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Police Called After Tourists Venture Onto Frozen Glacial Lagoon

Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon in south Iceland is a big favorite among travelers. The stunning lagoon is full of icebergs which contentiously break off the nearby Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. The area is a magical place to visit any day of the year, but on an extra cold winter’s day, the lagoon sometimes freezes over and drift ice piles up along the shore, filling up the lagoon with ice of all sizes and shapes. That’s exactly what happened yesterday when the cold temperature Iceland’s been having lately caused large areas of the lagoon to freeze, tempting quite a few reckless visitors to traverse onto the frozen lake.

When tour guide Ragnar Unnarsson noticed more than a dozen people heading onto the ice, including a couple which was taking their wedding photos, he immediately knew the danger they were putting themselves in and proceeded to let the staff of Vatnajökull National Park know of the situation. The park staff called the police who arrived at the scene 10-15 minutes after receiving the call. While Ragnar’s shouts and attempts to warn people to get off the ice were completely ignored, the police luckily had less issues and people started heading back to shore when they saw and heard the officers’ calls.

Photo credit: Ragnar Unnarsson
Photo credit: Ragnar Unnarsson

The ice can be extremely dangerous.

Luckily no one fell in, as no matter how solid the ice on the lagoon might look, it never completely freezes solid. The reason for this is that the water is in constant movement, as the lagoon experiences tidal effects, causing water to flow in and out of the lagoon with the tides, creating a strong current which carries chunks of ice out to sea.

This means that even during the coldest of winter days, when the surface of the lake freezes, it forms what appears to be a solid ice cover. But this dangerous ice is continuously breaking apart or flipping over, creating constantly shifting holes and rifts. If anyone were to fall in through one of these cracks or holes they would be in grave danger of being swallowed by the ice which can quickly close, causing people to get trapped under the ice.

Photo credit: Ragnar Unnarsson

There are caution signs posted around the lagoon and in winter ICE-SAR (Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue) often posts guards at the lagoon to both make sure things like this don’t happen and to give aid in case something were to happen. Yesterday however, no one from ICE-SAR was present at the lagoon as all units were out assisting people caught in the icy weather.

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