Iceland is known as 'The Land of Fire and Ice'. That is because it has both glaciers and volcanoes dotted around the island. How many glaciers are there in Iceland, where are they and what exactly is a glacier?
A glacier is a large, persistent block of ice. Glaciers only form on land when snow stays long enough in one place to turn into ice. Over years, centuries even, the snow is compressed into thick ice masses.
What's unique about glaciers is their ability to move. They crawl forwards due to sheer mass - like very slow rivers. Although glaciers are persistent, they slowly deform as they flow, creating crevasses, cracks and sometimes beautiful glacier caves!
In Iceland there are many volcanoes and many glaciers that have formed on top of active volcanoes. When the volcanoes erupt; the glacier ice above them melts very quickly, creating devastatingly destructive rivers called jökulhlaup.
More than 10% of Iceland is covered by glaciers. Here is a list of the main glaciers that Iceland proudly takes its name from, and here you can find glacier tours in Iceland.
Vatnajökull glacier is the largest glacier in Iceland - and Europe! Vatnajökull is situated in the south-east of Iceland and is so large that it has many glacial tongues on every side (like most of the largest glaciers in Iceland), each with an individual glacier name.
They are so many that I will not list all of them here. The most notable would be Öræfajökull glacier, a popular one for hiking since the highest peak in Iceland is located there: Hvannadalshnjúkur. The most active volcano system in the country, Grímsvötn, is situated in Vatnajökull. The last eruption to take place there, was at Holuhraun in Bardarbunga, from August 2014 until March 2015.
You can also find the beautiful glacial lake Jökulsárlón on the south-eastern side of the glacier. Vatnajökull National Park covers the entire glacier and extensive area all around the glacier and is the largest national park in Europe, a total of 12,000 km2 (4,600 sq miles)!
Langjökull glacier is the second biggest glacier in Iceland. The name means 'Long glacier' and derives from the shape of the glacier. It is situated in the West of the Icelandic highlands and can easily be seen from Geysir. It is very popular for snowmobiling tours in combination with The Golden Circle. There are 2 active volcanoes in Langjökull glacier.
Hofsjökull glacier is the third biggest glacier in Iceland. It is situated in the Mid-Highlands. Hofsjökull is the largest active volcano in Iceland, a shield with caldera. It is also the source for various rivers in Iceland, including Þjórsá, Iceland's longest river. The road Kjölur runs between Hofsjökull and Langjökull, connecting the south to the north of the country.
Mýrdalsjökull glacier and Eyjafjallajökull glacier
Mýrdalsjökull glacier is the fourth largest glacier in Iceland and is right next to Eyjafjallajökull glacier, which is the sixth largest in the country. Both glaciers are situated in the south of Iceland.
Although Mýrdalsjökull is larger than Eyjafjallajökull and holds one of the largest and most active volcano in the country, Katla, Eyjafjallajökull has become more known in recent years because of the eruption in a much smaller volcano there in 2010.
Between the two volcanoes is a very popular hiking path called Fimmvörðuháls, which now brings people right on top of the newly erupted volcano where there is now a newly formed, still warm, mountain.
Drangajökull glacier is situated in the Westfjords and is the fifth largest in the country. It is the only glacier in Iceland that has not decreased in size during the past few years and is also the only glacier that is entirely below 1000 metres.
Snæfellsjökull glacier is not one of the largest glaciers in Iceland, only the 13th largest - and sadly it is rapidly decreasing in size. It is nonetheless one of Iceland's most famous glaciers. It is situated on the tip of Snæfellsnes peninsula and can be seen from Reykjavík on a clear day, like a crown across the Faxaflói bay.
The small glacier is the jewel of Snæfellsjökull National Park, one of three national parks in the country. Like many other glaciers in the country, Snæfellsjökull is also a volcano, a stratovolcano shaped like a cone. It was eternally made famous in Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth, as the entry point to the centre of the earth. In August 2012 the summit was ice free for the first time in recorded history.