Vatnajökull

  • Vatnajökull Glacier is Europe's largest glacier.
    Vatnajökull Glacier is Europe's largest glacier.
  • The Vatnajökull Glacier in Southeast Iceland is Europe's largest glacier.
    The Vatnajökull Glacier in Southeast Iceland is Europe's largest glacier.
  • The Vatnajökull Glacier in Southeast Iceland is Europe's largest glacier.
    The Vatnajökull Glacier in Southeast Iceland is Europe's largest glacier.
  • The Vatnajökull Glacier in Southeast Iceland is Europe's largest glacier.
    The Vatnajökull Glacier in Southeast Iceland is Europe's largest glacier.

The Vatnajökull Glacier in Southeast Iceland is Europe's largest glacier. The glacier covers an area of approximately 8.100 square km and the thickness of the ice cap ranging from about 400 to 1100 m. The subglacial landscape is a plateau with valleys, canyons, and gorges all hidden under the ice.  Formed thousands of years ago, Vatnajökull has approximately 30 outlet glaciers, or glacier tongues, flowing and bursting from the icecap as the ice crawls down to the lowland.  One of Iceland's main tourist attraction, Jökulsárlón, is a lagoon that feeds of one of the many glacier tongues, Breiðamerkurjökull (Wide Forest Glacier).  The glacier also hides some powerful and highly active volcanoes, including Bárðarbunga, Öræfajökull, and Grímsvötn that has the highest eruption frequency of all the volcanoes in Iceland.  Near Jökulsárlón lagoon and Fjallsárlón lagoon, there are interesting Ice caves that people can visit from November to March.  In the caves, where you can go under the edge of the glacier and have a view from down under.  It is truly a remarkable sight.

Eruption and humongous glacial bursts from under the glacier is constant fear factor

The latest eruption in Grímsvötn and by far the strongest for 100 years was in May 2011. It started with 12 km high plumes, followed by multiple earthquakes and an ash cloud rising to 20 km. Glacial bursts are quite common following eruptions and never cease to affect the live and amazement of Icelanders. They simply love their island's volatile and powerful nature, no matter what the consequences. Although the latest eruption connected to Vatnajökull did not occur under the ice cap but just north of the ice cap forming the new lava Holuhraun, it is very much part of the threat from the volcanoes under the glacier. The eruption occurred in August 2014 and was one of the larger ones in Iceland's history. So the glacier or the vast ice cap has many active threats and angry volcanos and could actually at any point produce some monumental disturbances in Iceland and possibly also in Europe.

The Ice Cap is melting away as global warming continues

For quite some years, Vatnajökull ice cap has been melting at a rate of one meter per year. Some of the glacier tongues have been melting even faster, like Skaftafellsjökull near the famous camping site Skaftafell in the South Region. But, Iceland has actually seen periods of warmer climate before (during the Middle Ages) where glaciers receded, only to reshape into their former glory when cooler period sets in. 
When you drive the Ring Road on a good day, you have the glacier Vatnajökull and all its might in front of you for hours.  It is a magnificent natural wonder and a joy to view against the blue sky.  Simply a beautiful sight adding to the pleasure of driving the Ring Road in Iceland