Vatnajökull is Europe’s largest ice cap. It covers an egg shaped area about 150 km long and 100 km wide. In places it is over one kilometer deep. Though Iceland got its name when Raven-Flóki saw an ice filled fjord in the north west of the island, if there is a heart of ice in Iceland, it is here on Vatnajökull. Snow falls on Vatnajökull and over centuries it is compressed into clear bubble free ice. In places all around its perimeter, under the force of its enormous weight, the ice cap very very slowly descends in tongues of ice. One of these tongues of ice on the southeast side of Vatnajökull is Breiðamerkurjökull, a name that just rolls off your tongue. In the map below, it is the small darker green patch that leads down to the coast at about 5 o’clock.
As the ice cap shrank, Breiðamerkurjökull retreated from the Atlantic and left behind a depression in the earth’s crust created by the weight of the ice over thousands of years. In the past century this became one of Iceland’s newest but deepest lakes. Most of the other glaciers end in braided rivulets that becomes streams and then rivers of glacial melt. Breiðamerkurjökull terminates at Jökulsárlón – the glacier lagoon – where ice calves off the glacier, floats around in the lake, and then flows out to sea under the one-laned suspension bridge on the ring-road.
Jo had planned a glacier hike for us. We got into an enormous franken-jeep and drove along a very rocky path on the eastern flank of the retreating glacier up to where a new lake is being spawned. Then we walked another mile or two up to the ice, put on our harnesses, crampons, and brain buckets, and then took a nice guided walk up the lower part of Breiðamerkurjökull. We got to descend a part of the way into a crevasse and we explored an ice cave.
The bad news is that this glacier is melting fast. We can quibble about what is causing it. Evan’s grandkids will one day be incredulous that their grandpa actually walked on one of those things called glaciers. In the next 50 years the probability of bringing back dinosaurs is higher than for saving glaciers. During our lifetimes, in South Asia, between Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, over 700 million people’s food and water sources and way of life will be disrupted severely by the disappearance of some of the world’s largest glaciers.
This depressing news made me very sad and when we got back to the hotel I finished the rest of the bottle of Olafsson Icelandic gin while Jo and the kids got into the nice wooden hot tub that was filled with hot water without requiring fossil fuels. In the morning we went back to stare at Jökulsárlón some more and to walk along it’s shores and up to the swirling blocks of ice on the beach on the Atlantic side. In the very last photo Evan is running along the lake like a freak. Behind him and across the lake is Breiðamerkurjökull. To the right there is a brown hulking mass of a rocky mountain sloping up above the glacier. The four of us were up there on the ice yesterday for the walk of a lifetime! Thank you, Iceland.