A country under the ice
The Vatnajökull glacier covers 8% of Iceland’s surface. Stretching out more than 100 kilometres in every direction, the ice cap is, on average 400 metres thick and 900 metres deep at its highest point. Lying below the surface is a chain of active volcanoes, whose most recent eruption was in 2011.
London photographer Mikael Buck is one of the lucky few to have explored these caves in person. His goal was to photograph the ice with the highest level of precision yet achieved. “To be honest, it’s like being on a planet in outer space. The colours and shapes are extraordinary,” he says. “Technology has made it possible for us to feel like we are right inside the glacier in a way that was never possible before.” To achieve this, Buck and his team, guided by Sigurdsson and Maria, had to rely on the same techniques that Robert Peary used to explore the North Pole. “To reach the caves, we had to cross the glacier for two hours every day using crampons and ice axe,” he recalls. “The main technical problem lay in getting to the caves with sufficient time to explore and photograph them. As we were there in November, the days were short and we had move fast to get back to the jeep while there was still daylight.”
The photographic adventure has given us a fascinating insight into the formation of the caves. Sculpted by the movement of the glacier, the walls are curved, though with dramatic edges similar in appearance to Neolithic flint axes. Through such close exploration, the glacier reveals itself to be a fortress of deep blue crystal tunnels.