Geographic Names of Iceland's Glaciers: Historic and Modern

Professional Paper 1746

Prepared in cooperation with the National Energy Authority (Iceland)



Climatic changes and resulting glacier fluctuations alter landscapes. In the past, such changes were noted by local residents who often documented them in historic annals; eventually, glacier variations were recorded on maps and scientific reports. In Iceland, 10 glacier place-names are to be found in Icelandic sagas, and one of Iceland's ice caps, Snaefellsjokull, appeared on maps of Iceland published in the 16th century. In the late 17th century, the first description of eight of Iceland's glaciers was written. Therefore, Iceland distinguishes itself in having a more than 300-year history of observations by Icelanders on its glaciers. A long-term collaboration between Oddur Sigurdsson and Richard S. Williams, Jr., led to the authorship of three books on the glaciers of Iceland. Much effort has been devoted to documenting historical glacier research and related nomenclature and to physical descriptions of Icelandic glaciers by Icelanders and other scientists from as far back as the Saga Age to recent (2008) times. The first book, Icelandic Ice Mountains, was published by the Icelandic Literary Society in 2004 in cooperation with the Icelandic Glaciological Society and the International Glaciological Society. Icelandic Ice Mountains was a glacier treatise written by Sveinn Palsson in 1795 and is the first English translation of this important scientific document. Icelandic Ice Mountains includes a Preface, including a summary of the history and facsimiles of page(s) from the original manuscript, a handwritten copy, and an 1815 manuscript (without maps and drawings) by Sveinn Palsson on the same subject which he wrote for Rev. Ebenezer Henderson; an Editor's Introduction; 82 figures, including facsimiles of Sveinn Palsson's original maps and perspective drawings, maps, and photographs to illustrate the text; a comprehensive Index of Geographic Place-Names and Other Names in the treatise; References, and 415 Endnotes. Professional Paper 1746 (this book) is the second of the three books; it is being published in both English and Icelandic editions. This book provides information about all named glaciers in Iceland, historic and modern. Descriptions, with geographic coordinates, and bibliographic citations to all glacier place-names on published maps, books, and scientific articles are included. Maps, oblique aerial photographs, ground photographs, and satellite images document each of the 269 modern named glaciers of Iceland. The third book, Glaciers of Iceland, is Chapter D of the 11-chapter [volume] U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1386-A-K. Chapter D includes a 1:500,000-scale Map of the Glaciers of Iceland; it is a comprehensive historical and modern review and assessment of what is currently known about glaciers in Iceland's eight Regional Glacier Groups from a review of the scientific literature and from analysis of maps and remotely sensed data (ground, airborne, and satellite); topics include geology and geography, climate and climate variability, types of glaciers, history of glacier variation (including the 21 surge-type glaciers), and frequency and magnitude of volcanic and lacustrine jokulhlaups.

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Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Geographic Names of Iceland's Glaciers: Historic and Modern
Series title:
Professional Paper
Series number:
Year Published:
Geological Survey (U.S.)
Contributing office(s):
U.S. Geological Survey
Total: 246 p.; Report: x, 225 p.; Appendix: A1-A7
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