Long ago, I heard the quip that Greenland is icy and Iceland is green. I’ve never been to Greenland but can attest that, at least in the late summer, Iceland is very green. That being said, there is a lot of ice in Iceland. Iceland bills itself as the land of fire and ice because of the many glaciers and volcanos. In the area we travelled, we saw the glacier capped peaks anywhere there was a break in the cliff sides or where the cliff sides were set back far enough that we could see above them. Some were so large, you can see them cover peak after peak for many miles. In places, their tongues would wind their way down mountain valleys, sometimes reaching the floor. I have seen glaciers on TV and have heard about the dangerous crevices but it was not until this visit that I was able to follow a glacier, with my eyes, and see that it not just a smooth icy crust, but rather a cragged set of peaks and crevices. Perhaps, when there is a lot of snow, it fills the crevices making the glacier appear smooth and making it a much more dangerous place to cross.
Several things intrigued me about the glaciers I saw: some of the ice is white and some of it is blue, there were big black stripes over the glaciers and several of the glaciers sat atop volcanos, 2 of which erupted recently. The blue ice is caused by how some of the ice crystals react with light. The black stripes are windblown particles of volcanic ash that cover the glacier in the summer. In the winter, they are mostly covered with snow.
Volcanos under ice is the interesting story. Eyjafjallajökull, a volcano under a glacier of the same name, erupted in 2010. Grímsvötn, a volcano under Iceland’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull, erupted in 2011. Katla, which is partly covered by Mýrdalsjökull is currently threatening eruption and may be a much larger than the others in recent history. (By the way, jökull means glacier in Icelandic.) In addition to the explosive action of the eruption, it can melt the snow and ice creating catastrophic water and mudflows called lahars. The eruption of magma, the lava flows and the lahars will reshape a landscape. Because Iceland has so many volcanos that are active, fire and ice are responsible for Iceland’s rugged beauty.
Between the eruptions, the glaciers provide the water for the many waterfalls and the lush, green, vegetation and wildflowers. Where the glacial tongues reach the plains, they calve icebergs into lagoons. At one of the most popular lagoons, Jökulsárlón, a short river provides an outlet for the icebergs to flow to the ocean as the tides recede. When the tides return, many of the icebergs wash back onto the black sand beach. It is a wonder to behold.
I hope you enjoy the images of Glaciers and Icebergs.
Note: Click on caption to see image in larger size and resolution.