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When the ice is more than 20 metres thick, it sinks downwards thanks to gravity. A glacier is therefore ice in movement.

Newly fallen snow is light, with a net weight of 0,1 g/cm³. Wind and mild weather make the snow denser and heavier. Snow that survives the summer months is known as firn. Over the course of a few years, firn can be converted into ice. This transition takes place during recrystallisation, when large crystals grow in size and small ones shrink. The net weight of glacier ice is 0.9 g/cm³.

There is great pressure deep within the glacier, and the ice can be formed like a plastic material. There is less pressure in the upper section; so here the ice behaves like a rigid material. Cracks are formed when the glacier crosses a knoll or changes direction, or when it accelerates or glides long a mountainside. The crevasses in Norwegian glaciers are rarely more than 25 metres deep. That is the equivalent of a nine-storey house. In Antarctica, the ice is much colder and rigid and the crevasses can be up to 100 metres deep.

Glaciers cover 0.7% of the Norwegian mainland, and there are a total of 2,500 glaciers of different shapes and sizes. The glaciers are important in relation to hydroelectric power, research on the climate and for tourism and recreation. They can also be the cause of sudden floods and icefalls. For those walking on the snow-covered areas of glaciers, there are hidden dangers such as cracks and almost bottomless crevasses in the ice.

Most people who visit glaciers will be happy to observe and admire them from a safe distance. The intense blue colour of the different facets of the ice is enchanting and magical. The glaciers are like huge emeralds clinging to steep mountainsides and cliffs. They can also be seen as gentle giants descending from the mountains down to the valleys.

The recent history of the glaciers

After the last Ice Age ended approximately 10,000 years ago, the glaciers in Norway reached their maximum extent in around 1750. This period is known as the Little Ice Age. We can see clear marks from this period in many of the glaciers where the terminal moraines are formed like large ridge-formed deposits. Glacial advance destroyed many farms and cultivated land. The farmers at Nedregarden (Nigarden) in the Jostedalen valley complained, therefore, that the taxes on the farm were too high. In 1748, the King in Copenhagen asked the local minister in Jostedalen to measure the glacier to verify these claims.

The Supphellebreen glacier in 1884 and in 2015. |© Steensrup K.J.D. og Pål Graan Kielland

After the Little Ice Age, the glaciers have retreated, but there have been several glacial advances from time to time. The last large advance was in approximately 1930. From 1930 to 1960, the glaciers retreated significantly. The glaciers advanced somewhat after 1960, and many glaciers in Western Norway advanced during the 1990s. One example is Briksdalsbreen, which between 1987 and 1997 advanced 400 metres. After 2000, the glaciers have retreated considerably, possibly as a result of global warming. The enormous quantity of snow, which falls on the glaciers during winter, is not enough to prevent loss of ice during the increasingly warm summer melting seasons.

Glaciers can be seen from a safe distance or on walks

In Fjord Norway you will find easy access to glaciers that can be seen from viewpoints or safe guided tours. During the summer, there are several places to go for lovely glacier walks with experienced guides, or you can take a glacier course to learn to walk on glaciers safely on your own. From south to north in Fjord Norway, we can start with Folgefonna in Hardanger. The Buerbreen is a popular viewpoint to the east, not far from Odda. You can climb higher up onto the glacier on the western side, where the Juklavassbreen glacier awaits those looking to walk on the blue ice. Fonna summer ski centre is also found here, which offers spectacular skiing in spring and summer. The visitor centre in Rosendal is attached to Folgefonna National Park, and here you can learn about glaciers, the climate and nature.

Join a guided trip on the glacier! |© Pål Gran Kielland

Slightly further to the north-east, between the Hallingskarvet mountain ridge and the Hardangervidda mountain plateau, you find Hardangerjøkulen. If you start in Finse, you can walk on the Blåisen glacier, while from Simadalen, not far from Eidfjord, you can climb up to Rembesdalskåka glacier arm if you are looking for a longer and more challenging walk. We recommend the Norwegian Nature Centre to learn more about Hardangervidda National Park.

There are many opportunities to see or walk on glaciers in the former county, Sogn og Fjordane – home to Jostedalsbreen, the largest glacier in mainland Europe. Almost 30 named glacier arms arise from this gigantic glacier, of which some are more accessible than others.

Luster is located to the east, which – without exaggeration – abounds with glaciers. With well-known glaciers such as Nigardsbreen, Bergsetbreen, Tuftebreen and Austdalsbreen, Jostedalen has something for everyone, whether you merely want to see a glacier or combine it with a mountain hike, kayaking or RIB boat trip on glacier lakes. Luster is also home to Veitastrond, and the Austerdalsbreen glacier, which William Cecil Slingsby himself called ‘the finest ice-scenery' in Europe after its discovery in 1894. Seeing the glaciers from a distance from this valley makes a lasting impression.

Leirdalen is situated not far from Gaupne, from which you can take a boat or kayak to the biggest glacier arm in Jostedalsbreen, namely Tunsbergdalsbreen. This is a little less accessible than the other glaciers, but well worth a guided visit if you want to get away from more popular destinations.

In Fjærland, located to the south of Jostedalsbreen, we find glaciers such as Bøyabreen and Supphellebreen, which plunge down the valleys. Both these glaciers are easily accessed from the road, are located close to the fjord and can be viewed from designated viewpoints. Supphellebreen is also known as Flatbreen, a natural place for glacier courses and the final destination on the guided tour ‘Josten på langs’. Flatbrehytta cabin is also located here, which was built for the benefit of glacier and mountain enthusiasts. The proximity of the fjords and mountains make Fjærland a very special place for nature lovers.

You can also admire the glacier from a safe distance|© Pål Gran Kielland

On the western side of Jostedalsbreen, Nordfjord is a paradise for ‘glacier watching’, such as in Oldedalen valley, Loen or Oppstryn. Briksdalsbreen might be the most well-known attraction here, alongside Kjenndalsbreen. If you would like to do a glacier walk in Nordfjord, Stryn summer ski centre is a great point of departure where you can take the ski lift to get higher up the glacier. Otherwise, Haugabreen in Jølster in Sunnfjord is a great alternative, where you can walk in a beautiful valley before climbing up onto the ice.

Three visitor centres around Jostedalsbreen