The glaciers (huge rivers of ice) and ice caps of Iceland cover more than 10 per cent of the country’s land area, which means they cover 11,400 square kilometres out of the total area of 103,125 square kilometres.
An ice cap is a mass of glacial ice that covers less than 50,000 square kilometres of land area covering a highland area and they feed outlet glaciers. Many Icelandic ice caps and glaciers lie above volcanoes, as an example, the volcanoes of Grímsvötn and Bárðarbunga lie under the largest ice cap, Vatnajökull. The caldera (circular hollow that remains when the central part of a volcano falls in after an eruption) of Grímsvötn is 100 square kilometres in area, and Bárðarbunga is 60 square kilometres. Due to climate change, Iceland is losing ice. Okjökull (the Icelandic word for glacier is jökull) in West Iceland, has lost its glacier title and is now simply known as “Ok”. In order to fit the criteria, glaciers need to be thick enough to sink and move under their own weight. Ok will not be alone as a declassified glacier.
Vatnajökull, the water glacier, is the largest glacier in Iceland and it is also the largest glacier mass in Europe. It covers an area of roughly 8200 square kilometres and is about 1000m thick at its thickest point, though its average thickness is 450m.
In 2008, Vatnajökull glacier and its surroundings were declared a national park, integrating Skaftafell in the south and Jökulsárgljúfur in the north, as well as several nature reserves to create Vatnajökull National Park which covers 8 per cent of Iceland’s total land, about the same size as Cyprus. Vatnajökull, is home to Iceland´s highest peak, Hvannadalshnjukur is in Vatnajökull glacier and rises 2110 metres above Iceland´s south shore. One of the most amazing sights of Vatnajökull glacier is the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. Vatnajökull has around 30 outlet glaciers that form a stunning landscape that can be explored only with a guide.
Langjökull, the long glacier, is the closest large glacier to Reykjavík, being a 90-minute drive from the capital. At 953 square kilometres, it is the second largest icecap in Iceland and like Vatnajökull hides some volcanic systems under its 580-metre thick ice shield. Langjökull also has the largest man-made ice cave in the world, though natural ice caves have been found on Langjökull in recent years, which can be seen on snow-mobile tours on the glacier.
Hofsjökull, the temple glacier, is the third largest glacier in Iceland. Located in the western part of Iceland’s Highlands, it covers an area of 925 square kilometres, is roughly 40 kilometres in diameter, reaching to 1,765 metres at its summit. While there are volcanos under the glacier, these have been dormant for 12,000 years. Hofsjökull glacier is the source of several rivers including Iceland’s longest river the þjórsá (Thjorsa) which runs for 230 kilometres. Other rivers fed by the meltwaters of Hofsjökull include the Héradhsvötn, Ölfusá and Blanda.
We never know the worth of water till the well is dry. Thomas Fuller
Mýrdalsjökull, the mire valley glacier, covers one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes named Katla, which has had large eruptions every 50 to 100 years since 930AD. The last great eruption took place in 1918, but scientists are constantly monitoring the volcano and it is safe to visit. The best known and most spectacular tongue of Mýrdalsjökull ice cap is the Sólheimajökull, just a couple of hours from the capital. Famous for its panoramic landscapes and rugged rock formation from a height of about 1,300 metres down to 100 metres, Sólheimajökull also offers blue ice caves and opportunities for an exciting glacier hiking tour.
Drangajökull is the only glacier in the Westfjords and the only glacier with an altitude below 1,000 metres. Drangajökull lies north of the Strandir region and south of the Hornstrandir nature reserve and is the only glacier not getting smaller. Kaldalón (meaning cold lagoon) is a short fjord into which the glacier calves and is a magical place to visit.
To the west of the bigger glacier Mýrdalsjökull lies Eyjafjallajökull (island mountain glacier), which is a 1666 metre tall glacier-capped stratovolcano. Driving along the ring road Eyjafjallajökull is visible in clear weather. Eyjafjallajökull became famous in 2010 when the volcano under its ice cap erupted disrupting air travel for more than 10 million flyers over six days.
Tungnafell, at 1,392 metres, is a convex and steep mountain in the northern slopes of the massif, upon which the glacier rests and takes its name. The covers an area of about 48 square kilometres. The mountain massif is rather steep all around and indented with gullies and gorges to the south and west.
This small glacier volcano, also known as Thórisjökull (Icelandic for Thóris's glacier) is situated in the Highlands between Iceland’s second biggest glacier, Langjökull and the shield volcano. Þori is the name of a troll who is said to have lived in a cave nearby. Þorisjökull is 1350 metres high and is a tuya volcano from the Ice Age, so is at least 10,000 years old. Tuya volcanoes are characterised by their flat tops, that result from a volcano erupting underneath a thick glacier.
The 1675-metre high Eiriksjokull (Erik’s glacier) is located east of Langjokull glacier, on the fringes of the Icelandic highlands and West Iceland. It is a glacier-covered table-mountain, the largest in Iceland, with a glacier shield that covers around 22 square kilometres. Eiriksjokull is situated in the middle of Hallmundarhraun lava field and is currently dormant or extinct in terms of volcanic activity.
Þrándarjökull is a small glacier in eastern Iceland. It has an elevation of 1,236 metres and is 20 kilometres from Vatnajökull glacier. It is estimated that Þrándarjökull will soon be considered not to be among Icelandic glaciers due to global warming. It was 33.5 square kilometres in 1890, 17 in 2003 and 15 in 2012. Since it would talk an entire century to reverse the trend, the East Iceland glaciers will not be saved.