Iceland is notoriously covered in ice for 11% of its land. Well, the popular guess is that for a country to have ice in its name, it has to have plenty of ice. Iceland possesses a cluster of different glaciers and related landscapes (other than the volcano that is) that are scattered throughout its majestic landscape.
Iceland is also popular for tourist visits and international layovers. So you might want to pack up and get ready for these glaciers as they are a sight that is meant to be seen.
Moving on, we would like to tell some general information about these ice-capped glacial landscapes. We will also discuss their origins, history and their history in Iceland, among other things. Afterward, we are obviously liable and discuss Iceland’s own glaciers in the present time, and how you can visit them. So, let’s break it down in the next section.
General Information on Iceland
A glacier is a dense form of ice that is accumulated after the process of ablation (melting and sublimation) taking years or even centuries. The way a glacier is made is called glaciation. Over 99% of glaciers are covered in ice sheets, on this planet. There has also been evidence that true glaciers like the ones on Earth are also present on Mars. These are different from the rock glaciers that are found on Mars and have different topography.
Glaciers also exist on mountainous ranges, even on the one that is in Oceania’s High Altitude countries such as New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. What’s more, is that these glaciers right now are also the biggest reservoirs of freshwater here on earth. The Alpine, polar climate glaciers store water in the colder seasons and release it as meltwater during the end of the season. This makes it a water source for human beings and animals to use it. Though within the Antarctic and very high altitude glacier locations, the freshwater is unable to melt due to its freezing points.
Another thing about these glaciers is their distinctive blue color. It is because the blue color is difficult to be absorbed by water when it is compressed. Another reason is that the pressure of compression by ice of the air bubbles in water (that give water it’s transparent color) is squeezed out during the process.
History and Timeline of Glaciation
Near 5 to 6 major ice ages have taken place during the last 3 billion years. The latest one was called the Late Cenozoic Ice age that took place some 34 million years ago, whose latest stage was Quaternary Glaciation. Cenozoic’s latest phase began nearly 2.58 million years ago and ended 11,700 years ago.
The current interglacial period is called Holocene. While you know about the current situation of glaciers all around the world, it was not as easy as when our ancestors walked the earth during the later ice ages. The initial ones were in fact so severe that the whole earth froze over. Meaning the entire earth was covered in ice, literally dense. And the weather may have been uninhabitable for human beings if they were existing at that time.
History of Glaciation in Iceland
It’s hard to talk about nature in Iceland without mentioning the long history of glaciation. But rather than ancient history, we will talk about the most recent history that pertains to current glaciers in Iceland. The best-known of glaciers in Iceland called Brúarjökull, first surged in 1810, again in 1890, and then again in 1963-64. This happened in the Vatnajökull system of Iceland. In 1890, it surged around 10 km in distance. Then before the recent surge again, it stayed stagnant and then finally retreated. It surged again throughout the period of 1963-64. Brúarjökull is a great example of a glacial landscape created by surging glaciers.
Curious about the existence of polar bears in Iceland? Learn all about these magnificent creatures and their connection to Iceland’s glaciers in our in-depth article: ‘Are There Polar Bears in Iceland?
Glaciers on Iceland have had their own little Ice Age during the eras of 1890 – 1920. Climate variations in Iceland have an effect on the makeup of all its glaciers. And, since the 1930s, the climate of Iceland and the climate change all over the world led to the retreat of many of Iceland’s glaciers. But, in the start of the 1940s, the change in the warmer climate (cooling of climate) led to a slowing of the aforementioned retreats. The 1970s saw more advancement of glaciers because of the cooling period until a warmer climate led to retreats after 1985.
These retreats and surges from time to time have left natural-made structures around Iceland. Beautiful parts of glaciers have been made into glacial sediments and landscapes. These include gremlin, glacial flutes, eskers, and etcetera. These naturally made landscapes and structures can act as a natural class for geology students and researchers.
Types of Glaciers in Iceland
While glaciers are often imagined as monolithic blocks of ice, their distinct features form a significant part of their looks and beauty. Glaciers are unique, like the snowflakes they are made from; thus, they have distinct colors, sizes, and shapes. You may never be able to fully appreciate what glaciers are without fully understanding the different types of glaciers available and their unique qualities. That said, here’s a breakdown of the most common types of glaciers out there.
From the name, you can tell that this type of glacier is mostly found in high mountain areas. They typically flow from ice fields spanning several peaks or over a complete mountain range. As expected, they’re usually beautiful to behold.
This type of glacier is known to spill from steep valleys into flat plains, spreading into bulb-like lobes. Their formation process is easily explainable since it simply involved ice streaming down steep valleys into flat plains. Thanks to its remarkably symmetrical look, these glaciers are always a sight.
This type of glacier typically exists on mountainsides and is often wider than long. Their French is birthed from their occupancy of bowl-like hollows. From a geological point of view, a Cirque can be described as a steep-sided hollow existing on valley heads or mountainsides formed by glacial erosion.
