Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon – Black Sand and Blue Ice
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is a truly special place in a land filled with amazing and unbelievable sights. Like the glaciers that surround it, the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is constantly shifting and changing with the seasons and with time.
The first thing that will strike you is its black beach. I love black sand beaches, there’s something moody and enigmatic about them. When I visited my first black sand beach in New Zealand as a child, I wondered why the sand was coloured the way it was. Now I know – the sand is made from basaltic magma – which is black.
The lagoon is a product of the Earth in flux. First, the raw material for the sand had to be created – this happened from the explosions of the many volcanoes in the area. It was followed then by the formation of the glaciers themselves over the hardened basalt.
Over time, as the glaciers moved, the rock underneath was ground below their weight and became the fine sand we see today. Then came, of course, the icebergs themselves – these beautiful, oftentimes brilliant blue, crystalline structures that are a wonder to behold – were formed not so long ago in this area, around the 1930s when the industrial age was well underway in Europe.
The Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is both a beautiful wonder and a harsh reminder of the damage we are doing to our Earth. The pace with which the lake enlarges every year has accelerated since the 1970s, and is a strong sign that global warming is taking its toll on our fragile arctic environment.Nevertheless, this did not detract from its beauty, Now, for someone from a tropical country, seeing an iceberg was definitely a milestone. The last and only time I had seen an iceberg prior to visiting this lagoon was when I watched Titanic.
The icebergs dot the beach and float in the ocean, coming in many shapes and sizes. Many were really huge and had interesting colouring. The coolest ones had striations all along their sides, like they were cross sectioned so we could see the story of their formation laid bare.
They weren’t complicated really, brilliant white tops sometimes followed by bright blue or blue-green centres, striped occassionally by black sediment. The brillaint blue/blue-green centers were what fascinated me the most. I’ve never seen ice that blue, what makes it so? How can something which we normally percieve as white or transparent become so richly colored?
Apparently the brigh aquamarine colors are the result of the ice being massively compacted. So, glaciers are formed by compressed snow. As more snow falls on already compressed snow, the bottom most layers become increasingly compacted. As this happens, air gets squeezed out between the lower layers of the forming glacier, changing the structure of the ice. When a chunk of glacier eventually breaks off, its ultra compact centre gets exposed to light. Because of its structure, it refracts light differently, absorbing most of the red wavelengths present. The light that’s reflected back out then is thus of the most brilliant blue you’ll ever encounter in nature.
We had a wonderful time in Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. It was funny being among so many large chunks of ice strewn randomly around. It’s not a common sight we encounter everyday – or ever, really, unless you live far north. And there was something about this set up that made every visitor behave like a child – like how it was when we were seeing the world for the first time.
On our stroll along the beach, we saw many people touching the icebergs, trying to pick up large bits of ice that were floating in the water and even some adults attempting to taste the ice. Its not something I would recommend, but I can see the intrigue thousand year old ice might hold for some tastebuds.
The other amazing thing about the lagoon was how still and crystalline clear its water could get. They say the impressive reflective qualities of the lagoon is the result of the mixing of fresh and salt water. When the water is completely still (sadly, it almost never is due to the boat tours in the lagoon), you can almost feel like there’s another world in reverse on the other side.
We recommend getting to the lagoon as early as you can, as it gets filled up with people pretty quick, especially on a nice, sunny, summer’s day. Personally, I can’t think of another season to view this place. I think you really need the crisp strong sunlight to bring out the icebergs and the crystalline quality of the black sand.
We spent quite a lot of time strolling in the sand, marvelling at this beautiful wonder. The sun was so bright I almost felt like it was possible to go for a swim in the lake – but this is not possible of course. Eventually we had to leave this crystalline wonderland – for another amazing activity – Puffin watching!