Icebergs, Jokulsarlon

Water depth; sandbar movement; prevailing winds. These are not factors that I frequently consider in my day-to-day.

But even a smallish cruise ship must consider them, which is why we loaded onto a bus for a 2.5 hour trip to Iceland’s SE coast. Why not dock at a port nearer our destination? Turns out, we were docked at the nearest port.

And yet the undeniable pain of 5 hours on a bus is not what stands out in my memory from that day. But first, some background.

About 11% of Iceland’s land area is covered by ice:
269 named glaciers of almost all types
(ice caps, outlet glaciers, mountain glaciers,
alpine, piedmont and cirque glaciers, ice streams).
Iceland Glaciers

As we trundled along the highway, the guide pointed out several glaciers, or tongues/outlets thereof. Our target? Breií°amerkurjí¶kull.

Say again?

Breií°amerkurjí¶kull (Icelandic pronunciation: “‹[ˈpreːií°aËŒmÉ›rÌ¥kʏrËŒjœːkʏtlÌ¥])
is an outlet glacier of the larger glacier of Vatnají¶kull in southeastern Iceland.

Now, I find four syllables to be sufficiently challenging in my own language, never mind in Icelandic, even with the supposed help of the pronunciation guide. So I’m good to go with the main glacier’s name, always remembering, naturally, to put the emphasis on the first syllable and treating the “j” as a “y.” VAT-na-yo-kull.

By far the largest of Iceland’s ice caps is Vatnajokull
with an area of 8,300 sq. km,
equal in size to all the glaciers on the European mainland put together –
or 3 times the size of Luxembourg or Rhode Island.
Iceland Glaciers

Any Luxembourgians here? Didn’t think so. So how big is that in Canadian terms? These rough approximations will give you an idea:

  • 1/10 the size of Lake Superior
  • 1/2 the size of Georgian Bay
  • Halfway between PEI and Cape Breton Island
  • 3 times larger than Great Slave Lake
  • 13 times larger than Metro Toronto

Glacial moraine restricts the glacier’s melt-water from just running off into the ocean, instead channeling it into a narrow stream. The small lagoon formed at the glacier’s base hosts small icebergs that break off from the outlet glacier. Eventually, they melt enough to float down to the ocean, where they bob around in the surf for a while. That’s it without the poetry.

We started at the beach, which was ground-up black basalt, entirely reasonable in a country where every rock came out of a volcano at some point.

Icebergs on black basalt beach in Iceland

Then we moved across the highway to take an amphibious vehicle ride through the assembled congregation. The black lines in the bergs were from volcanic eruptions which had dumped ash onto the glacier, to be sandwiched between layers of snow.

Icebergs in Glacier Lagoon.It’s not my metier, but it seems to me it deserves some poetry.


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6 Responses to Icebergs, Jokulsarlon

  1. Jim Taylor says:


  2. Jim Taylor says:

    You may not have seen Seth’s blog for Saturday, but it seems appropriate:

    Glaciers get a bad rap

    We often talk about how slow they are.

    But the speed isn’t the point. The fjord near my house, surrounded by huge cliffs, was formed by a glacier. Not because it was slow, but because it was large, clearly directed, and relentless.

    Glacial organizations are that rare combination of all three. Hard to stand in their way. They require patience to build, but repay that patience in long-term results.

    If someone calls you ‘glacial’, it might be a compliment.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – I did see it, but didn’t make the connection. Thanks for doing so on my behalf.

  3. Jackie Doyle says:

    That one iceberg looks so much like a wave I half expected to see a surfer.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jackie – 🙂 Well, I try to take photos that exclude people unless they’re the focus.

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