Langjokull Glacier Exploration: Journey to Iceland’s Second Largest Ice Cap

  • by Yanshu
  • Golden Circle Iceland
  • 11 Sep 2023

Longjökull Glacier in Iceland stands as the second-largest glacier in the country, characterized by its vast ice cap covering an area of approximately 950 square kilometers. This icy giant boasts intricate ice caves and rugged crevasses, offering a captivating glimpse into the glacial wonders of Iceland's wilderness.

Langjokull Glacier Exploration: Journey to Iceland’s Second Largest Ice Cap

Geographical Profile

Langjökull stands as an imposing mass of ice in the Icelandic landscape, marking its presence with sheer size and a unique geographical position. As we explore its geographical profile, we will uncover Langjökull’s expansive presence and the significant landmarks it interacts with.

Langjokull glacier, its view from afar in winter, Iceland. [Photo credit ©Yanshu Li]

Location and Size

Langjökull, meaning “long glacier” in Icelandic, is one of the most prominent glaciers in Iceland. It resides predominantly in the Highlands of Iceland, a vast area that is often characterized by its volcanic plateau and rugged terrain. This ice cap is the second-largest in the country, with only Vatnajökull Glacier covering a greater expanse.

  • Coordinates: 64.6562° N, 20.1531° W
  • Area: Approximately 953 square kilometers (368 square miles)
  • Maximum Thickness: Up to 580 meters

Distinctly known for its length and breadth, the glacier extends to about 64 km (40 miles) in length and 24 km (15 miles) at its widest. A specific portion, Baldjökull, is acknowledged as the highest point of Langjökull, reaching roughly 1,450 meters (4,760 feet) above sea level.

A mountain top covered by glacier on Langjokull glacier, Iceland. [Photo credit ©Yanshu Li]

Surrounding Landmarks

Langjökull is flanked by several noteworthy features. To the east, it aligns with Hofsjökull, another significant ice cap in Iceland, which forms part of an exquisite glacier duo within the Icelandic interior. The glacier is also a vital source of some of Iceland’s powerful rivers, such as Hvítá and Ölfusá, fueling robust water systems that traverse the land.

Langjokull Glacier’s Nearby Volcanic Systems:

  • A volcanic zone runs from southwest to northeast, parallel to the glacier.

Contributing to Lakes:

  • Hvítárvatn, also known as Lake Hvítá, is a serene and picturesque lake situated near the edge of Longjökull Glacier in Iceland. This pristine glacial lake owes its remarkable beauty to the surrounding icy wilderness, where Longjökull Glacier’s massive ice cap feeds the lake with crystal-clear meltwater. 
  • The glacier’s meltwater also feeds into Hagavatn Lake, positioning itself at the glacier’s edge.

Notably, Langjökull’s proximity to various volcanic zones adds to the dynamic nature of its geographical profile, with the ice occasionally juxtaposed against the heat below.

The Wonder of Langjokull Glacier

In our exploration of Langjökull Glacier’s physical characteristics, we find a majestic ice cap with impressive structural features and dynamic changes. Our focus will be on the glacier’s complex structure, remarkable formations, and the measurable aspects that define this glistening giant.

Glacial Structure

Langjökull, characterized by its expansive snowfields and icy façade, is a formidable glacier that has developed a layered structure over centuries. The stratification consists of fresh snow compressing into denser ice as one moves deeper, illustrating the natural alchemy from soft snow to hard, compact ice.

Blue ice on top of the ice cap of Langjokull glacier, Iceland.

Ice Cap and Ice Cave Formations

The glacier’s surface area reveals not just an ice cap but also intriguing ice caves. These caves are naturally occurring phenomena, sculpted by geothermal activity and melting waters. Inside Langjökull, you’ll find a world of blue ice and incredible textures, offering a glimpse into the heart of the glacier.

Langjökull Glacier’s Volume and Thickness

Langjökull stands out with a volume of 195 km³, making it a significant reservoir of freshwater. The glacier boasts a maximum thickness that reaches up to 580 meters, indicating the immense accumulation of ice throughout its history. The glacier’s sheer mass contributes to several glacial rivers, such as Hvítá and Ölfusá.

Shifting Landscapes Due to Melting

As with many glaciers around the globe, Langjökull is subject to shrinking due to climate change. The melting not only affects the glacier’s size but also has profound impacts on the surrounding landscapes, as calderas and valleys are reshaped by the moving and retreating ice.

Activities and Tours

At Langjökull Glacier, we find a host of exciting activities that allow us to explore Iceland’s icy terrain intimately. From glacier hiking with crampons to snowmobiling across the vast white landscape, each tour and excursion brings us closer to nature and the thrill of adventure.

Glacier Hiking and Ice Caving

Glacier hiking and natural ice caves offer us an intimate look into the frozen heart of Langjökull. Expert guides lead us safely across the glacier’s surface, ensuring we’re equipped with necessary gear like crampons for footing. The astonishing beauty of the glacier’s blue ice is a sight we witness firsthand inside the man-made ice tunnel and the stunning natural ice caves.

