Category Archives: Glacial Features

Jökulsárlón

As promised, here is another post from my Iceland trip.  This time it’s of Jökulsárlón.  To be honest I don’t know why this place isn’t better known.  For me I think it’s one of the natural crown jewels of Europe, nevermind of Iceland.  Basically Jökulsárlón is a semi-tidal lagoon on the south-east coast of Iceland and formed in the 1930’s by the retreat of Breiðamerkurjökul.  Breiðamerkurjökul’s moraines formed the edge of the lagoon and there is a small tidal river connecting the lagoon to the sea.  But what for me makes this place so special are the icebergs.  Breiðamerkurjökul carves the icebergs which then float around in the lagoon, slowly melting.  Some of them do make it down the small river floating out to the sea, but also being pushed back by the tide and landing on the beach forming yet more amazing ice blocks on the black sand.  OK so that’s enough of me talking lets have some pictures.

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I think the one above looks a bit like a seal’s head.

DSCN3065The pictures really don’t do this place justice.  Maybe I just don’t get out enough but this is one of the most amazing places I’ve ever visited.  I probably will never get to go to Antarctica or the high Arctic, but this is pretty close.  This is one place that should be on a lot of peoples’ bucket lists and I’m glad to have ticked it off mine.

 

Iceland Trip

At the beginning of June I was fortunate enough to go on another trip outside of my home country, and this time to a place I have long wanted to visit, that geogeek’s paradise known as Iceland.  It has been a dream I’d wanted to fulfill for a few years now and it has finally gone ahead.  Over the next few days I’ll be writing more post about the trip.  I went there with 2 friends and spent a total of a week camping, walking, driving and (surprise, surprise) taking hundreds of pictures.  For a general overview we landed at Keflavik early in the morning (seriously why does it seem that airlines only do flights that require you to get up at 3am?).  We picked up our hire car, drove to Reykjavik to pick up some food and then spent the next few hours driving along the south coast to the campsite at Skaftafell, at the south end of Vatnajökull.  We spend 3 nights there, and then drove back to Reykjavik where we spent the last 4 nights of the week.

I can’t speak for the north of the country which we didn’t visit, but the south is a beautiful mix of old lava fields, post-glacial moraines and what can only be described as a peri-glacial cold desert.  This ‘desert’ covers large parts of the south coast where areas of black sand and rubble are common and people are not.  These have formed mostly as a mixture of lava flows, glacial deposition and jökulhlaups.

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DSCN2779It even comes with its own dust clouds when the wind is strong.

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This is just the first part of my write ups, so look forward to more about Vatnajökull, Skaftafell, Jökulsárlón amongst other places.

Fenn’s, Whixall & Bettisfield Mosses

On a cold but sunny winters day I made what is my second visit this area.  The picture above is from a previous trip when the weather was a lot warmer.  It was still freezing on my visit the other day, despite it being in the middle of the day.
DSCN0641Location & Access: The Fenn’s, Whixall & Bettisfield Mosses straddles the English-Welsh border about 5 miles south-west of Whitchurch.  There is no major road to the site, so you’ll have to take one of the narrower country lanes off the A495, B5476 or B5063.  If you fancy taking a boat though the Llangollen Canal runs through the middle of the site.  The site is relatively flat and shouldn’t provide any problems, though the walk from one of the carparks can be a bit of a trek if you have mobility problems.

Geology: The geology of the area is perhaps less obvious than the hills & valleys I normally write about.  The Mosses are a rare environment, being a lowland raised bog and small areas of wetland it is a unique habitat for wildlife too.  Their formation began about 12,000 years ago as the ice sheets retreated north.  In amongst the till were depressions filled with water and melting ice.  These formed the kettle holes that dominated the north Shropshire, south Cheshire and Wrexham area.  Some of the these holes remained full of water and form the numerous kettle ponds that can be found in the area.  Good examples can be found in Ellesmere and Delamere.  In the case of the Mosses the hole filled up with layer upon layer of peat.  This has created an acidic peat bog that has made a fantastic, albeit soggy under foot, environment and a link to our country’s icy past.

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Wildlife: Besides the peat bog and its like to an ancient glacial past the Mosses is a great place for wildlife…well when its not frozen over ;).

Alongside the myriad of insects and spiders there are also adders and a wide range of birds, and according to one local I spoke to, the rarely sited water shrew.  Unfortunately due to it being winter I didn’t see most of these.  I did manage to get some pictures of the water fowl in the area.

