Sapphire Ice Cave in Iceland

If you have not yet heard of the “Sapphire Glass Cave” in Iceland, you will know as soon as you arrive. Coming to Iceland is only for this reason. Add to this the northern Lights, a snowy landscape and a remote location (ideal for a faraway vacation) and an awesome trip awaits you.

So, this blog post is more of a love letter from Iceland’s “most famous ice cave” (above). An ice cave that has experienced two consecutive winters despite the hot summers and the effects of climate change. Believe me, this is a rare event. I had the pleasure as a local guide to explore this ice cave during both seasons and to examine it closely in person.

And I am here to say, based on everything I have seen over these two years, that I am quite certain that Sapphire Ice cave will also be there for the 2021/22 season. However, if this winter (2020/21) is a little early for a trip to Iceland, you will still be able to see this wonder of nature next winter.

This is a bold statement. Bolder than you thought, I promise. I will do my best to explain below and will also show you some awesome photos to help you understand my enthusiasm.

Incidentally, I am not a scientist by any means, but I studied physics a little at University and have been fascinated by glaciers, volcanoes and science in general all my life. I am also a professional glacier guide. I have visited countless ice caves throughout Iceland and I had the honor of being the initial to discover some myself (for a long time). To say that I understand the process of forming an ice cave would be an understatement.


What is an ice cave?

Sapphire Ice cave is like any other ice cave where the best tour operators bring their customers to Iceland. Big, sapphire, beautiful and distant. But she stands out for one important point: he survived the summer!

Maybe you scratch the back of your head and think: “But aren’t glaciers thousands of years old?”and at the same time:”If an ice cave is part of a glacier, doesn’t that mean that they are also ancient structures?”

It’s a good thought process. The glaciers of Iceland are hundreds or thousands of years old. BUT they are constantly moving. They are also constantly melting. In fact, the ice that you see on a glacier (at a very low speed) is usually only a few hundred years old. In fact, the accumulation of snow at the top of the peaks replaces the ice that melts every winter. As global temperatures continue to rise, melting ice is disappearing faster than fresh snow can replace it, causing glaciers around the world to disappear.

Therefore, if an ice cave is formed in a glacier that is constantly moving and melting, they are unlikely to stay for a very long time.

In most matterdrinks, an ice cave is formed when the ice melts in summer and surrounds the remaining ice. When the heat water penetrates deep into the ice during these sunny months, they form cavities in the glacier. As soon as winter arrives and the melting slows down, the holes formed by the melting empty out, leaving behind a new structure (an ice cave). Depending on the strength of the water flow and the angle at which it hits the ice, it depends on the shape and size of the remaining ice cavity.

The image below shows an ice cave of particularly regular shape demonstrating this process in 2017. You can see the waves and the effect of the water leaving a cavity almost like a rib cage. There was only one winter season for this.

How to find this year’s ice cave?

Some ice caves are cathedral-sized arcades. Some are snake-like tunnels. And some are closed holes that open as soon as you enter them. The sapphire crystal cavity is very similar to this one.

The sad thing is that these incredible beauties rarely last very long. Especially now that winters are getting heater and wetter due to climate change. Almost certainly, the ice cave will melt or collapse next summer. In winter 2017/18, the ice cave “Treasure Island” did not even survive the whole winter (see below). At the end of February, she collapsed at many sites, and during the last month of the search, a new ice cave had to be searched for.

In short, every fall, local ice cave explorers go in droves in search of a new ice cave for the next winter season. Fortunately, these veterans are good at their business and usually find something. However, what you find always raises a question mark.

Will it be as big as in recent years? Will it be sapphire too? Is it easy to get there for tourists? These questions do not call into question the Icelandic tour operators who hope to sell tours to these temporary wonders. So you can imagine my admiration if the sapphire crystal cave survived winter after winter. It is large, sapphire and very accessible even for those who have an average level of fitness. A welcome respite from all the bad news of 2020.


Why is the sapphire crystal cavity different?

As in my Description above, the sapphire crystal cave comes from summer meltwater that solidified in winter to form a stable vaulted cave. As noted above, the sapphire crystal cavity was also not protected from summer melting. And yet he stayed.

Was it because last year it was so big that even after a lot of things melted, there was still a good cave there? No!

This is simply because this particular ice cave is formed by what is called a subglacial channel (a river under the glacier). This “river” is a water flow that is a set of many different cavities and crevices, the water flows connecting in the same place. So, unlike many other ice caves, this channel under the glacier is very likely to continue to make its way from the front of the glacier every year.

This suggests that the glacier meltwater comes out of the same or a similar hole at the front of the glacier every summer. This also means that the surrounding ice is also formed every summer. Even if the glacier melts strongly this summer, a “new” sapphire crystal cave will probably form this year a few hundred meters behind. Anyway, that’s exactly what happened this summer (see below how it looked in 2019/20).

Don’t get me wrong, the glaciers are melting at an unprecedented speed. And when the glacier moves and collapses, these subglacial channels can dry out or find a new route. However, the location of this particular ice cave also contributes to its longevity. That is, it is located near the peakside. The peak makes the glacier ice move every year in the same way (the peak deforms the ice), so the replacement ice probably acts in the same way every year. This (hopefully) indicates that the sapphire crystal cave will also be there next winter!

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