An extraordinary landscape of ice and snow dominates the southeastern coast as Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier comes into view. It’s full immensity is striking, glaring ice sheets with grey needle-sharp mountain peaks and tongues of ice exiting onto the gravel plains. It covers eight thousand square kilometers, is almost 150km broad and up to a kilometre thick.
Glacial geology and geomorphology has a descriptive language all of it’s own. Ice sculpts and rearranges mountains and valleys, and the terminology is as arresting as it’s relentless effect: cirques and aretes, jagged ridges, glacial flutes, drumlins, eskers, hummocky moraines, rock flour. A highlight of the trip was a boat ride on the Fjallsárlón glacial lagoon, 10 kilometers west of Jökulsárlon. The lagoon was formed after the glacier began shrinking rapidly in the 1940’s and forms a pool between the Breiðamerkurjökull and the sea. We chose a tour company using zodiac dinghies as the boats are more manoeuvrable and able to get close-up to the icebergs. The brochure describes the experience as “stepping into a dreamlike world”. It certainly was otherworldly, with the growl of the retreating ice, and the boat guide fearful of getting too close to the wall of the glacier. It is receding far faster now than as any other time and is logged at 500m over the past decade. Our young guide expressed his concern over the effect of global warming and recommended watching the documentary “Chasing Ice”. Here’s a link to the trailer – it’s a pretty sobering look at the effects of climate change.