The massive canyon that contains Europe’s most powerful waterfall – Dettifoss – was created in a matter of days by extreme floods, new research from Edinburgh University reveals.
“We think of natural environments as being formed over thousands of years,” said
Edwin Baynes who led the study. “But sometimes they are shaped very suddenly. This insight into one of Iceland’s magnificent landscapes helps us better understand these processes, and illustrates their legacy.”
The canyon, Jökulsárgljúfur, which is 28 kilometres long and 100 metres deep in places, was formed by a series of floods that occurred 9.000, 5.000 and 2.000 years ago, the study shows.
The floods themselves were caused by volcanic activity under glaciers, and each was powerful enough to tear up bedrock. They formed the canyon’s 100-metre walls and pushed three waterfalls, including Dettifoss, back upstream by as much as 2km during each flood.
Scientists from the University of Edinburgh, who carried out the study, say the findings demonstrate the long-term impact that extreme flood events can have on landscapes.
The floods were triggered by eruptions from volcanoes beneath Vatnajökull, the largest ice cap in Iceland. One of these volcanoes, Bárðarbunga, erupted in August 2014 and is in fact still going at it.
As reported, seismic activity has been recorded at both Snæfellsjökull glacier and Lóujökull glacier indicating that active volcanoes lie beneath them.