Also known as the Vatna Glacier, Vatnajökull is the largest glacier in Iceland, covering more than 8% of the country, and is part of the largest glacier mass in Europe. Sub-glacial lakes in a central region of active volcanoes give this glacier its name, which means ‘Glacier of Rivers’. Beneath the glacier, the landscape is in a constant state of flux, complete with valleys and gorges.
Its surface area is approximately 8,100 km2. Its average thickness is between 400 - 500 m (~1,312 - 1,640 ft), and up to 1,000 m (~3,281 ft) at its thickest part. The total volume of ice has been estimated at roughly 3,300 km3 (116,538 ft3).
The icecap rises to between 1,400 - 1,800 m (~4,593 - 5,905 ft) above sea level, whilst beneath there are 7 volcanoes, most of which are active. There is also an ice cavern system beneath the icecap, several kilometres long.
The first trip across the ice was made in 1875 by an Englishman, accompanied by a few Icelanders. Today, hiking or cross country skiing is undertaken at the traveller’s own discretion and are able to take any route they please, but any and all such trips must be reported beforehand to the police authorities.
Did you know?
According to Guinness World Records, the Vatnajökull glacier is the object of the world’s longest sight line, able to be viewed from Slaettaratindur, the highest mountain in the Faroe Islands, 550 km (~342 mi) away. This is possible, so it is claimed, due to light bending in the refractive atmosphere.