Vatnajokull is Europe’s largest glacier, measuring over 8.100 km2 (3.127 sq mi). The glacier covers more than 8% of the country, and the average thickness of the ice is 400 m (1.312 ft) , with a maximum thickness of 1.000 m (3.280 ft). Iceland‘s highest mountain, Oraefajokull (2110 m/6.923 ft) is located on Vatnajokull’s southern periphery.
Geologists classify Vatnajokull as an ice cap glacier. No other glacier in Iceland, with the exception of Myrdalsjokull glacier, has more precipitation fall or more water draining to the sea than on the south side of Vatnajokull. In fact, so much water is currently stored in Vatnajokull that even Olfusa, the river with the greatest flow in Iceland, would need over 200 years to carry it all to sea.
Its greatly varying landscapes makes Vatnajokull unique in the world. Nowhere else is there such a combination of dynamic ice caps, outlet glaciers, and scenic mountain grandeur.
As with many other glaciers in Iceland, there are several volcanoes under the ice cap. One of them, the Grimsvotn, was the source of a large glacial lake outburst flood (Jokulhlaup, in Icelandic) in 1996. There was also a brief but considerable eruption of Grimsvotn in the beginning of November 2004. In May 2011, a volcanic eruption started again in Grimsvötn. The plume reached as high as 20 kilometres (12 miles) and disrupted air travel for three days.
The source of Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon
Vatnajokull has around 30 outlet glaciers flowing from its ice cap. One of these outlet glaciers is Breidamerkurjokull , which ends in the world famous Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon.
Vatnajokull National Park
Vatnajokull National Park was established in 2008. It covers 14% of Iceland, making it Western Europe’s largest national parks. Along with Vatnajokull glacier itself, the park encompasses Skaftafell in the south, Snaefell in the east and Jokulsargljufur Canyon in the north.
Where to see ice caves in Vatnajokull?
Everyone who has seen photos of ice caves knows they are one heck of a sight. Vatnajokull’s status as the largest glacier in Europe makes it one of the best places to witness such a natural wonder. Each year, visitors grab the opportunity to witness a naturally formed ice cave in Vatnajokull National Park.
Note: Ice caves only form in winter, when the glacial rivers retract and the water freezes. Their locations, shapes and sizes constantly vary, making each ice cave unique.
If you plan on trying your luck of seeing an ice cave in Iceland, please do so under professional guidance; the changing weather and glacial conditions can lead to dangerous situations for people unfamiliar with Iceland.