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Sólheimajökull Photos

Sólheimajökull, an outlet glacier from Mýrdalsjökull ice cap. Photo: Oddur Sigurđsson, 30. October 1985.

Sólheimajökull is an outlet glacier from the south-western part of the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap. It occupies a valley trough, and is about 8 km long and >1 km broad at its broadest. Its total surface area is ca. 42 km2. The average thickness of Sólheimajökull is ca. 270 m, but it reaches a thickness of >600 m at most. The subglacial through lies at places >50 below sea level. Sólheimajökull has generally been retreating since the end of the 19th Century. It retreated about 900 m between the years 1930-1964, but had a period of significant advance between ca. 1974 and 1995, when it advanced more than 400 m. Presently it is retreating at the rate of ca. 100 m/year (Gunnlaugur Einarsson, personal communication 2005). Continued retreat will lead to the formation of a glacial lake in front of the glacier.

Oscillations of the Sólheimajökull ice front 1930-2004. Data compiled by Gunnlaugur Einarsson.

The glacial river that drains Sólheimajökull is called Jökulsá á Sólheimasandi. Since the river partly drains meltwater generated by geothermal fields below the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap, it often contains high concentrations of sulphur. The sulphurus gas, Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S), smells like rotten eggs, and gives the river its characteristic smell (the river is sometimes called "Fúlilćkur" in Icelandic, which means "Rotten River"). Hydrogen Sulfide can be very dangerous in high concentrations, leading to blindness and death. People should avoid visiting the Sólheimajökull ice front/Jökulsá on calm days when the sulphurus smell is strong!

When the ice front was more advanced than today, during the Litle Ice Age until early 20th Century, the glacier dammed small rivers in ravines and shallow side valleys upglacier. These were periodically drained, causing very sudden jökulhlaups in Jökulsá á Sólheimasandi. Before the river was bridged in 1921, the river was considered very dangerous to cross, and at least 20 people are known to have drowned during crossing. The last jökulhlaup occurred during the summer of 1999, in connection with volcanic/seismic activity within the Mýrdalsjökull caldera. 

Dirt cones on Sólheimajökull. Photo: Ólafur Ingólfsson, 2004.

Sólheimajökull ice margin. Photo: Ólafur Ingólfsson, 2004.

Participants in the Glacial Geology course "Rof, setmyndun og landmótun jökla", May 2004.

Participants in the Glacial Geology course "Rof, setmyndun og landmótun jökla", May 2005.

Partipants in Glaciology and Glacial Geology excursion, May 2007 (click here for a high-resolution download)

I have shot the photos below, except where stated otherwise. Most of the photos have been taken in connection with field courses in glacial geology at the Solheimajökull margin.  Feel free to use the photos for educational purposes, but please refer to my homepage as source. (For reading fieldwork reports (in Icelandic), click here.

Large rock marks the position of the 1995 ice front. Photo: H. Norddahl, 2004.

Sólheimajökull margin. 2004.

Meltwater channel to the side of the 2004 ice margin. Photo: H. Norddahl, 2004.

Dirty margin of Sólheimajökull. 2004.

A small flute - ice front in background. 2004.

Stratified outwash gravels and sands. Photo: H. Norddahl, 2004.

Crevasse fill after melting out of glacier ice. 2004.

1995 ice margin. 2004.

Sólheimajökull ice front, with meltwater tunnel. 2004.

Pitted sandur surface, after melting of ice debris deposited during the 1999 jökulhlaup. 2004.

Small retreat ridge, formed after 1995. 2004.

Stratified sandur deposit, Sólheimajökull forefield. 2004.

A small flute - Grave of the Unknown Glacial Geologist. 2004.

Cross section through a small push ridge formed during the annual retreat. 2004.

Low drumlin in the Sólheimajökull forefield. 2004.

Fall sorting on the Solheimajökull terminus. 2004.

Hard working students in the field. 2004.

Kettle-hole lake, Little Ice Age moraines, Sólheimajökull. 2004.

Lodgement till in drumlin. Sólheimajökull forefield. 2004.

Ice margin. The dark ash is probably from the 1918 Katla eruption. 2004.

Meltwater tunnel, Sólheimajökull ice front. 2004.

Students working with their reports on the days observations. 2004.

Students digging through a retreat moraine ridge. 2004.

Discussing the formation of the small retreat ridge. Photo: B. Oddson. 2004.

Supraglacial debris. Sólheimajökull. 2004.

Downwasting ice front. Photo: H. Norddahl, 2004.

Dirt cones on Sólheimajökull. 2004.

Mýrdalsjökull-Katla, seen from the southeast. Photo: H. Norddahl, 2004.

Sólheimasandur, with megaripples formed during a major jökulhlaup. Photo: H. Norddahl, 2004.

Students resting before mapping section through Little Ice Age moraine. 2004.

View across the Sólheimajökull ice front. 2004.

Crevasse fill melted out of the glacier, partly washed by meltwater. Photo: H. Norddahl. 2004.