Jökulsárlón or Glacier Lagoon is one of the must-sees in Iceland and is truly an experience that will take your breath away. I was extremely lucky in that the time I visited in early May the lagoon was full of calving icebergs and the weather was clear and sunny although there was a bitingly cold wind blowing from the north where the glacier was.
Jökulsárlón is a large glacial lake in southeast Iceland, on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park. Situated at the head of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, it developed into a lake after the glacier started receding from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The lake has grown since then at varying rates because of melting of the glaciers. It is now 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) away from the ocean’s edge and covers an area of about 18 km2 (6.9 sq mi). It recently became the deepest lake in Iceland, at over 248 metres (814 ft), as glacial retreat extended its boundaries. The size of the lake has increased fourfold since the 1970s. It is considered as one of the natural wonders of Iceland.
The lagoon can be seen from Route 1 between Höfn and Skaftafell and probably the best location to view this incredible landscape is by stopping just short of the estuary mouth. Here there are a few small car parking areas and by climbing over the large gravel mounds you will be presented with one of the most incredible panoramic views of the whole lagoon populated with an incredible range of icebergs from small pieces of clear ice to humungous icebergs coloured in blues and greens.
Jökulsárlón has been a setting for four Hollywood movies: A View to a Kill, Die Another Day, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Batman Begins, as well as the “reality TV” series Amazing Race. In 1991 Iceland issued a postage stamp, with a face value of 26 kronur, depicting Jökulsárlón.
The Jökulsárlón lake provides outstanding views of the ice cap, a vast dome of ice that rises to a height of 3,000 feet (910 m). It spills to the lagoon 12 miles (19 km) away from the jagged glacier hill to the edge of the water line. The lake developed only about 60 years ago (1948 is mentioned), when the entire area was less than 100 feet (30 m) of glacier, which was only 250 yards (230 m) from the Atlantic Ocean, and 2 miles (3.2 km) away from Vatnajökull. Vatnajökull was at the shore line of the ocean and dropped icebergs into the ocean. However, it started drifting in land rapidly every year leaving deep gorges en route, which got filled with melted water and large chunks of ice. These icebergs gather at the mouth of the lake’s shallow exit, melt down into smaller ice blocks and roll out into the sea. In summer, icebergs melt and roll down the channel into the sea. In winter the lake freezes and locks the icebergs in place.
Jökulsárlón lake, the “glacier lake”, is now reported to have doubled in size in the recent 15-year period. The huge blocks of ice that calve from the edge of Vatnajökull are about 30 metres (98 ft) high which fills the lagoon stocked with icebergs. Some icebergs appear naturally sculpted on account volcanic ashes from ancient eruptions that partly cover them.
The icebergs that calve from the glacier edge move towards the river mouth and get entrenched at the bottom. The movement of the icebergs fluctuates with the tide currents, as well as being affected by wind. However, they start floating as icebergs when their size is small enough to drift to the sea. These icebergs are seen in two shades: milky white and bright blue, which depends on the air trapped within the ice and is an interplay of light and ice crystals.
After viewing the icebergs in the lagoon move over to the beach at the estuary mouth to experience the incredible sight of these gigantic chunks of ice being washed up on the shore by the sea.
As the ice chunks and icebergs leave the inland lagoon the sea throws them up and onto the black sand beach creating large piles of ice on the beach.
The powerful waves toss these huge chunks around like you are in the middle of someones cocktail drink full of ice cubes. The colours and varied textures of the ice chunks are really incredible and despite the cold wind I could have stayed here for hours just trying to capture this magical moment.
Here is a link with some video of the ice at Jökulsárlón – both in the lagoon and down at the black sand beach close to the estuary mouth where the ice chunks are thrown onto the beach.
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2 thoughts on “Jökulsárlón – Glacier Lagoon”
Wonderful shots of the lagoon. Well done! I find it interesting that just recently (2010) the lagoon got the title of being the deepest lake in Iceland and it goes deeper and deeper with each year (and bigger due to receding glacier). You can read more about the lagoon here: