an international ban on commercial whaling, a practice the government defended as important to scientific advancement. That same year, Iceland earned global kudos by opening the world’s first hydrogen-fuel filling station — a concrete step in a sweeping and much-praised project to shift the entire country to hydrogen-based energy over the next few decades.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Even that clean-energy dream finds its foes. Some local environmentalists say harnessing the country’s waters to create hydrogen will destroy unparalleled landscapes and decimate biodiversity. Now, a high-profile dam-construction project that will flood the nation’s wild eastern highlands to power an aluminum smelter has awakened activists around the world. While that battle rages, there’s climate change to think about, and its impact on the glaciers that make Iceland, well, icy.

In short, this land of ecological wonders has become a land of ecological wondering. These glimpses by Minneapolis-based photographer Layne Kennedy offer a sense of what’s at stake.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.