After visiting Iceland in 1970 to play a gig, Led Zeppelin wrote ‘Immigrant Song’. The song is inspired by this country of contrasts in the north, where fire meets ice. Story has it they wrote it on the airplane as the left Iceland. Wether that’s true or not, they performed it for the first time at Bath Festival only six days later.
On a clear day the glaciers are beautiful seen from high up above from an airplane. Approximately 11% of Iceland is covered by glaciers and with the rapid climate change this percentage unfortunately will only decrease. Glaciers are a remarkable phenomenon with their constantly transforming landscapes.
A glacier starts forming when snow accumulates year after year in the same spot and doesn’t melt completely away during summer. For a glacier to formulate takes a massive accumulation of snow. To put it into perspective, snow is water vapour frozen into crystals and consists of up to 90% air as falls to the ground. This is not compact enough to form a glacier but each time snow falls it compresses the existing layer, slowly reducing the air pockets. The cycle repeats itself every year, making the snow more compact until the snow becomes ice. Ever wondered why glaciers are blue but not the ice cubes in your G+T? A glacier is purely ice in its most compressed form but because of this density the glacier will seem blue when daylight bounces off it.
This compression also means the glaciers carry enormous weight which causes them to move, deform and sculpt the land underneath like a massive bulldozer. In the process the glacier cracks creating crevasses, moulins, ice caves and other glacier formations. Interestingly much of the terminology originates in french language. This is because French scientists were the first to study these different formations and to give them names. Merci beaucoup guys!
Today glaciers store the majority of all freshwater on earth and covers around 10% of all land. Unfortunately glaciers are reducing in size every year which can have devastating effects worldwide with rising sea level. Jokulsarlon, Iceland’s biggest and best known glacier lagoon is growing in size each year and is currently Iceland’s biggest lake at 250 m deep. Icebergs continuously break off from the outlet glacier Breidamerkurjokull creating the famous picturesque scenery. The next door neighbour and second biggest glacier lagoon Fjallsarlon, has become a tourist attraction in the recent years and popular for zodiac boat tours. Popular activities on and surrounding glaciers are ice cave tours, super jeep tours, hiking and ice climbing to name a few. The biggest man made glacier tunnel in the world has been realised in the icecap of Langjokull. This tunnel has given glaciologists the unique opportunity to research the glacier from inside the icecap as well as tourists who are interested in exploring glaciers.
Iceland is situated on the mid Atlantic ridge and was created by the continuous friction of the two tectonic plates, which explains Iceland’s geothermal activity. Iceland truly is a land of ice and snow where the hot springs flow. But when these beautiful forces of nature; fire and ice meet, it can have catastrophic consequences. Sub-glacial outburst flood caused by geothermal heating under a glacier and sometimes sub-glacial eruption is not uncommon in Iceland. Eyjafjallajokull being the best known example after paralysing air traffic in Europe during the eruption. But when those two nature forces coexist relatively peacefully, it’s a phenomenal sight.
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