Snæfellsjökull national park

Snæfellsjökull National Park is situated on the Snæfellsness peninsula. The park was established on June 28, 2001. The park include many famous sites including the magnificent Snæfellsjökull (Snæfell Glacier), Djúpalónssandur beach, the volcano crater Saxhóll, Lóndrangar the two massive lava formations, Sönghellir (the singing cave) and Rauðfeldargjá the hidden waterfall. The main purpose for establishing the park was to protect the unique landscape of the area, the rare plant and animal life and also the important historical relics around the mountain.

Both glacier and a volcano

Snæfellsjökull is a stratovolcano and glacier. The word Stratovolcano means that the volcano is high conical shaped composed of solidified lava, tephra and ash. These mountains are steep because the lava that formed it was viscous and hardened quite near the crater. Stratovolcanoes are sometimes called “composite volcanoes” because of their composite layered structure built up from sequential outpourings of eruptive materials. The formation of the mountain started about 700,000 years ago and it’s canonical shape is a result of repeating eruptions from the same starting point. Since last ice age the vulcan has erupted 20 times and the last one took place  about 1,750 years ago.

Small glacier but prominent icon

The glacier’s area is approximately 11 square kilometers and it’s highest point is 1446 meters. The size of the glacier decreased significantly in the last century. The glacier is  not very big the thirteenth biggest one in Iceland but very prominent and popular.  When the sun shines and the sky is clear the glacier can bee seen from the capital city Reykjavík and from other places on Reykjanes peninsula over the bay Faxaflói with distance of 120 kilometers. The glacier is often used as an icon for the peninsula and not surprisingly as a result of the clear visibility of it. The whole peninsula is named after the mountain and in 11th of June 1994 municipality snæfellsbær was founded, today the population of the municipality is about 1800 people most of them living in Ólafsvík, Rif and Hellissandur.

Sources of inspiration and power

The glacier has been an inspiration for authors. The mountain is one the famous sites of Iceland, primarily due to novel Journey to the Centerter of the Earth (1864) written by French author Jules Verne. The original name of the film is Voyage au centre de la Terre. The story involves German professor Otto Lidenbrock who believes there are volcanic tubes going toward the centre of the Earth. He, his nephew Axel, and their guide Hans descend into the Snæfellsjökull, encountering many adventures, including prehistoric animals and natural hazards, before eventually coming to the surface again in southern Italy, at the Stromboli volcano.

Kristnihald undir jökli (1968) one of the novels by the Icelandic author Halldor Kiljan Laxness takes place in the glacier and  neighborhood. In 1955 Halldor received the Nobel Prize in literature   “for his vivid epic power which has renewed the great narrative art of Iceland.” Halldor was born in 1902 and died in 1998. The story tells of Umba, the agent bishop, and his mission west of the peninsula to review the situation with Jon Primus, who has left to his official duties, as well as his marital status rather vague.

The huge role of the glacier in Verne’s story has significantly increased the popularity of the glacier. The glacier has some kind of a mystical reputation and many people visit the glacier because they believe they can have a spiritual experience from the glacier and neighbourhood. Some visitors have even been there hunting for aliens!

Enjoy the glacier while you can

Every glacier accumulates snow specially during the winter. The accumulation depends on many factors both long term changes and short term. The accumulation increases more when the weather is cold and during much precipitation in the mountains what is usually snow rather than rain as a result of their high location. The location of Snæfellsjökull is closer to sea than most other glaciers in iceland and hence more gains more precipitation what perhaps explains the existence of it.

On the other hand every glacier in Iceland melts, specially at the lower places on it. This is caused by direct sunlight and changes in temperature and climate. Below so called snowline all the snow usually melts down during the summer. This is not the case in areas such as the Antarctica since there is no snowline there at all so the whole system remains frozen. The melting of the glaciers has huge effects in Iceland both for good and bad. Most of the biggest rivers in Iceland are glacial rivers simply caused by ice melting. This can cause floods and other natural disasters. However, many beautiful places such as Jökulsárlón on the South-East part of iceland are formed by ice melting.

The contrast between accumulation and melting simply controls positive or negative changes in the size of the glacier. In last century the size of Snæfellsnesjökull decreased by almost 50%. Global warming is a major issue in the environmental debate, and the long term increase of temperature has bad effects on glaciers. Of course sometimes there have been very cold periods in the geological history, but if the current trend of global warming remains, you can not promise your grandchildren that they can experience the beauty of Snæfellsjökull, so enjoy it while you can.