Icelandic/Íslenska translationGlacier monitoring: BGS observatory at Virkisjökull, Iceland

BGS international work

The BGS operate an observatory site at Virkisjökull in south-east Iceland, studying the evolution of the glacier and the surrounding landscape and their responses to regional climate.

Sensors at the site are constantly collecting climate and seismic data. Repeated high resolution surveys study how both the glacier and land surface, and the deposits beneath, change over time.

We are using cutting-edge technologies, not used in such a combination anywhere else in the world. These give unique insights into:

  • processes of landscape formation
  • responses of glacial systems to climate forcing

March 2015

The March 2015 field season saw a team consisting of BGS and GSNI staff, plus staff and MSc and MRes students from Dundee and Lancaster Universities, in Iceland for 10 days with a huge range of research activities to complete. You can see excellent aerial videos and updates on their Hydrometric monitoring of the River Virkisá webpage and blog.

December 2014

Whilst Heiko Buxel and Hugh Barron were carrying out "routine" tasks for the Glacier Monitoring Project - including seismic data downloads, meltwater sampling, camera installation and general maintenance - they experienced conditions far from routine! Read about working in subzero temperatures and 70mph winds in their blog: "Weather Bombed in Iceland".

NERC's first Open Access article came from our project: Recent, very rapid retreat of a temperate glacier in SE Iceland 3.4 MB Open Access publication pdf

Virkisjökull: a glacier in decline

Satellite image of the Oraefajökull ice cap, from which Virkisjökull drains towards the west.

Virkisjökull is retreating rapidly, like most glaciers in Iceland. Since 1996, the glacier margin has retreated nearly 500 m, and it appears that this rate has accelerated over the last five years.

Why is this important?

Globally, glaciers and ice sheets help to regulate Earth's climate:

  • they are highly reflective, bouncing large amounts of solar energy back into space, keeping the Earth cooler
  • in many countries including Iceland, glaciers are a major source of water, both for domestic use, and for power generation
  • melting glaciers can cause large-scale flooding, which affects roads and other infrastructure

Observatory science

What techniques are the BGS using?Virkisjökull Observatory: equipment and installations

We interpret the combined results of constant monitoring, using automatic systems, plus field surveying of land-surface change, glacier hydrology, and evolution of the shallow subsurface.


Contact Jez Everest for further information