Lake Myvatn and River Laxa have been protected by law since 1974.
The objective of the law is to protect the landscape, geological
formations and wildlife of Lake Myvatn and the river Laxa and to promote
research for this purpose.
protected area covers the entire district of Skutustadahreppur and the
river Laxa, as well as the islets and tributaries of the river and a
200-metre wide stretch of riverbank along the river reaching all the way
to Skjalfandi Bay.
Lake Myvatn and the
river Laxa are listed as internationally important wetlands according to
the Ramsar Convention. The Nature Conservation Agency is responsible for
the surveillance of the area and ensures that its ecology is not
disturbed. Wardens operate in the Myvatn district, providing assistance,
information and guidance on organized hikes. Further information about
the nature of Myvatn can be obtained at the Reykjahlid Visitor Centre.
Tourists are requested to treat the area's delicate nature with care and
avoid causing disturbance to wildlife.
Lake Myvatn's area is about 37 square kilometres. Numerous bays and
creeks incise its coastline and the lake comprises some fifty islands
and islets. The lake is not very deep, its average depth being 2.5
metres, and the maximum depth is 4 metres. The ecosystem of Lake Myvatn
is unique. The lake derives its name from the profusion of midges that
pervade the area. Bird life is extremely diverse and more species of
duck are believed to live around Lake Myvatn than anywhere else in the
world. The natural environment of the area is very diverse and the
landscape has a unique character, being formed by volcanic activity.
Iceland lies on the boundary of two tectonic plates, the North
American and the Eurasian plates. Those plates move apart at a rate of
about 2 centimetres a year. Volcanic lava wells up between them and
fills up the rift. The volcanic zone, to which the Lake Myvatn region
belongs, lies on the boundary of those two tectonic plates, and volcanic
activity in the area is considerable.
Mt. Hverfjall is a gigantic tephra crater, which erupted 2,500
years ago. The crater is one kilometre in diameter and 140 metres deep.
Tephra has been carried from Hverfjall, all over the Myvatn district. A
landslide apparently occurred in the south part of the crater during the
eruption, which accounts for the disruption of the round shape of the
mountain. During the Age of Settlement, lava flowed from Svortuborgir,
at the southern end of Namafjall Mountain, around Mt. Hverfjall, which
was nearly encircled by the lava. At the same time an eruption occurred
in the slopes above the valley of Hlidardalur.
Younger Laxa Lava Field
About two centuries after the eruption of Mt. Hverfjall a great
eruption occurred in a 12-kilometre long fissure south of the mountain.
The resulting lava field has been given the name Younger Laxa Lava
Field. The Older Laxa Lava Field under it is about 3,800 years old. A
great row of craters, Ludentsborgir, was formed on the fissure.
The Younger Laxa Lava
Field inundated most of the Lake Myvatn area, covered and destroyed a
large lake. The lava flowed on down the River Laxa Valley, reaching the
sea in the north. Wherever the flowing lava overran lakes, bogs and
marshlands, water was trapped underneath and steam explosions created
false craters in many places. They are named pseudocraters. There are
clusters of beautiful pseudocraters all around Lake Myvatn, in the Laxa
Valley and Adal Valley. Some of the craters have been eroded by water,
leaving black pumice slides exposed. Many of the craters are double and
some even triple. The largest pseudocraters can be found near Mt.
Dimmuborgir are peculiar lava formations in the Younger Laxa Lava
Field. A pool of molten lava, about 2 kilometres in diameter, was formed
there during the fissure eruption of Ludentsborgir. This pool was
drained when the lava exited towards Lake Myvatn, leaving behind high
pillars of lava, which have taken on most bizarre forms. It is believed
that these pillars were formed in the pool where steam percolated
through the molten lava and cooled it. Horizontal lines, formed when the
half-congealed lava crust of the pool gradually collapsed, are a
frequent sight in the lava. The collapsing crust also coated the pillars
with scoria, which can be seen in many places as a thin coating with
vertical etchings. Lava formations like Dimmuborgir have been found at
the bottom of the ocean off the coast of Mexico but are not known to
exist on dry land outside the Lake Myvatn region. The lava pillars at
Hofdi (named Klasar and Stripar) are similar formations.
Krafla Fires (1975-1984) and the Myvatn Fires (1724-1729)
The area around Mt. Leirhnjukur is in fact a central volcano.
About one hundred thousand years ago, this was the site of a volcanic
cone that emitted great volumes of ash and then subsided. The caldera
thus formed has now filled with later volcanic material, so the
landscape looks flat. Underneath, however, there is a magma chamber at a
depth of about 3 kilometres.
Volcanic activity in
Krafla is periodic. The magma chamber expands by force of lava issuing
from below, which raises the ground. The magma chamber then suddenly
bursts and lava flows northwards or southwards through underground
fissures as the crust of the earth rifts. Part of the magma may be
forced to the surface in the form of an eruption. As the pressure in the
magma chamber decreases, the ground subsides quickly. This process
repeats itself at a few months' interval for a few years running.
