Iceland 2013: Lava fields and glaciers

Posted by Liz Kruesi
on Friday, March 22, 2013

Yesterday morning I gave my astronomical lecture about “The active Sun.” That went quite well — even though many in our travel group had been awake for a late night of aurora sightings.

Lava fields that resulted from the Lakagígar volcanic fissure in southern Iceland span some 3.4 cubic miles (14 cubic kilometers). // all photos by Liz Kruesi
With that out of the way, the group drove to a nearby lava field. This solidified rock came from the volcanic eruption of the Lakagígar fissure in the southern part of Iceland, which lasted from 1783 to 1784. It spewed some 3.4 cubic miles (14 cubic kilometers) of roiling lava, and you could see how it basically just pushed clumps of magma, and that’s how it dried — a vast field of bumpy lava covered in moss. We walked across only 1.2 miles (1.9km) of the field, getting just a small sense of the overwhelming size of the devastation. (The gasses released during the volcanic blows caused famine across Iceland, which led to the death of about one-quarter of the country's population.) The wind finally had died down, making the walk very pleasant in the afternoon sunshine. 

Later on Thursday, we drove to see a few of the many thousands of waterfalls on the island. These were much smaller than the enormous Gullfoss we saw on Wednesday. These small falls were still mostly frozen from the cold winter, but occasional sections had melted, with water cascading down cliffs.

We learned about the different types of rock natural to Iceland and took a group picture atop the basalt pillars at a nearby park. It’s a fun group to travel with — which is obvious in the picture I’ve included in this post. 

After a lovely three-course Icelandic meal (composed of many local ingredients) at the hotel, we hoped for clear skies. Sadly, it was hazy Thursday night. I even woke up again at 2 a.m. hoping for clearing, but the haze instead had grown. It brought with it snow, rain, and hail.

Thirty-nine fun people are traveling Iceland on this northern lights tour. (A handful of us are missing from this photograph.)
All of Friday was a wet day, but that meant the landscape changed from the dead-of-winter brown to a healthy green — certainly a welcome sight. Today we started and headed east to explore a number of glaciers and the Vatnajökull National Park; pictures and words cannot possibly convey how beautiful these places are.

We first visited Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and were surprised to see seals swimming in the melted water. Many of us battled the strong wind (which made a return with the wet weather) and climbed a nearby hilltop for an incredible view of parts of the glacier and icebergs within the lagoon.

We then traveled to two other “outlet” glaciers of the huge icecap Vatnajökull, which is the largest glacier in Iceland and one of the biggest in the world. The volume of ice at these two outlets (or “fingers,” as our guide called them) is enormous, and this was from just a couple extensions of the larger glacier! When comparing photographs of the outlets taken a century ago, it became obvious how much Vatnajökull has retreated. 

The colors of glacier ice are striking. Pictured here is the Jökulsárlón lagoon.
The colors of this land are beautiful. The rain had turned the moss a deep grass green. That vegetation stands in front of the light teal blues of the water and ice, while the deep gray of the snow-covered basalt mountains stands as a background.

As Friday comes to an end, the tour has certainly delivered on its title — northern lights, lava fields, and glaciers — and we still have a couple more days. Here’s hoping for another aurora sighting! I want to try photographing the northern lights again … in focus, this time.

Read more about the trip in my previous posts:

Iceland 2013: Water wonders and aurorae

Iceland 2013: Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon


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