Iceland Journal – “Mýrdalssandur” – South Iceland
“There was an ocean above us, held in by a thin sac that might rupture and let down a flood at any second.”
Mýrdalssandur is a massive outwash plain just east of the town of Vik, on Iceland’s south coast. The Ring Road enters this area after a short run along the mountains near Vik. I have never seen anything like this and at first had no idea what I was witnessing. As far as the eye can see, the landscape has been washed flat, yellow grasses and moss cling tenuously to the black sand, gravel, and lava boulders that make up this vast area for some 25 kilometers. There are warning signs along the road that dust storms of fine black sand, resembling smoke, can be created, if the conditions are right. I was concerned, as we entered the region, as the winds whipped up to over 80 km/h, but the recent rains and coastal fog held the dust down.
Threading their way through this barren landscape are glacial streams of varying size, faint reminders of the torrents of water, or jökulhlaup (glacial outwashes), that created this area.
This region was most recently sculpted by an enormous jökulhlaup, the result of a subglacial eruption of the nearby volcano, Katla.
In 1918, Katla erupted underneath the enormous glacier, Mýrdalsjökull (seen in the background, just beneath the clouds), melting the glacier below the surface and forming a massive sub-glacial lake. The volcano continued to erupt under the ice and increasing pressure caused it to burst out the side of the glacier, creating a violent flood, of water, ice and volcanic debris. The water volume at the peak of the jökulhlaup was estimated to be around 200,000 – 300,000 m³/s, making it, for a brief time, the largest river in the world, based on the volume of water. The jökulhlaup absolutely devastated the area, wiping out homes and farms and leaving this mainly barren plain as evidence of its power.
The region is largely unsettled, primarily due to the risks of future eruptions of Katla, which remains active below the ice, and the frequent jökulhlaups. Because of this and the alien look of the landscape, it was used for the opening scene of the Star Wars, Rogue One movie.
Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD @ 70mm
1/250 sec, f/8.0, ISO 200
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