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Sunday, 01 May 2016

Glimpses of a Landscape: Southern Iceland - Page 2

Written by Rama Shivakumar
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15th August

Vatnajökull and Skaftafell National Park

A few hours later


The Sandar is like a gray and black Rothko painting: a two-tone desolate landscape. The sand is as black as the asphalt on Route 1. The topography is flat, occasionally traversed by braided gray-brown rivers swiftly flowing towards the shimmering Atlantic in the far horizon. The mist hangs a few feet off the ground; we can barely see the high ridges and outlet glaciers of Iceland’s largest icecap, Vatnajökull.


We dare not drive off the road in this strange, expansive black desert.


The subglacial eruption of Grímsvötn in 1996 melted a huge expanse of the ice shield; the colossal glacial flood that followed carried the gravel and silt and created this dismal glacial outwash plain, destroying bridges and parts of the main thoroughfare, Route 1.

The view from the trailhead is unmistakable, the glacial spur of Skaftafellsjökull. Of the 30 glacial spurs of Vatnajökull that extend down into the valley like tongues, this is the most impressive. It is a 40 minute hike to the terminus of the glacier, through a shrub forest with yellow and purple saxifrage adding a spot of color to the muted landscape. It has begun to drizzle and it is getting colder as we approach the mouth of the glacier.


We feel ant-like, humbled. In front of us Skaftafellsjökull looks like a brooding giant. The glacier has calved and receded over the years forming a growing lagoon with chunks of blue-gray ice.


The landscape looks ominous in the misty rain; we continue our drive to Höfn aware that in this part of the world Nature is unpredictable and powerful.


August 16



The morning is crisp and a weak sun bathes Iceland’s most photographed lagoon. Enormous powder blue icebergs are calved off from the glacier and lie around as a backdrop for numerous family pictures. This is a popular setting for a number of movies including James Bond’s ice chase in Die Another Day. The massive Breiđamerkurjökull glacier that feeds into the lagoon is impressive. The glacial recession and rapid climate change models predict that in the not so distant future, Jökulsárlón will be a deep fjord.


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Last modified on Sunday, 01 May 2016

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