Large Earthquake Hints at Bárðarbunga Unrest

Vatnajökull Grímsfjall Grímsvötn Bárðarbunga Kverkfjöll Jöklar Jökull Vísindi

An earthquake measuring at 5.4 on the Richter scale took place at Bárðarbunga stratovolcano under Vatnajökull glacier this morning. Seismic activity of this magnitude could mark the beginning of a new era of unrest in Bárðarbunga, the first since the Holuhraun eruption in 2014 to 2015, reports.

Pressure building

The earthquake is the largest in the area since 2015. Hildur María Friðriksdóttir, a specialist at the Iceland Meteorological Office, said that crustal movement by Bárðarbunga increased at the beginning of last year, but did not result in increased seismic activity until February this year. “This could be the beginning of a process that could take years, but there is evidence of pressure building in the area,” she said.

Situation monitored

The Met Office will continue to monitor the situation, but Hildur María said that no response by the authorities is necessary at this time. She added that many large earthquakes were detected before, during and after the Holuhraun eruption.

The earthquake this morning was followed by an aftershock that measured 3 on the Richter scale, but Bárðarbunga has been quiet since then.

The Icelandic Glacier Guide: Ice Caving, Snowmobiling and Glacier Hiking

A man rides a snowmobile across a glacier in Iceland

In Iceland, there are numerous glaciers all over the country, perhaps explaining the country’s descriptive name. There are approximately 269 glaciers in Iceland, which cover about 11% of the country’s surface.

The Icelandic glaciers are not solely a stunning work of art for the naked eye, but they also provide a glimpse into the effects of climate change and how it has shaped nature in Iceland. Like many glaciers worldwide, the glaciers in Iceland are receding rapidly, leading to changing landscapes and rising sea levels.

Despite this, the Icelandic glaciers have been a symbol of the country’s stunning nature, with visitors from around the world getting drawn to them. Glacier-related activities have, therefore, become a key part of visiting Iceland with activities such as glacier hiking, snowmobiling and ice caving. 

People hiking in Skaftafell glacier
Photo: Skaftafell Glacier Hike


Glacier Hiking in Iceland 

Hiking on a glacier in Iceland is truly an unforgettable experience, allowing visitors to explore the mesmerizing icy landscapes of the country’s glaciers up close. Several glacier hikes are available in Vatnajökull, Sólheimajökull and Skaftafell glaciers.


Sólheimajökull Glacier Hiking and Walking

Hikes and walks on Sólheimajökull glacier have become immensely popular attractions in Iceland. The experiences range from relaxed glacier walks to more strenuous hikes.


Sólheimajökull Glacier Hike

The Sólheimajökull Hike is moderately difficult, lasting for about 3 hours. The tour is comprehensive, and guides will lead you through the experience, explaining the natural wonder of the Icelandic glaciers. Sólheimajökull glacier is part of Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which is one of the largest in Europe. Once the ice is reached, hikers get to bask in the beautiful views, which might reach the famous Eyjafjallajökull glacier on a clear day. Participants can also gaze deep into the glacier moulin, a vertical ice cave which can lead all the way to the glacier’s bottom.


Sólheimajökull Glacier Discovery Tour

The Glacier Discovery Tour is an easy walk on Sólheimajökull glacier’s tongue. The walk is family-friendly, and everyone from the age of 10 can participate. The walk lasts for about 2.5 hours, with plenty of stops and photo opportunities on the way. The guides will educate the group on the glaciers and their ever-changing landscapes.


Glacier Hike, Waterfall and Black Sand Beach

The Glacier Hike, Waterfall and Black Sand Beach Tour is a whole-day trip that takes participants to see the top attractions on the south coast of Iceland. The main sights of the trip are the well-known Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls, Reynisfjara black sand beach and finally, a glacier hike at Sólheimajökull glacier. The hike offers the opportunity to gain an understanding of the glacier’s formation and its movements and changes, along with exploring glacial features.


South Coast and Glacier Hike

The full-day Small South Coast and Glacier Hike Tour takes a smaller group of a maximum of six people on an excursion of Iceland’s south coast, visiting two of the country’s most famous waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss and to Reynisfjara black sand beach. The tour then ends with a glacier hike on Sólheimajökull glacier. The tour is more intimate as it is meant for a small group.

