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Vatnajokull Glacier

General information

Size approx 8.300 km². Average thickness 420 - 450 m. Greatest thickness about 900 m at the beginning of Skeiðarár-jökull. Below the glacier are few active central volcanoes possibly all with calderas, one or more. Well known are Esjufjöll, Grímsvötn, Kverkfjöll, Þórðarhyrna and Bárðarbunga besides Öræfajökull.

History of Vatnajokull

The glacier Vatnajökull began formation 2.500 years ago but three tousand years ago the Ice Age glacier had disappeared altogether. Some glaciers had always been on the highest mountains. At the settlement the glaciers started to retreat and it was considerably smaller that it is today. Glacier snouts have in most places been at least 15 km further inland than now and wild sheep are mentioned on the south side of Esjufjöll. The Northerners-hollow has possibly been without a glacier. During the 13th century it got colder and glaciers advanced. The glaciers culminated around the turn of the century 1900.

The landscape underneath the glacier

Vatnajökull is on top of two mountain ridges. One is demarcated by the three central volcanoes i.e. Bárðarbunga, Kverkfjöll and Grímsvötn. The other starts north of Esjufjöll and goes underneath Breiðubunga all the way to Goðahryggur. Between the two ridges, below Norðlingalægð, is a valley at 500-800 m height above s.l. If Vatnajökull disappears glaciers would still accumulate on the highest mountains but never succeed in joining into a large solid glacier compared with present situation. Norðlingalægð would be free of ice and a summer road could be built there at similar height as Sprengisandur and Kjalvegur. These circumstaces could become facts if the climate would hold for few centuries similar to what is now or as it was during the years 1930-1960.

Below most of the run-off glaciers extending out from Vatnajökull are large valleys. The largest ones are the valleys below Skeiðarárjökull and Breiðamerkurjökull and both of them reach below sea level. Where Skeiðarárjökull is now would be a valley that reaches close into Grímsvötn and there would be a long and narrow lake like at Skorradalur. Where Breiðamerkurjökull is now would be a fjord extending north to Esjufjöll.

Glacier Lagoon

At the turn of the century 1900, glaciers were at their pinnacle. Breiðamerkurjökull reached almost out to the sea then and the snout was where the bridge is today. The lagoon started forming around 1950 and during the recent years the glacier has retreated approximately 100 m per annum. The lagoon is now more than 100 m deep and the depth increases as the lagoon extends in length. The depth is 300 m below the glacier.

Arctic Tern - Click to enlarge
Summer is here and so are the migrants like the puckish Arctic Tern...
Puffin - Click to enlarge
...and the distinguished Puffin! Ask our guides to take you to see them!
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