Jökulsárlón-Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is one of Iceland's most spectacular sights, located about 60 km east of Skaftafell National Park and almost 400 km from Reykjavik. Jokulsarlon borders south and east part Iceland, at the roots of Europe's largest glacier Vatnajökull (Vatnajokull). Breiðamerkurjökull (Breidamerkurjokull), an outlet glacier of the great glacier Vatnajokull, crumbles down the steep mountainside of the glacier and big icebergs break off into the lagoon where they float around before melting.
Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon is one of Iceland's best known and most popular natural wonders, widely regarded as the most picturesque scenery in all of south Iceland.
Boat trips between the icebergs
From May to September, weather and ice conditions permitting, it's possible to sail between the floating icebergs, calved from the glacier's edge. Taking a boat trip on the lagoon will get you close to the naturally formed ice sculptures, some blue, others ash-striped, and the shimmering white, aquamarine, or blue colours of the ice, created by the reflections of light on the ice crystals. The duration of the boat trip is approximately 40 minutes.
On the east bank of the lagoon there is a small café which is open all year round except between 23 December and 26 December, and 31 December and 2 January. There are also a few guesthouses close to the lagoon.
Sailing among the luminous floating icebergs of Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. However, the views are also amazing just from the shoreline, so, if due to weather conditions it's not possible to take a boat trip, you will still have a fantastic sightseeing experience. Additionally, if you are travelling from Reykjavik along the south coast of Iceland, during the drive you can see the ever changing, contrasting Icelandic landscape, including the gorgeous waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss, Eyjafjallajökull (Eyjafjallajokull) - the volcano that erupted in 2010, and lava fields.
Getting to Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is easy. Buses go there every day, both regular scheduled trips and day trips. There are two other glacial lakes, Fjallsárlón (Fjallsarlon) and Breiðárlón (Breidarlon) nearby. Jokulsarlon is on Breidamerkursandur, by the main road, approximately 60 km east of Skaftafell and 80 km west of Höfn í Hornafirði (Hofn-in-Hornafjordur).
Jokulsarlon – a photographer's dream
Set against the backdrop of black sands and glaciers, Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is a magnificent sight. Gigantic icebergs floating in a fairy tale landscape, the constantly changing colours and shapes and light reflecting off the thousand year old ice crystals create wonderful photo opportunities. The interesting wildlife adds yet another dimension.
A fireworks show takes place at Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon every year, only advertised locally with short notice but it's normally held the weekend after Reykjavik's Cultural Night, towards the end of August - a photo opportunity not to be missed. It's possible to take part in this event, Fireworks show at Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon. There are other photography tours organized, which include a visit to the lagoon, such as Colours of Iceland, an autumn tour.
Jokulsarlon – a favourite filming location
Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is an exceptionally beautiful place, one of the great natural wonders of Iceland, and due to its extraordinary beauty, Jokulsarlon has been used as a location for several Hollywood films, such as: 'Batman Begins'; 'Beowulf and Grendel'; 'Lara Croft: Tomb Raider'; James Bond films 'A View to a Kill' and the iconic 'Die Another Day'; and Ben Stiller's 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty'. Jokulsarlon has also been a popular shooting location for commercials, as well as the visually breathtaking documentary 'Chasing Ice' (2012), by the National Geographic photographer James Balog.
Prior to 1950 the 1½ km long course of the glacial river Jokulsa was uninterrupted by any lagoon, but the glacier tongue has retreated since then, creating a lagoon which is gradually getting larger. The average flow of the Jokulsa river is 250-300 m³/sec. The river gets shorter every year (in 1998 it was not much longer than 500 m), mainly because of the constant sea erosion, which eventually is going to destroy the bridge on the Ring Road. The result is expected to be a deep fjord which is going to grow longer the further the glacier tongue retreats. The lagoon's surface has been lowered almost to sea level and sea water enters with the tides, increasing the water temperature. Under the glacier the fjord is around 300 m under the sea level, or perhaps more.
Formation history of Jokulsarlon
At the time when the first settlers arrived in Iceland around 900 AD, the edge of the glacier tongue of Breidamerkurjokull is thought to have been about 20 km further north than it is now. The climate began to cool around the year 1200, reaching a peak in the period 1600-1900 which is sometimes referred to as the "Little Ice Age". As a result of this colder climate, the glacier advanced until about 1890, reaching a point only about 1 km from the coast at Jökulsá (Jokulsa) glacial river.
The following warm period from 1920 to 1965 caused great changes in Breidamerkurjokull glacier tongue where it retreated rapidly, leaving a lagoon up to 200 m deep where the glacier snout had been, and several kilometres of glacial moraines were exposed on both sides of the lagoon. The lagoon started to form around 1934-35 and has been getting bigger every year. The river Jokulsa on Breidamerkursandur then ran straight down from underneath Vatnajokull glacier, approximately 1½ km to the ocean, but in 1998, the river became just over ½ km long. Since 1950, the glacier has steadily retreated and the lagoon grew from around 8 sq. km in 1975 to nearly 18 sq. km nowadays, due to the rapid melting of the glacier. The edge of the glacier tongue now floats on the water. Large as well as small icebergs regularly break off from the edge of the glacier and icebergs of different sizes can be seen aground, in striking contrast to the black sand beach, and afloat in the lagoon. At Breidamerkursandur, the lagoon is around 284 metres deep, making it the deepest lake in Iceland, deeper than Askja Lake (220 m).
Image © University of Glasgow, 1982
Permission to reproduce the image granted by Helgi Jóhannesson & Sigurður Sigurðarson, 2014
Salmon, capelin and herring enter the lagoon and the seals follow, so it's not uncommon to see seals in the glacier lagoon, resting on top of the icebergs or on the black sand ocean beach. Plenty of birds also live by the glacier lagoon and the nearby Breidamerkursandur glacial outwash plain is the main home to the great Skua. Eider ducks are also common on the lagoon, and a large number of seabirds, especially Arctic terns, nest close by.
Jokulsarlon – "the closest we can get to Saturn's rings on Earth"
Taking a Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon boat tour will get you close to the naturally formed ice sculptures, some blue, others ash-striped, and the shimmering white, aquamarine, or blue colours of the ice, created by the reflections of light on the ice crystals.