People hiking on sólheimajökull Glacier
Photo: Golli – Sólheimajökull Glacier Hike


Vatnajökull Glacier Walk

Vatnajökull is one of Iceland’s most spectacular sights and a unique phenomenon to experience as it is not only Iceland’s largest glacier but also Europe’s largest glacier by volume. 

During the Vatnajökull Glacier Walk, participants explore a piece of Vatnajökull National Park, Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, which extends from Vatnajökull. During the walk, participants will explore the icy world of the glacier with sights such as small caves, waterfalls, tunnels, and other stunning ice-related matters.


Ice Climbing and Glacier Hikes

If only hiking on a glacier is not enough, various tours offer additional challenges, such as ice climbing. 

The Skaftafell Glacier Hike and Ice Climbing Tour and the Sólheimajökull Ice Climbing and Glacier Hike Tour take participants to another level. After hiking on the glacier, the guides will set up a climbing rope where the group will be taught how to ascend a vertical wall using ice axes and crampons. So, having the skill to flaunt ice axes isn’t just a cool party trick; it’s the secret to unlocking the frozen wonders of Iceland’s glaciers.


Zipline and Glacier Hike

To add even more adventure into a glacier hike, doing a Zipline and Glacier Hike Tour is possible, giving it a bit more zest. The tour takes participants on a hike on Vatnajökull glacier. Afterwards, tired hikers have the opportunity to slide across the glacier over a vertical ice cave and enjoy the breathtaking views as they swing across. The experience is quite unique as it is the first and only glacier zipline in the world. 


Ice Caving Tours in Iceland

Visiting ice caves in Iceland is a multisensory experience, truly immersing visitors in the raw beauty of the country’s nature. It is an experience that could be described as stepping into a giant, frozen disco ball where the beats come into existence with the echo of the footsteps. The adventure offers a glimpse into the unfiltered beauty of natural formations found countrywide in Iceland. 


Enter an Ice cave on Vatnajökull Glacier

The Vatnajökull Ice Cave Tour lets visitors enter an ice cave on Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. The ice cave comprises the ice’s blue crystal colours, creating a fantastic opportunity to catch the perfect image. The glacier tour takes about three to four hours and is an unforgettable experience in nature’s icy disco ball. The ice caves are formed naturally, letting Mother Nature decide their shape and location.


Visit the South Coast and Enter a Volcano Ice Cave

The South Coast and Katla Ice Cave tour is an immensely special one as participants get to enter an ice cave located on one of Iceland’s largest volcanoes, Katla. 

After visiting the ice cave, the group will visit two of Iceland’s most beautiful waterfalls, Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss. The group will then drive and walk on a black sand beach where sand derives from the Katla volcano.


Visit the Golden Circle and an Ice Cave in a Monster Truck

The Golden Circle and Ice Cave Tour combines two enjoyable adventures in Iceland, the famous Golden Circle and a visit to an ice cave in Langjökull Glacier. The tour takes participants on a journey to Iceland’s most popular attractions, Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir geothermal area. Afterwards, the journey leads to another world, inside an ice cave on Langiökull’s glacier. Not only that, but participants get to embark on this adventure in no other than a monster truck.

A man inside an Icelandic ice cave
Photo: Ice Caving and Glacier Hiking


Glacier Snowmobiling Tours in Iceland

Taking part in a snowmobiling adventure in Iceland is both an adrenaline-filled experience and an opportunity for participants to connect with the unique nature and, nonetheless, on top of a glacier.


Snowmobile Adventure on Mýrdalsjökull Glacier

The Mýrdalsjökull Glacier Snowmobile Tour is an adrenaline-fueled adventure on Mýrdalsjökull glacier on Katla volcano. The tour starts with a glacier truck taking participants up the mountain. Afterwards, the true fun begins roaming the glacier and rejoicing in the breathtaking scenery.


