Driving along Ring Road 1, we chanced upon a small parking area with a 10m high ridge & found that there was a track leading to what was to be Jökulsárlón, a large glacial lake in the South-eastern part of Iceland.
This lagoon which covers an area of about 20 sq km is situated at the head of Breiđamerkurjökull Glacier, an outlet glacier of the larger Vatnajökull which all form part of Vatnajökull National Park. Warmer temperatures between 1920-1965 caused the tongue of Breiđamerkurjökull Glacier to retreat; resulting in icebergs that gradually melted & formed a lake around 1934-1935.
As the Breiđamerkurjökull continues to break down, it continually changes the shape & boundaries of the lagoon which is the deepest in Iceland measuring some 248m in depth. Since the 1970’s it is reported to have increased in size, an astounding four-folds.
Jökulsárlón is about 1.8km from the Atlantic Ocean & its strikingly blue waters is a sight to behold. It is considered a natural wonder of Iceland!
Driving further East on Ring Road 1 we got to the entrance of Jökulsárlón where you would see many cars turning off to the parking area. A coffer dam was built & the river banks reinforced with stone boulders to prevent erosion of the foundation pillars of the bridge & icebergs from damaging the structure.
The Jokulsà River flows out to the Atlantic Ocean & smaller icebergs get carried out to sea this way.
We saw a seal at the Jokulsà River swimming upstream to the glacial lagoon. Seals gather in large numbers at the mouth of the lake to catch fish during the winter. In summer, Seabirds like Arctic Terns & Skuas nest nearby at the large sand deposits Breiđamerkursandur near the lake feeding on herring, trout, salmon, krill & other fishes. Other birds sighted here include Seagulls, Skuas & Gannets who feast on the shoals of herring or capelan carried in by the tides.
This is likely the Common or Harbour Seal (Phoca vitulina) that live permanently on the Icelandic shores. If you are fortunate you might catch a colony of them swimming or relaxing on top of the icebergs in Jökulsárlón, especially in winter.
The water temperature in Jökulsárlón ranges between 3° to -3°C & though it is not illegal to swim in it, it is not advisable as the frigid waters can cause hypothermia & you could get trapped under a flipped iceberg.
The wide expanse of the ice field, the oddly shaped icebergs of varying sizes & colour fill the landscape in a totally surreal & captivating way!
This iceberg is bluish in colour because it is glacial snow that has become compacted into ice crystals & fused into giant ice slabs with little air trapped within. This “pure ice” is free of contaminants & absorbs longer wavelengths of visible light like the yellows & reds more effectively than the shorter ones like indigos & blues. Thus the blue light is reflected making the iceberg appear blue.
The white iceberg on the other hand is covered in compressed snow on its surface which contains large numbers of tiny air bubbles & crystal edges that equally reflect all wavelengths of visible light. Some of them are streaked black because of volcanic ash from ancient eruptions that partially covered them.
Here a Lateral Moraine which is a parallel ridge of debris deposited along the sides of a glacier. They are usually deposited on top of the glacier & do not experience the post glacial erosion of the valley floor, protecting the ice under them from the elements unlike the uncovered parts of the glacier.
The bizarre landscape of icebergs both intrigues & awes me. We were however reminded by our Zodiac Boat Tour guide that danger lurks in these still waters, as the huge icebergs float low in the water; that is 90% of the iceberg is below the water’s surface & it could flip over anytime. The energy & force is so great, it could cause a tsunami & capsize our boat easily.
Jökulsárlón Lake provides an outstanding view of the ice cap which raises up like a vast dome of ice to nearly 910m. This glacial lake developed about 80 years ago when Vatnajökull was at the shore line of the Atlantic Ocean dropping icebergs into the sea.
We were dressed up in bulky & heavy safety suits, just in case we fall into the icy waters & it would reduce the risks of hypothermia before rescue arrives.
We kept a safe distance from this ice wall which raises about 30m from the water surface as calves falling into the lagoon is imminent & it would prove dangerous to a small boat like ours.
Jökulsárlón lagoon’s water is a mix of fresh & seawater. As the water surface is at sea level, rising tides bring in seawater & fishes that drift along with it.
These icebergs are more than a 1000 years old, it’s a little hard to imagine isn’t it? It brings to mind 2 Peter 3:8 “…With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”
A cool Seagull conference atop a true blue iceberg!
Just can’t get enough of these amazingly beautiful & fascinating icebergs. This is like a live gallery where the installations are ever-changing on their own accord.
Jökulsárlón’s water does not freeze even in the thick of winter due to its salinity & makes a great contrasting picture of shimmering waters & glittering icebergs even in low light.
This LARC-V (Lighter, Amphibious Resupply Cargo vehicle) is an aluminium hulled cargo vehicle capable of transporting 5 tons. It was developed in the US during the 1950’s & today there are about 200 left in the US military & about 100 privately owned & used for tourism. Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon Tours own 4 of them besides the Zodiac boats.
Arctic Terns nesting on these grounds near the Glacier Lagoon Tours meeting point in Jökulsárlón. Fiercely protective of their nest, they flew menacingly towards us & managed to peck my taller friend on the head as a warning to keep away.
These Zodiac Boats can travel at high speeds, cover more ground that the Amphibian Tour Boats, & meander around the icebergs for a closer encounter.
Icebergs that calve from the Glacier end gradually move towards the mouth of Jokulsà River & get entrenched at the bottom. They start floating as icebergs when their size is small enough to drift to the sea.
The first commercial boat tour in Jökulsárlón lagoon started in 1985 after the premiere of the James Bond movie “A View To A Kill” which had scenes filmed here. These employees of Glacier Lagoon Tours go out on these boats to do periodical checks to ensure that it remains safe for passengers to take the excursions & to avoid the potential flipping ones.
The southern end of Jökulsárlón lagoon has a greater concentration of icebergs. Their movement fluctuates with the tides, currents & wind.
With such a picturesque view of the icebergs & the Breiđamerkurjökull Glacier, it is no wonder that Jökulsárlón is a popular film location & was featured in Bond movies “ A View To Kill” 1985 & “ Die Another Day” 2002, “ Lara Croft : Tomb Raider” 2001, “ Batman Begins” 2005 & “ Beowulf & Grendel” 2005.
I was looking forward to this tour the whole time & it certainly did not disappoint. Jökulsárlón Glacier lagoon is really spectacular & beautiful. It was an out of this world experience for me & certainly the highlight of my visit to Iceland, though there were other strong contenders like the Ice Explorers Super Jeep Glacier Tour to the south-eastern part of Vatnajökull, The Puffin Watching Tour at Cape Ingólfshöfði & The Whale-Watching Trip at Húsavík.
I love Iceland because I enjoy the cold temperatures that allow me to escape from the heat back home. It is the prettiest place I have been to in all of my travels so far but mainly because it is unspoilt & being so close to nature is good for my soul!