Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Southeastern Iceland

Viewing the North Atlantic Ocean on the eastern side of Iceland.
About as cold as it is off of the coast of Maine.
Today was spent driving south through the eastern portion of Iceland.  This is fjord country where the landscape has high mountains that extend into the ocean like fingers on a hand.  They built their roads in this area to trace the outline of each finger on the hand with a couple of tunnels that cut through the fjord.  (When I entered one of the tunnels, it was not the time to think about how this area is known for seismic activity.  And what would happen if there was a tremor while I was in this tunnel...but ill advised, I had that thought...luckily it never became reality.)  It was a long day of driving back and forth on what seemed like 100 fingers, but was more like 12 fjords.  It was a test of patience since I would be able to see across the fjord mouth and realize that I would make the spot on the other side after 20 minutes of driving around the waterway.

The closest I came to a reindeer after eating a piece for dinner while in the eastern fjords.

The landscape changed dramatically once I neared Vatnajokull - the largest glacier in Europe.  Vatnajokull reached through the fjords with what is known as glacial tongues that force their way into the open spaces between the fjords.  The weather has finally warmed back up to the mid-50s and sunny.  Not quite "summer" weather, but after two days of 30s and rain I'll take it!

I arrived at the glacial lake of Jokulsarlon in time to catch the last amphibious boat ride of the evening.  The lake is filled with icebergs that are breaking free from Vatnajokull in this area.  The greater rate of decay of the glacier at this area is due to the salt water mixing into the lake (melting the glacial tongue faster).  What is left is a lake full of dense icebergs with the top 10% or so of them showing above the water.  The eruption from Grimvotn almost 2 months ago sent ash all the way across the glacier (about 50 km from here) turning all of the glacier and icebergs gray with a thin coating of ash.  Some of the white is returning due to the glaciers turning over, essentially washing themselves clean.  The rains in the past month have helped to further clean the glacier and icebergs returning them to their normal bluish-white color.

View from the shores of Jokulsarlon into the icebergs residing in the lake.  The gray markings on the icebergs are evidence of Grimvoln's eruption 6 weeks ago, which covered the area in a thin layer of ash.

Only 10% of this iceberg is above water due to the high density of this piece.  The icebergs in this lake are some of the oldest ice from the main glacier due to the spreading that takes place as the snow/ice mounts up and compacts the lower layers.  The edges get pushed out along the side of the glacier and eventually break free.
Tomorrow, I take a walk on the glacier in Skaftafell National Park and spend the night camping in the area.  Maybe I will also see the illusive puffin, which I have not seen in these areas even though their presence is mentioned regularly by the locals and the signage. 

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