Hot Spring and Snowmobiling on Langjökull Glacier

The Hot Spring and Langjökull Snowmobiling Tour is a contrasted experience between hot and cold, tranquillity and thrill. The tour brings participants to Iceland’s second-largest glacier, Langjökull, for a fun adventure riding on the ever-changing landscape. After the snowmobiling, participants can relax and rejuvenate in the hot geothermal water of the Secret Lagoon.


Snowmobile Adventure on Europe’s Largest Glacier Vatnajökull 

The Vatnajökull Snowmobile Tour gives participants the opportunity to tell their loved ones back home that they have ridden a snowmobile on Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. The journey starts with a jeep drive towards the glacier, and subsequently, the snowmobiling begins on the famous glacier.

Snowmobilers in Iceland pose in front of the Northern Lights
Photo: Snowmobiling adventure


Other Glacier Adventures in Iceland 

There exists an ocean of extraordinary glacier trips and tours in Iceland: hikes, climbs, helicopter tours, snowmobiling, jeep tours, ice caving and much more. These activities can be taken independently or combined with other classic Iceland tours. 

Iceland’s stunning glaciers offer calm, breathtaking and thrilling adventures, depending on what participants want, need and dare to. The Icelandic glaciers represent a complex interplay of nature, climate and human connection, making them a cornerstone of Icelandic tourism and identity. 

Here, you can see all available glacier adventures.


What to Wear on a Glacier in Iceland?

When glacier hiking, snowmobiling or ice caving in Iceland it is important to prepare well. With Iceland’s unpredictable weather, it is essential to dress in layers with long wool underwear, wool or fleece thermal mid layers and water- and windproof external layers. A warm hat or a balaclava, warm gloves and socks are also a must, where wool is a good option. 

It is also a must to wear proper winter shoes and quality hiking shoes for glacier hikes and walks. 

When needed, tours provide items such as crampons and helmets.


What is the Largest Glacier in Iceland?

Iceland’s largest glacier is Vatnajökull, located in the country’s southeast, covering over 8% of the country. The glacier is not only Iceland’s largest but also Europe’s largest glacier, with a size of 8,100 km². 


Is it Safe to Hike on a Glacier in Iceland?

All tours have specially trained guides who are well-educated and experienced in exploring and navigating these complex landscapes. Therefore glacier hiking, snowmobiling and ice caving in Iceland is a safe option when done with a guide. Nonetheless, participants should always remain cautious and alert, stay with the group and listen to instructions. 

Glacial Outburst Flood Has Begun in Grímsvötn

Vatnajökull Grímsfjall Grímsvötn Bárðarbunga Kverkfjöll Jöklar Jökull Vísindi

A glacial outburst flood has begun in Grímsvötn beneath Vatnajökull glacier, experts have confirmed. An M4.3 earthquake at Grímsfjall this morning alerted experts to increased activity at the site. While such floods are known to increase the likelihood of volcanic eruptions, there are no indications an eruption is imminent at the site.

In an interview with RÚV, Professor of Geophysics Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson confirmed the glacial outburst flood began several days ago in the highland region. Elevated water levels have already reached inhabited areas further south, but they are not significant. “There is more water in Gígjukvísl river,” Magnús Tumi stated. “However, this is not a big event, it just looks like the summer water levels. It’s not a lot and it’s equivalent to a small or medium-sized glacial outburst flood in Skaftá river.”

Strongest earthquake in a long time

The M4.3 earthquake that occurred just before 7:00 AM this morning is “noteworthy,” according to Magnús Tumi. He says it’s “the biggest one we know of there for a very long time.” The earthquake hasn’t been followed by others of a similar magnitude, however, and appears to be a one-off event.

What is a glacial outburst flood?

Grímsvötn is an active volcano located beneath Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest glacier. It has the highest eruption frequency of all the volcanoes in Iceland, but is located far from any inhabited areas. The geothermal and volcanic activity at Grímsvötn causes regular glacial outburst floods, known as jökulhlaup. Such outbursts are triggered by geothermal heating beneath the glacier which causes ice to melt, and eventually be abruptly released from beneath the glacier, into the surrounding water systems.

Magnús Tumi says Grímsvötn is now in a period of increased activity, which typically lasts between 60-80 years. It last erupted in 2011.

