Glacier Langjökull – Near Reykjavík

The long glacier with a long tunnel

After Vatnajokull, Glacier Langjökull is the second largest ice cap in Iceland. Situated in the west part of the country, deep in the highlands, it is visible from the geyser area in the Golden Circle. It is not so far from Reyjavík.

Langjökull means ‘long glacier’ in Icelandic and has a volume of 195 km and ice is measured up to 580 m (1,900 ft) in thickness. The highest point of the ice cap which is at Baldjökull at the northen tip of the glacier is about 1,450 m (4,760 ft) above sea level.

The glacier runs almost parallel to a volcanic zone: south-west to north-east. It runs to about 50 km in length and 20 km in width. It narrows down between Lake Hvítárvatn on Kjölur mountain to east and Þrístapajökull glacier in the west. After that point, another glacier called Eiríksjökull starts. Right under Glacier Langjökull, two or more volcanic systems exist. The calderas can be seen from the air. Of these the best known is Hveravellir with its hot springs and high temperature areas to the east of the glacier.

A Marvel of Engineering – The Ice Tunnel in Glacier Langjökull

Excavations for a circular 500-metre ice tunnel from the west side of the ice cap started in 2014. The area can be accessed from Húsafell but reaching the base camp might need proper 4×4 vehicles. The entrance of the tunnel itself is high on the glacier, 1200 meters above sea level. A huge monster truck brings travelers from base camp to to the tunnel’s entrance.

The purpose of the tunnel is to take people not just around and onto an ice cap, but also inside the heart of it, to enjoy the magnificent “blue ice” which is buried deep beneath the surface, and see the deep crevasses of a glacier from inside. Iceland’s ice tunnel is unique not only in its size, being the largest ice tunnel in the world, but also because only here can we see all the different stages of ice formation.

Geography of the Glacier

There are some mountains in the glacier. They include Jarlhettur meaning ‘the earl’s hat’ on its easter side. This is part of a palagonitic mountain range, which scientists say arose from a geo-tectonic fissure eruption during the Ice Age. Another mountain called Skríðufell rises to a height of 1,235 m (4,052 ft) also situated in the east, is above hvitarvatn lake. The other mountains streaming on the eastern horizon of the Langjökull are Fjallkirkja, Þursaborg and Péturshorn.

To the east of the Fjallkirkja is the research station of the Icelandic Glacier Research Society, called Jöklarannsóknarfélag Íslands JÖRFÍ. Here one can see highly skilled professional glaciologists and amateurs jostling ideas on glacial science. From Glacier Langjökull, a number of smaller glaciers move out to the valleys and plains.

Scientists point out that the outlet glaciers Norður and Suðurjökull reached right up to theHvítárvatn Lake till about early last century, but due to global warming have receded rapidly since then.

Not many rivers originate from the glacier. But huge quantities of water flow to the sub-surface to Lake Þingvallavatn in the National Park of Thingvellir. Glacial waters also form many tributaries of the Hvítá River as well as rivers flowing north towards Húnaflói. The hot springs in Borgarfjörður named Deildargunguhver also receive water from Glacier Langjökull.

In popular culture, the glacier has been the picturesque locale where nuclear-blasted pieces of the iron giant fall in the movie ‘The Iron Giant’. This film was released in 1999 and is science fiction.

Langjökull is shrinking quite fast, and some researchers believe that it will disappear in about 150 years if climate change continues at its recent pace.