The Armchair Circumnavigator: Skeiðará Bridge, Iceland

The river Skeiðará is a relatively short glacier river, a little less than 20 miles long. Its source is the glacier Skeiðarárjökull, one of the southern arms of the Vatnajökull in the south of Iceland. In spite of its short length, this river has a bad reputation. It is especially feared because of the frequent glacier runs that can be fatal. (All images enlarge when clicked.)

In front of Skaftafell National Park, Skeiðará has formed the Skeiðarár Sandur, a black plain of lava sand and ashes crossed by a lot of small rivulets which covers the whole area between the park and the sea (about 25 miles long and 3 to 6 miles wide).

In 1996 the latest of these glacier runs took place. It destroyed parts of Route 1 (The Ring Road). The bridge, which was just under a mile long, was destroyed by floating ice boulders the size of a house. Luckily, no persons were harmed.

"Built to withstand floods of 317,000 cubic feet (8,976 cubic meters) per second, Iceland's longest bridge was no match for the 1.6 million-cfs gusher unleashed by [the eruption of Vatnajökull volcano, which melted much of the snow on top of it]. For a few hours the volume of the water rivaled the flow of the world's second largest river, the Congo. No lives were lost, but damage to roads and utility lines is estimated at one billion Icelandic kronur ($15,000,000 U.S.), a sizable bill for the nation's 265,000 citizens." - From "Iceland's Trial by Fire," May 1997, National Geographic magazine

This is the bridge before it was destroyed.
Photo by dirk.jan

A "passing place" in the bridge.
Photo by dirk.jan

The main beams from the bridge that was twisted by the flood. In the background is Iceland's highest peak, Hvanndalshnúkur, and the glacier.
Photo by arnitr

This is a monument made of pieces of the old bridge.
Photo by Danny Yee

Please don't ask me how to pronounce Skeiðará. If this post lures any Icelandic readers, perhaps they will be so kind as to enlighten me!


  1. Nice post. But you are supposed to be in bed early tonight. Tsk tsk.

  2. I'm waiting for my Tylenol PM to kick in, 'kay???

  3. I love these posts! (And it was really late when you came to bed!)

  4. Fascinating stuff! I'm feeling very icy now.

  5. I like the little wigglewobble dingdang flipbobbers in the Icelandic spelling. Or do I?

  6. I'm not surprised you were up late, aren't you the incurable insomniac after all? Had you fallen asleep at 10 PM you'd probably have to change your name, which would be a shame because it's such a great name.

  7. Too bad they didn't catch the destruction of the bridge on video. That would be something to see.


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