Description

Vatnajökull is a typical temperate ice cap composed of ice domes and numerous out­let glaciers, some of which surge at irregular intervals. Vatnajökull ice cap is ca. 7700 km2 (and covers ca 8% of Iceland) and is still Europe’s largest ice cap by volume, although it has lost more than 15% of its volume during the last century. It conceals seven active central volcanoes, valleys and glacial troughs. At the locations Skaftárkatlar, Grímsvötn and Kverkfjöll, volcanism and geother­mal heat maintain subglacial and marginal lakes that release outburst floods, called jökulhlaups, into some of the glacial rivers carrying meltwater from the ice cap. These floods have proved hazardous to neighbouring settlements. Jökulhlaups are also quite frequently released from ice-dammed lakes (for example Grænalón and Vatnsdalslón). The ice cap is very important for the hydrology of the surrounding areas and some of the glacial meltwater is exploited for production of electricity in hydropower plants. The ice cap is close to populated areas and travel routes and the numerous outlet glaciers are popular tourist destinations.

Vatnajökull has high mass turnover rates and is among the most sensitive ice caps worldwide to climate change. Studies of the history of climate variations and their effect on the ice cap is an important contribution to glaciological research. Knowledge and understanding of glaciological processes, is necessary to be able to predict the future evolution of the ice cap. Vatnajökull has been the subject of scientific research for decades and even centuries, with the first detailed description of the outlet glaciers dating to the latter part of the 18th century. The easy motorized access to the inte­rior of Vatnajökull and the huts and facilities of the Icelandic Glaciological Society have facilitated research on the ice cap. Vatnajökull, with its accessible outlet glaciers and surrounding periglacial landscapes, can be considered a natural labo­ratory for glaciological, geological and biological research. Each year several research expeditions are carried out.

 

Lidar digital elevation model of Vatnajökull ice cap 2010–2012. Source: Data set of the Icelandic Meteorological Office and Institute of Earth Sciences, University of Iceland.

Lidar digital elevation model of Vatnajökull ice cap 20102012. Source: Data set of the Icelandic Meteorological Office and Institute of Earth Sciences, University of Iceland.

 

Jökulheimar, huts owned by the Icelandic Glaciological Society, are located in close proximity of the Vatnajökull ice cap. Photo: Finnur Pálsson, 2018.

Jökulheimar, huts owned by the Icelandic Glaciological Society, are located in close proximity of the Vatnajökull ice cap. Photo: Finnur Pálsson, 2018.