Háskóli Íslands

How do Icelandic glaciers respond to their environment?

Studies of glaciers in Iceland can contribute significantly to the field of glaciology, and provide us with valuable time series and data. The present glaciers are important analogues to warm-based Pleistocene ice sheets. Glaciological research in Iceland, include observations and modeling of glacier mass balance, geometry and dynamics, erosion and sedimentation, geomorphological processes, water flow beneath glaciers, jökulhlaups, stability of ice masses, surges and glacier-volcano interactions. Detailed maps of surface and bedrock topography (derived by radio-echo soundings, GPS-measurements and remote sensing from satellites) are available for Icelandic glaciers, along with information about various subglacial geological structures, and subglacial lakes. All this can be used to increase the overall understanding of Icelandic glaciers as well as to develop and constrain numerical models to simulate the growth and decay of the present and former glaciers.

Studies of glacier-volcano interaction comprises topics such as a) creation of subglacial geothermal systems by extraction of heat from subsurface magma bodies by water, b) subglacial lakes as natural calorimeters for measuring the heat flux of a subglacial geothermal area, c) thermal conditions and heat transfer in subglacial lakes, d) drainage of meltwater, accumulation in subglacial lakes, jökulhlaups, e) subglacial lakes as expressions of glacio-volcanic interactions, f) heat transfer and production of glacial meltwater during volcanic eruptions, implications for styles of eruptions and types of volcanic products, the formation of hyaloclastite ridges, mounds and tuyas, g) dynamic response of glaciers to subglacial eruptions, h) impact of variable ice overburden on hydrothermal and volcanic systems, climatic effects on subglacial volcanoes, i) exploration of volcanic history recorded by tephra layers in glaciers, j) improved understanding of ice-volcano processes on other planets.

Specific themes:

· Field measurements and satellite remote sensing of present-day glaciers in Iceland: storage, annual and long-term changes in mass balance (and overburden), runoff, jökulhlaups, erosion and sedimentation, ice flow, surge, response to subglacial geothermal and volcanic activity and meteorological observations.

· Mass balance modeling.

· Ice dynamic modeling

· Ice deformation studies

· Glacio-hydrological modeling

· Prediction of glacier response and glacial runoff to prescribed past and future climate change.

· Breiðamerkurjökull, a model of a rapidly retreating calving glacier in a world of rising sea level.


Work groups:

Mass balance measurements

Satellite remote sensing (ice flow and elevation, GPS)


Glacier hydrology

Radio echo soundings

Physical and numerical glacier modeling (mass balance and dynamics).


Isotope studies

Sea ice studies

Glacial geology

Glacial isostatic adjustment studies

Ice physics (crystallography)



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