Area: Approx. 8.300 km2
Highest point (excl. Öræfajokull): 2000m
Thickness: Estim. av. 420 - 450m, Max 900m
Type: Ice cap

THE MIGHTY VATNAJÖKULL occupies vast highlands in the Southeast comprising 8,300 square kilometres. The western half lies within the active volcanic zone and its south­ern margin is fringed by high mountains, cut by numerous valleys. There, the most prominent mountain is the Öræfajölull volcano (chapter 7). At the northern margin, another high volcano towers over the ice cap: Kverkfjöll (1,920 m) with its two calderas and a powerful, partly glaciated, geothermal area.


Within the ice cap lie at least four other active central volcanoes, including the Bárðarbunga volcano (2,000 m), and the Grímsvötn volcano (1,719 m), both set with deep ice-filled calderas. Gríms­vötn is a very powerful geothermal area and the caldera holds a warm subglacial lake. Its water level rises due to ice melting until the lake is partly emptied in a glacier outburst flood (jökulhlaup). These huge, periodical floods enter glacial rivers with a discharge of 3,000-8,000 cubic metres per second. Jökulhlaups accompany­ing volcanic eruptions have a still larger discharge, up to 40,000 cubic metres per second

.Nunataks like Grendill (1,570 m) and Goðahnúkar in the east and Pálsfjall (1,335 m) in the west break up the almost 150-km­-long and 50 to 100-km-wide white expanses. Two larger massifs, Esjufjöll and Mávabyggðir, also rise high above the ice as islands from a frozen sea. A few glacier domes attain an elevation of up to 1,700 m but most of the ice fields lie at 1,100-1,500 m above sea level. Some 23 named outlet glaciers flow from the accumulation area. Öræfajokull is connected to Vatnajokull but identified as a separate glacier system. It feeds additional 9 named outlet glaciers.Many Vatnajokull outlet glaciers, especially in the west and north are flat, broad ice lopes and many of them are of the surging ­type. Other glaciers include ice falls up to 800-1,000 m high. Many ice-dammed and proglacial lakes exist at the ice cap mar­gins. Grænalón is the largest ice-dammed lake and Jökulsárlón the largest proglacial lake. Jökulsárlón is bordered by a retreating glac­ier which fills a 20-km-long overdeepened trench and calves into the lake. A new fjord would be created if the sea were to break through a small barrier in front of the lake.The Englishman W.L. Watts and his Icelandic escorts became the first men to cross Vatnajokull in recent times (1875). Its highest dome (Bárðarbunga, 2000 m) was climbed in 1935 by an Austrian-Italian expedition.

Today, researchers, mountaineers and travellers roam the white, slow-moving ice ocean and four huts have been built on its rocky outcrops. Radio-echo depth sound­ings have been aimed at Vatnajökul for years and, slowly, a com­plete picture of the underlying land is emerging. The ice is gener­ally 300-500 metres deep, ranging in many places to 600-700 metres, with the maximum thickness about 900 metres. An esti­mated average thickness of 450 metres would render a total ice volume of almost 4000 cubic kilometres. Other types of research are also carried out such as mass balance and movement studies, chemical research and studies of surges. There are ample opportu­nities for both laymen and scientists to study nature at Vatnajokull. The ice cap is a world of its own.

From: Ari Trausti Guðmundsson, Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson. Light on Ice - Glaciers in Iceland. p. 44-45. Ormstunga 1995 (www.ormstunga.is).

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logoWould you like to drive a snowmobile on Europe´s largest glacier, sail among icebergs or explore our black sand dunes on ATV´s? How about viewing the magnificent Northern lights on a cold winter night? Vatnajökull Travel offers exciting tours around the region, all year long.  We plan our clients' trips, and acquire whichever service that is needed to make the tour as enjoyable as possible.

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The Vatnajökull region is easy to reach all year long! Eagle Air makes frequent flight between Höfn and Reykjavík and daily busses run daily from Reykjavík and Akureyri during the summer months.

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