Glacial Outburst Flood Has Begun in Skaftá River

A glacial outburst flood has begun in Skaftá river in South Iceland, the Icelandic Met Office reports. The water level and flow rate in the river began to increase last night and increased electrical conductivity was also measured. Rangers in Hólaskjól also reported smelling sulphur in the area. The National Police Commissioner and Department of Civil Protection have issued an uncertainty phase due to the event.

The last glacial outburst flood in Skaftá occurred two years ago, in September 2021. Floods in Skaftá are sourced from two ice cauldrons beneath Vatnajökull glacier which usually burst one at a time, but it is possible that this flood is sourced by both the western and eastern cauldrons, according to the Met Office. The 2021 glacial outburst flood was sourced by both cauldrons.

Risk of floods and gas poisoning

There are several hazards associated with such natural events. Firstly, flood conditions are expected in Skaftá river over the next two to three days and some flooding of roads near the river is possible. Secondly, hydrogen sulphide is released from the floodwater as it drains from the Vatnajökull ice cap. The gas is particularly potent at the ice margin, where it can reach poisonous levels of concentration. Travellers are advised to stay away from the edges of Skaftárjökull, Tungnaárjökull, and Síðujökull, where floodwater could burst through the surface. Lastly, travellers on Vatnajökull should stay away from the region, as crevasses will develop rapidly around the ice cauldron.

The cauldrons that source the glacial outburst floods in Skaftá drain every two years on average, producing floods of up to 1,500 cubic metres per second.

Grímsvötn Flooding Reaches its Peak, Begins to Recede

grímsvön flooding

The flow of the Grímsvötn glacial flooding reached its peak yesterday morning and has begun to subside. 

The flooding is caused by melting glacial ice from the volcano Grímsvötn, which rests underneath one of Vatnajökull’s ice caps. Glacial flooding from this volcano system is a regular event on Iceland’s south coast, and the most recent round of floods has not caused any significant damage to infrastructure.

Since last night, several earthquakes have been registered at Grímsvötn, but the Meteorological Office reports that there is no significant increase in seismic activity or threat of eruption.

In total, the ice sheet has sunk some 15m, indicating the volume displaced by the flooding. At its peak, the flow from the glacier reached 500m³/s, a level that is not considered to pose any significant risk to the region. Travellers to the south coast may, however, have noticed swollen rivers over the weekend.

Grímsvötn is one of Iceland’s most active volcano systems, with eruption cycles average 5-10 years. With Grímsvötn’s last eruption having taken place in 2011, it may be soon due, but as of now, there are no immediate signs pointing towards and eruption.

Level of Uncertainty Declared over Glacial Flooding from Grímsvötn

Vatnajökull Grímsfjall Grímsvötn Bárðarbunga Kverkfjöll Jöklar Jökull Vísindi

Civil Defense authorities have announced a State of Uncertainty due to glacial flooding from Grímsvötn, a subglacial volcano under Vatnajökull.

The ice sheet has been measured as receding in the last few days, accompanied by increased seismic activity.

Grímsvötn, one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes, has an eruption cycle of 5-10 years. As its last eruption was in 2011, it could mean that it is due soon. Glacial flooding can also trigger subglacial eruptions, which has been known to happen at Grímsvötn.

The glacial flooding is expected to last for several days, but no structural damage is expected. Grímsvötn flooding has become more frequent in recent years, meaning that individual floods are milder and cause less damage to infrastructure.

Read more about Grímsvötn and the flooding at Iceland’s Meteorological Office.

Skeiðarárjökull Fastest Retreating Glacier of Last Year

iceland glaciers

In a newsletter from the Melting Glaciers project, Skeiðarárjökull was singled out as the fastest-retreating glacier last year, having lost some 400m of its eastern tail.

In their 2021 overview of the state of Icelandic glaciers, the Meteorological Office of Iceland stated that glaciers in Iceland have been receding for at least a quarter of a century and that this pattern is one of the clearest forms of evidence for climate change in Iceland. The only significant exception to this trend was in 2015, when Icelandic glaciers were either in equilibrium, or even experienced slight growth.

Since 1995, Icelandic glaciers are estimated to have lost a total of 8% of their total volume.