This type of glacier is mostly formed when debris covers glacial ice. They usually exist in steep valleys where soil and rocks can fall freely from hills and into the ice. This process gives them the look of sprinkles on ice-cream desserts.
This type of glacier hangs from high mountainsides. Their relatively small size means that they are usually wide. The steel inclines that form their base makes them a major cause of avalanches.
Although often discussed in climate conversations, Ice Caps are still less known than most of the other glaciers discussed. Notwithstanding, they have tons of unique features that stand them out. For instance, they mainly form in polar and subpolar regions with high elevations. This feature makes them quite flat. Hence, they are often called miniature ice sheets.
Ice fields are pretty similar to ice caps in looks and formation modalities. But it’s still important to note its salient difference in how it flows. Like most water bodies, ice fields flow in directions detected by underlying topography. Fortunately, these glaciers are easy to locate as some of the most popular glaciers in Iceland fall into this category.
Although the word stream may suggest a small water body, ice streams are surprisingly enormous. They are large bodies of flowing ice – sometimes up to 150 meters (length) and 20 meters (width). These glaciers are always sensitive to environmental changes like ice shelf loss or water volume. Their setting within ice sheets means they are typically surrounded by slow-flowing ice.
Glaciers of Iceland
As mentioned previously, Iceland’s 11% of the land is covered in ice. This means there is going to be a lot of room for different types of glaciers be it the ice caps, mountain glacier, rocky glaciers or etcetera. There are almost 269 named glaciers in the whole of Iceland. But here we are mentioning one of the best or one of the most popular ones.
This one is not just the biggest in Iceland but in the whole of Europe too, which makes it a must-see natural wonder if you visit Iceland. Svínafellsjökull, a location that is part of this glacier range, has been a star of two Hollywood movies, Batman Begins, and Interstellar. There are a lot of activities to do here, like ice caves, glacial lakes, and Diamond Beach are major and popular attractions for tourists. Vatnajokull National Park, which is open all year round, is perfect for a glacier hike.
Langjokull is the second largest glacier in Iceland and its name literally translates into “Long Glacier”. It is called long because of its oblong shape and is visited by tourists and locals alike for its snowboarding culture. It is located at the heart of the “Golden Circle” considered by many as a must-see attraction of Iceland. There is also a man-made ice tunnel/cave where couples can get married. Skiing and snowboarding in the area are also predominant.
This one is hard to reach and is the third-largest glacier in Iceland. But, the challenge of reaching it, also makes it a good attraction for those who are looking for a distraction. Located at the middle of the Icelandic Highlands, it is only in the summer months. Tours are also provided but normally they have a 4×4 and an experienced guide.
It is a lot smaller in size than the one described next is also its neighbor and is infamous for the 2010 Eyjafjallajokull volcano. The hike is the perfect way to see both of the glaciers (as it is visible when on the hike) in one go.
This is the neighbor of the infamous Eyjafjallajokull glacier and is bigger than it too. It is also the fourth-largest glacier in Iceland. It also serves as a home to the world’s largest and most active volcano called Katla. 4×4 and snowboarding are also predominant and there is also a great and special hiking trail called Fimmvörðuháls. The special hiking trail takes us from Myrdalsjokull glacier to its neighboring Eyjafjallajokull.
This glacier is a special kind of glacier, as its height does not exceed the limit of 1000m. It is also not part of the group of glaciers that recently receded at a very high speed. It may be a little far away, as it is found in the remote Westfjords area, which is in the far north of the country. Tours can be taken if you think it is hard to get here.
Solheimajokull stems from the tongue of the much larger Myrdalsjokull glacier, but may be as popular. It may be because of the different crevasses and caves it possesses that are best for ice hiking and climbing. Check out our Iceland south coast glacier hike tour with a professional guide
Located at Snaefellsjokull National Park, this one shot to fame when the famous French author Jules Verne, made this glacier as a set of his novel. The novel was called “Journey to the Center of Earth”. And, it is also the smallest one in Iceland, and also the most popular one. This one is surrounded by a waterfall, black beaches, and lava fields, even though it is magnificent by itself.
An outlet glacier of the Vatnajokull System and practically the most famous one too. It has an active volcano, which is Iceland’s Largest. This one also has Iceland’s highest point Hvannadalshnukur, which stands 2110 m above sea level. It makes the reason for many hikers coming here for a glorious hike.
The name literally translates into “Falling Glacier”. This one is also an outlet glacier of the Vatnajokull system. The falling glacier is located in the southeast of Iceland right along the coastal road. Tours can be arranged from Skaftafell to Falljokull then straight to Vatnajokull glacier. This tour is very popular among visitors.
That’s it, some of the best and most popular glaciers in Iceland. We recommend visiting at least one of these glaciers if you’re active and vibrant enough to want to actively experience one of nature’s finest wonders. However, we strongly advise against doing it yourself. Make sure you have a trained guide every time you want to experience the breathtaking view of these glaciers.