Solheimajokull

Some common questions that are asked by clients while on a tour:

    1. What does Solheimajokull mean?
    2. How old is Solheimajokull?
    3. How thick is the Ice?
    4. How much has melted?
    5. Tell me more about Katla.
    6. What happens if Katla Erupts?

1. Solheimajokull translates literally to ‘Sun-Home-Glacier’ or ‘Sun-World-Glacier’.

2. Icelands Glaciers disappeared at the end of the last Glaciation 9-11,000 years ago and the earliest moraine measurements for Solheimajokull, according to GIS data, were dated to be between 4,500 to 7,000 years ago.

The aforementioned paragraph gives us information in regards to the presence of the Glacier in general but no the age of Ice we would be standing on today. For that, I will provide an analysis of a fellow guide Páll Ágúst Þórarinsson.

The glacier moves about 60 m/yr forward but melts more. The front is renewing from the ice coming down. 

If you divide Sóló length (8km ish?) by the speed, it takes ice about 130 yr to move from the top to the front. Ice may have been formed way before that though. 

Best would be to take frozen ash layers in the ice and chemically analyse. Then compare to known eruptions, find a match and that would give a date when the ash fell on top of Mýrdalsjökull.

Also, remember that this is a simplification due to the fact that real flow is different from edges to center and surface to bottom.

3. Solheimajokull is about 250 meters and at the core at the top of Mýrdalsjökull, the ice sheet is about 700 meters thick.*

4. Regular measurements of the snouts position began in the 1930’s with some notable points below; however, historical moraine measurements were take are are available via GIS survey.

    • From 7000-4500 years ago Solheimajokull extended over 6.77 kilometers from the current position of the snout towards the Atlantic ocean. It was only 2km short of touching the sea (as noted on the GIS survey).
    • From 1930 until 1970 the glacier retreated steadily.
    • From 1970 to 1995 the glacier advanced about 500m.
    • Between 1995 and 2013, the glacier retreated 900 meters (about 50m per year) with a maximum of 134m in 2008.
    • The glaciers snout reached the car park in 1995.
    • In 2008 the glacier lake began to form.

From 2010 and the years following, its melt was documented by a sign on the walking path. As noted, the glacier snot was previously positioned at the sign in 2010 and with each ensuing year, the glacier has receded the given measurement. Also, the lake is estimated to be about 60 meters deep (as noted on the sign).

5. Kata is the central volcano in the middle of a large volcanic system. The Katla volcanic system extends over the whole of the Myrdalsjokull icecap, and its fissure system stretches 10’s of kilometers north towards Vatnajokull. Myrdalsjokull icecap coveres an area of 595 km(230 sq mi). The caldera of the volcano has a diameter of 10 km (6 mi). *Below is a photo of the Myrdalsjokull icecap with its lower arm in the south-west corner being Solheimajokull.

Over 20 layers of ash have been identified from eruptions in the Katla system in the period since Iceland was settled, so Katla has erupted twice a century since Iceland was settled.

Since the end of the last glaciation, Katla has erupted at least 300 times, so its one of the most active volcanoes in the country.

6. Most dangerous, are the terrible floods that break out beneath the Glacier following volcanic activity. They occur when magma discharged in the eruption melts the glacier rapidly. Since the Ice is a few hundred meters thick in the caldera, a large portion of the eruptions energy is used in the melting of ice. Despite the ice’s thickness, it usually takes the eruption a few hours to melt its way through the glacier, which says a lot about the power of Katla eruption.

In the 1918 eruption, Kotlutangi, the southern most part of Myrdalssandur, extended seawards by about three kilometers as a result of sediment transfer.

It is thought that 1755 and 1918 Kotluhlaup (glacier outburst floods from Katla) the maximum flow rate reached 300,000 m 3/s. For comparison the average flow of the Amazon at its estuary is thought to be about 200,000 m 3/s. *Picture is depicting glacier flood from Eyjafjallajökli in apríl 2010 and used for educational purposes in regards to glacier outburst floods.