Wonders of Jökulsarlon glacial lagoon

Trip Start Aug 05, 2012
Trip End Aug 19, 2012

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Flag of Iceland  , East,
Thursday, August 9, 2012

Early wake up at 6:45 ; grey weather. Time for us to leave Skaftafell National Park: having breakfast, packing our tent, and we could take the road under light rain. "Rain, eventually!" as would say Alex who kept saying Iceland was not Iceland without rain, fog or cold weather ;-) 



But as we were driving farther east, rain disappeared and the sky turned blue again, only leaving a huge and threatening cloud over the ocean. We finally arrived to our destination of the morning: Jokülsarlon. 
Literally glacial river lagoon, Jökulsarlon is a large glacial lagoon on the borders of Vatnajökull National Park. Situated at the head of Breidamerkurjökull, it evolved into a lagoon after the glacier started receding from the edge of the Atlantic ocean. 



The whole group decided to experience a zodiac tour which would lead us close to the glacier and to the magnificent blue colored icebergs of the lagoon. Before getting in the zodiac, the crew of "Ice Lagoon Adventure Cruise" provides flotation suits and lifejackets and explains safety procedures. 
We then got on board, 6 people per zodiac, and left the base by road n°1 for an hour long cruise around the lagoon. Karl was our pilot and we rapidly made our way towards the edge of the glacier, zig-zagging gently around icebergs. We could even approach one seal which was sunbathing on an iceberg ! 


Karl stopped the engine at a safe distance from the edge of the glacier and started to give explanations about this unreal place. 

The lagoon started to form in the 1930s, when the entire area was less than 30m of glacier, which was only 230m from the ocean and 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. The lake has grown since then at varying rates because of melting of the Icelandic glaciers. The lagoon now stands 1.5 km away from the ocean's edge and covers an area of about 25 square kilometers. 




It recently became the deepest lake in Iceland at over 248 m depth as glacial retreat extended its boundaries. The size of the lagoon has increased fourfold since the 1970s. 
The lagoon is the lowest point in Iceland with land at 200 m below sea level. In summer, icebergs melt and roll down the channel into the sea which sens them back on the beach. In winter, the lagoon freezes and locks the icebergs in place. The huge blocks of ice that calve from the edge of Vatnajökull are about 30m high. Approximately 500 square meters of ice break off the glacier every year. Some icebergs appear naturally sculpted on account of tide and volcanic ashes from ancient eruptions that partly cover them. 


As Karl was speaking, he suddenly noticed that a block of ice was about to break off the glacier. He suggested we should all kept an eye on it while listening to him, and les than a minute after that, a large crack released a huge block of ice in a deafening thunder. What a spectacle ! According to Karl, being witness of such a thing is quite rare and we really felt lucky. 

Karl then continued his explanations about the icebergs.
Indeed, Jokülsarlon presents a picturesque parade termed as "a ghostly procession of luminous blue icebergs". While floating, only about one tenth of an iceberg is seen above the water surface. The movement of the icebergs fluctuates with the tide currents. However they start floating as icebergs when their size is small enough to drift at sea. 
These icebergs are seen in two shades. One type, when the iceberg is "young" and dense, is in bright blue colour, which is an interplay of light and ice crystals. The denser, the darker. The other type is in milky white, which will be the final colour of any iceberg.  

For the record, it has to be noticed that Jökulsarlon has been a setting for four Hollywood movies: A View to Kill, Die Another Day, Tomb Raider and Batman Begins. In Die Another Day, the producers closed the mouth of the lagoon so that it froze entirely and they could shoot the famous scene of cars chasing on the ice. 

We then made our way back to the base camp. I could enjoy a very nice chat with Karl who explained to me he was a former helicopter pilot and flight instructor. During the summer Karl is a zodiac pilot on the lagoon, but the rest of the year he is a fisherman near Reykjavik. Karl is a very passionate man, who never get bored of his job because of the beauties of the Nature, especially in Jokülsarlon, where every morning he wonders what the scenery will look like. According to him, we were very lucky on this trip with him, which he said was one of the most beautiful since the beginning of the season. Indeed the lagoon was covered with an unusually high number of icebergs, especially blue ones (due to warm temperatures during the past few weeks ?), and moreover we could spot a seal and an ice block breaking of the glacier! Extraordinary!

In order to recover from such an amazing morning, Alex drove us to an other nearby glacial lagoon where we stopped for lunch. The scenery was not less breathtaking, and the weather definitely sunny now. We even witnessed a fight above our head between two great skuas. 

Who said infinite luck ?

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