Glaciers and Icebergs

 

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.

Regards,

Larry

These and other images are available for purchase at http://www.earthwatcher.us or by contacting larry@earthwatcher.us

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An Adventure in Iceland, SEP 2017

When I close my eyes and picture Iceland, I think of coastal plains lying between the ocean and tall cliff sides. At some places, the plains are grass covered, at other places they are filled with jagged black lava. The cliff sides are impressively tall and massive. They are green with vegetation and filled with outcrops of volcanic basalt. All along the cliff sides, waterfalls appear at frequent intervals. Free range sheep, in small groups, dot the hillsides. Oceanside beaches are black from the volcanic rock and sand.

Glacier melt from the ice covered volcanic mountains creates many, many small streams. These streams drop in long thin ribbons of white from the cliffside. Where they hit the plain, they cut small streams that meander their way to the oceans. In September, the streams flow through gullies in their rocky beds. But, I am told, that in the spring the beds are full of raging water. The streams travel short distances so they don’t have time to merge into large rivers. Despite their size, the fall from glacier to ocean gives them a swift current.

 

The plains are used for ranching. A few ranchers have cattle but most raise sheep and horses. Icelandic wool products are sold throughout the country. Lamb is a staple; Icelandic meat soup is very good.

 

 

 

There are also many horses which are unique to Iceland. They are short, stalky beasts with long, shaggy mains and tails. There is little farming. In fact, we saw only one garden at a home behind a place where we stayed.

 

 

Iceland has a history of recent volcanic activity. So, the rocks are angular and jagged. They haven’t had time to weather into smoother surfaces. But, even in the lava fields, grasses and wildflowers grow between the rocks and gravel. Moss sometimes grows on the volcanic rock giving the lava fields a soft, velvety green color to contrast with its normal black, jagged features.

As you travel through Iceland, you get glimpses of the massive glaciers that cover many of the mountains. In a few spots, glacial tongues reach the valley floor. Where this occurs, you can see the blue icy edges of the glacier. At the edge, ice breaks loose and falls as icebergs into lagoons. In Jökulsárlón, the icebergs float down a short river and into the ocean where some flow back onto beach.

 

 

 

We got to spend precious few hours in the highlands (mountains). One visit took us across a rocky riverbed of gray-green volcanic rock into hills made of broken shards of shale. Shale is sedimentary rock meaning it formed under a calm lake or ocean. It is an anomaly in an otherwise volcanic landscape. A second trip took us to a high valley near one of the glaciers. The valley is reminiscent of those you might see in a medieval fantasy story. The path through the jagged rocks of the tall valley led uphill, next to a stream that cascades from the glacier. The atmosphere was cool and damp. The cliff side was covered with moss and wildflowers.

I’ll be publishing more images focused on different features. Iceland is a remarkably beautiful place. I look forward to visiting again.

 

 

 

Note: Click on caption to see images in a larger size.

These and other images are available for purchase on my website: www.earthwatcher.us or by contacting larry@earthwatcher.us