Man-made ice tunnel at Langjokull glacier, Iceland.

Snowmobiling and Monster Truck Rides

For those of us seeking adrenaline-pumping action, snowmobiling on Langjökull provides an exhilarating way to traverse the icy expanse. We can also climb aboard a monster truck or a super jeep for tours that add an extra thrill to our glacial explorations. These powerful vehicles make navigating Iceland’s second-largest glacier an unforgettable experience.

Monster truck ride on Langjokull glacier, Iceland.

Guided Tours and Excursions

A myriad of guided tours from Reykjavik include excursions to hot springs, skiing adventures, and visits to the charming village of Húsafell. Tour operators often provide shuttle services in 4WD vehicles, making Langjökull’s remote beauty accessible and the excursions enjoyable. Langjökull tours with knowledgeable guides enrich our experience, as they share insights into the unique geology and history of the region.

4WD super jeep ride on the ice cap of Langjokull glacier, Iceland.

Environmental Significance

The Langjökull glacier, one of the formidable ice masses in Iceland, plays a crucial ecological role and acts as an indicator for climate change. We’ll delve into its ecological impacts and how it’s responding to environmental shifts.

Ecological Impact of Glaciers

Langjökull, not only impressive in size but also as a vital component of Iceland’s ecology. Serving as a water reservoir, it feeds rivers and influences the local water cycle, which is essential for surrounding ecosystems. We observe that glaciers like Langjökull actively shape the landscape through processes like glaciation, where the immense weight and movement of the ice sculpt the earth beneath.

Climate Change and Glacial Retreat

The retreat of Langjökull gives us visible evidence of climate change. Our meticulous measurements show that as the glacier melts, it contributes to rising sea levels, threatening coastal systems worldwide. Moreover, this melting impacts activities such as tourism and adventure sports, which rely on the glacier’s grandeur and accessibility. The persistent change in the glacier’s size and volume is a clarion call to the urgency of addressing climate threats.

Rivers coming from Langjokull glacier in Iceland.

Scientific Research and Observations

In our exploration of Langjökull glacier, we focus on the underlying volcanic activity and the rigorous methods deployed to monitor glacial mass changes. Through this lens, we gain insights into the intricate ties between Iceland’s geothermal energy and glacial dynamics.

Volcanic Activity Beneath Langjökull

Langjökull sits atop a complex geological framework, characterized by active volcanic systems. These volcanic systems, a study reveals, play a crucial role in shaping the glacier’s base, influencing both its stability and meltwater pathways. Our observations indicate that the heat flux from these systems can trigger subglacial eruptions, which in turn have the potential to cause significant glacial melting.

Monitoring Changes in Glacial Mass

To accurately assess the glacier’s health, we continuously monitor changes in its mass. Technological advancements have led us to use methods such as interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) to measure ice velocity and, consequently, mass balance. These observations are paramount as they allow us to quantify the glacier’s contribution to global sea-level changes and understand its response to climatic fluctuations.

Through tireless research efforts, we’ve learned that Langjökull’s mass balance is an indispensable indicator of regional hydrological regimes and a key factor in predicting future sea-level rise.

Langjökull glacier serves as a spectacular hub for various natural attractions in Iceland. We’ll explore the most renowned routes and points of interest that allow travelers to experience the magnificence of Icelandic nature.

The Golden Circle and its Geysir Area

The Golden Circle is a quintessential route that we recommend, which includes the Geysir geothermal area. This zone is known for its spouting geysers, especially the famed Strokkur, which erupts every few minutes. The proximity of the glacial giant, Langjökull, to these geothermal marvels provides a contrast of fire and ice that is uniquely Icelandic.

geysir in winter
Stokkur geyser erupting to the sky, Geysir Geothermal Area, Golden Circle of Iceland.

National Parks and Lava Fields

We must mention the intriguing landscapes of Þingvellir National Park, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, situated near the glacier. This area is not only geologically significant due to the presence of the Silfra Fissure but also culturally, due to its historical importance. Nearby, the raw beauty of Hallmundarhraun lava field, originating from Presthnúkur volcano, offers a stark and stunning vista against the backdrop of the ice cap.

The lava field in Thingvellir National Park, Golden Circle o Iceland. [Photo credit ©Yanshu Li]

Waterfalls and Rivers Around Langjokull

The Hvítá River, fed by the glacial meltwater of Langjökull, carves through the landscape, culminating in the impressive Gullfoss Waterfall. Furthermore, the serene cascades at Hraunfossar and Barnafoss are not to be missed. These falls traverse over lava fields, providing a harmonious blend of water and volcanic rock that captures the essence of Iceland’s natural beauty.

Gullfoss waterfall is fed by the Hvita river, from Langjokull glacier.
About the author
A journalist and photographer, Yanshu is driven by a deep passion for Iceland. She's on a mission to share her love for authentic travel experiences and exciting adventures with fellow explorers. Armed with her camera, she sets off on hikes, delving into Iceland's intricacies while mastering the art of Icelandic language whenever possible.

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