Breiðamerkurjökull, the glacier that terminates in the popular tourist attraction Jökulsárlón, also experienced significant loss last year, shrinking around 150m.

Melting Glaciers is a cooperative project between the Icelandic Meteorological Office, Vatnajökull National Park, the Ministry of Environment, Energy, and Climate, the University of Iceland’s Institute of Earth Sciences Glaciology Group, and the Southeast Iceland Natural History Museum.

Scientists Document Glacier Melt in Real Time: ‘We Have to Make a Conscious, Informed Decision About Which Future We Choose’

New footage and photography compiled by a team of scientists at the University of Iceland shows three decades of glacial melt in just over three minutes. CNN reports that the team superimposes archival aerial photos on top of contemporary drone footage to show the dramatic effect that warming climates have had on glaciers in Southeast Iceland. Some of these glaciers are retreating at a rate of 150 metres [492 ft] a year. Since 2000, it’s estimated that Iceland’s glaciers have decreased by some 800 km2 [309 mi2].

The team is led by Þorvarður (Thorri) Árnason, director at the Hornafjörður Research Centre. “About 14 years ago, I started to do repeat photography at one of the glaciers here, Hoffellsjökull,” Þorvarður told CNN. “I went once a month for eight years. It’s like visiting an old friend, there’s a sense of familiarity.”

Iceland has twenty outlet glaciers that extend from the Vatnajökull ice cap. All of them, Þorvarður says, have receded in the time he has been observing them. Some experts say that if global warming conditions continue apace, Iceland’s glaciers are at risk of disappearing completely.

See Also: Snæfellsjökull Could Be Gone in Thirty Years

“We need to tell people what the reality is,” says Þorvarður. “On the other hand, we don’t want to frighten people, to immobilize them through anxiety.”

Having documented the present situation, Þorvarður and his team are now turning their attention toward the future. “We want to pre-visualize what our fastest retreating glacier, Breiðamerkurjökull, will look like 100 years from now. Based on worse-case, business as usual, and best case. There is always a range of potential futures that is open to us. There is still a chance for the wounds to heal and for the glaciers to recover, at least to some extent. We have to make a conscious, informed decision about which future we choose.”

See the full documentary short, in English, on CNN, here.

Successful Rescue Mission on Vatnajökull Glacier

Vatnajökull rescue mission March 2022

Search and Rescue crews were called out to Vatnajökull glacier in South Iceland yesterday evening when some travellers sent out a distress signal. They were found just after 10:00 PM, some four hours after their distress call was sent out, and were flown to Reykjavík by helicopter for medical attention. They were cold and wet, but not injured.

Finding the individuals was made easier by the fact that they had left a travel plan with The travellers had dug themselves into the snow to shield themselves from the weather, which was snowy and wet when the search began. Crews reached the location with the help of snowmobiles, jeeps, and specialised snow vehicles.

Glacial Outburst Flood Will Likely Peak on Sunday

The glacial outburst flood, or jökulhlaup, which started when the ice sheet in the Grímsvötn volcano beneath Vatnajökull glacier began to melt 11 days ago, is predicted to reach its peak on Sunday. At time of writing, the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration does not believe that the runoff will affect traffic on Route 1 in South Iceland, nor that roads will need to be closed.

As of Friday morning, the Met Office reported that Grímsvötn ice sheet had sunk over 27m [89 ft] and was flooding the Gígjukvísl river at a rate of 1600 m3/s [56503 f3/s]. The electrical conductivity of the river, which is an indicator of how much geothermal meltwater it has taken on, has also been increasing and was measured above 464 µS/cm on Friday. The gas concentrations along the perimeter of the glacier have been measured at higher than normal levels, but do not currently pose a danger.

In the past, eruptions at Grímsvötn have begun following a glacial outburst flood. Per the Met Office, “[t]he loss of the water from Grímsvötn lake reduces the pressure on top of the volcano and this can allow an eruption to begin.” This happened in 1922, 1934, and later, in 2004, when an eruption beginning three days after a flood began. In that instance, there were a series of earthquakes before the eruption. But no earthquakes have been measured around the volcano at present.