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These are my first attempts at photographing flocks of birds in flight.  I had mixed results with many of pictures focusing on the background rather than the birds, but I don’t think they’re too bad for a first timer.  The ducks that I’ve managed to get shots of include Shovelers (Anas clypeata), Wigeons (Anas penelope), Teals (Anas crecca) and Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos).  I also saw some Pintails (Anas acuta) and Lapwings (Vanellus vanellus) but happened to be changing the battery at the time.

References: Fundamentals of the Physical Environment (3rd Edition) by P. Smithson, K. Addison & K. Atkinson (2002).  Geology (2nd Edition)by S. Chernicoff (1999).  Geology of Shropshire (2nd Edition) by P. Toghill (2006).  The Geology of Britain – An Introduction by P. Toghill (2006).   iGeology map from the BGS (2015).  Information leaflet from the site and produced by Natural England and Cyngor Cefn Gwlad Cymru (Countryside Council for Wales).

 

Malham Cove

This week I have had the opportunity to visit the fantastic Yorkshire Dales in the north of England.  I got a chance to visit a few sites.  Much to our disappointment we weren’t able to get down Gaping Gill due to a technical fault with the winch, so we instead saw a few other places and I’d thought I’d share them with you.  The first is epic Malham Cove.

Location & Access:  Malham Cove is located in the south half of the Yorkshire Dales National Park at approximately 54*21’41” North, 2*09’28” West, about 1km from Malham village.  You can park a car in the village (itself a wonderful place to see) and walk up the road to the cove.  The road is good and there is a slight incline.  just above the village is a clearly marked, good quality path to the cove…and to be honest you really can’t miss it from there.  People with mobility issues shouldn’t have much trouble walking along the path, though the road can be a bit of a trek.  Warning!  The main path goes through a field of cows so beware of bovines.

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Geology:  The underlying rock is Carboniferous Limestone from the Garsdale and Danny Bridge Formations (331-339Ma), and represents a depositional environment of a shallow carbonate sea, full of corals and shell creatures.  That was then, what about now?  Like much of northern England the current landscape is largely the result of the various glaciations of the past, in particular the Devensian glaciation which ended about 10,000 years ago.  Malham Cove is thought to have been formed slightly earlier (about 12,000 years ago) as the ice retreated north.  The melting glaciers produced a large amount of run-off, and with the ground still being semi-frozen permafrost the water eroded the limestone instead of infiltrating into and dissolving it as happens now.

This led to the wonderful dry water seen today.  The semi-circular Malham Cove is about 80m high and about 300m across.  This makes it higher, but only about half as wide as the horse-shoe at Niagara Falls.  This gives you an idea of what the falls would have looked like in full flow 12,000 years ago.

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IMG_2331You can see the bedding planes in the limestone and if you look at the right of the image above you should be able to see two climbers ascending the cliff face (right of the centre tree, about half way up the picture in yellow).  This gives you an idea of the scale of the place.  At the base of the cliff is a small stream, exiting from one of the many underground river systems in the Dales.

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Although you should always be careful approaching a cliff face I would recommend getting as near to the base as possible and looking up…it’s fantastic.  I tried to take a few pictures, but none of them do it justice, so you’ll just have to go there yourself.  Stand in the centre of the horse-shoe, close to the base and look up, it’s this wonderful bowl shape.

Above the falls is another wonder of the Dales; the limestone pavement.

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These are a special feature, common to the Dales, but rare in the rest of the UK.  The flat surface is a bedding plane in the limestone, exposed by glacial & periglacial erosion.  This produces the flat ‘paving slabs’ called clints.  The gaps in between are the result of rain water getting into cracks in the limestone and dissolving some of it.  These gaps are called grykes.  Walking along a limestone pavement is quite an experience, but be warned some of the clints are wobbly and the grykes can be wide and deep.  Some of them may even be filled in with a thin layer of soil & grass so watch your step.

Other Stuff: You’ve got glacial valleys & erosion, caves, underwater rivers & springs, a dry waterfall higher than Niagara and limestone pavements…what more could you want? OK well aside from the geology it is also a great pace to catch a glimpse of one of my favourite birds; the Peregrine Falcon.  These nest up on the cliff face your chances of seeing one is good.

To sum up, if you are ever in the north of England Malham Cove is worth the visit.  The pictures I’ve posted really don’t do it justice, you’ll have to go see it for yourself.  Stay geogeeky as I’ve got more from the Dales that I’ll post soon.  Enjoy.

Reference: The Geology of Britain; An Introduction by Peter Toghill (2006), Geology (2nd Edition) by Stanley Chernicoff (1999).