Eruptions began in 1724
in the Lake Myvatn area with a violent explosion, which created the
crater Viti (The Inferno). A series of earthquakes and eruptions
occurred in the following years in the vicinity of Mt. Krafla. The
greatest eruption occurred in 1729 when lava ran from Mt. Leirhnjukur
all the way down to Lake Myvatn. During the eruption, the lava ran
around the church at Reykjahlid, which survived. After a dormant period
of 250 years, a new series of volcanic eruptions ensued in the area
around Mt. Krafla. These were the Krafla fires (1975–1984).
and Fauna at Lake Myvatn and River Laxa
Myvatn was created when the Younger Laxa Lava Field blocked a river
course extending into the Laxa Valley about 2,300 years ago.
Precipitation water permeates quickly into the bedrock in the volcanic
area and emerges as spring water at its edges. About 35 cubic metres of
water flow every second from a myriad of warm and cold springs on the
lake's east bank and from Lake Graenavatn. The water is rich in minerals
and is one of the main reasons for the fertility of Lake Myvatn. A vast
variety of algae grows in the lake, providing sustenance for midge
larvae and crabs, both of which are important food for birds and fishes.
Lake Myvatn is sufficiently large and its renewal of water sufficiently
slow for its ecosystem to flourish despite its altitude of 277 metres
above sea level. Vegetation on the bottom of the lake is ample and the
conditions for waterfowl are favourable, as the water is suitably
shallow. An abundance of midge larvae thrive on the bottom of the lake,
transforming into pupae and growing into full-sized midges, particularly
in the beginning of July and August.
Laxa discharges Lake Myvatn in three channels, Yztakvisl, Midkvisl and
Sydstakvisl. The river flows in small cascades between islets grown with
wood crane's bill, angelica, buttercups and willow. The river is home to
the Barrow's Goldeneye and Harlequin Ducks, and the trout fishing in
River Laxa ranks among the best in the world. The water in Lake Myvatn
often takes on a greenish or brownish tinge in the summertime because of
the blue-green algae (Cyanophyta) that inhabit the lake. The algae are
carried into River Laxa and form the basis of its food chain. River Laxa
is the most fertile river in Iceland. Black fly larvae constitute the
river's most important food for fish and fowl. The female black flies
distract blood from livestock and people to gain nourishment for
and Other Industries
farming has been the most important industry in the Lake Myvatn area for
centuries. Hay was obtained from the islands, lake banks and wetlands,
and each hayfield was small. Hay was transported by sleighs to the farms
in the wintertime. The remains of huts and out-lying sheep cots can be
seen in many places. Sulphur was processed for export from hot spring
areas, such as Mt. Namafjall and Fremrinamur.
exploitation of natural resources in the area has a long history. Trout
and Char fishing has been practiced for centuries. Eggs are collected
regularly from the most common duck species every spring.
1967, a diatomite (kieselguhr) plant was built at Bjarnarflag, where
diatomaceous deposits pumped up from the bottom of Lake Myvatn are dried
using geothermal steam. The Krafla power plant, built in 1974-1976,
exploits geothermal activity to produce electricity. The Lake Myvatn
region is one of the chief tourist attractions in Iceland and provides
various tourism-related services. Accommodation is available in hotels,
at various farms or at designated campsites. There are also restaurants
and grocery stores in the area.
widely known archaeological finds are connected with the Lake Myvatn
area. Boards, counters and dice from a Viking board game were found in a
grave near Baldursheimur in 1860. At the farm Hofsstadir, the remains of
a dwelling lodge from the 11th century were discovered in 1908. The
lodge was originally 45 metres in length. Of local ancient heroes,
Viga-Skuta is the most renowned. His feats are recounted in the
Reykdaela Saga and Viga-Glum's Saga. Viga-Skuta possessed a battle-axe
named Fluga, with which he slew many men. The ogress Kraka lived in the
Blahvammur cave on the side of Mt. Blafjall. She created the river Kraka
to wreak revenge upon the inhabitants of the area. Another ogress lived
at Skessuhali. She was petrified by the rising sun as she was returning
from Lake Myvatn on her boat, and can still be seen sitting on the rock
Nokkvinn (the barge), located south of Mt. Hverfjall. The most renowned
local ghost is Myvatnsskotta, a great cause of evil.
main environmental issues of the Lake Myvatn area are connected with the
processing of minerals and energy, as well as the erosion of soil. Plans
for large-scale power plants in the river Laxa, led to the Laxa river
dispute around 1970 and the subsequent legal protection of the area. A
nature research centre was established in the aftermath. Diatomite
mining disrupts the conditions for life in the lake. The Krafla
geothermal power plant has a noticeable impact on the landscape. Cinder
mining spoils the appearance of some of the craters in the area, most
notably in the Jardbadsholar hills. A great deal of erosion is in
progress east of Lake Myvatn, and the vegetation and landscape of
Dimmuborgir were threatened for some time by advancing sand dunes. Organized
soil cultivation is under way in order to stop the sand
formations and moss covers soon lose their appeal if they are broken or
The avifauna is sensitive to interruption.
Never litter, and help us keep the area clean.
Off-road driving is
Recreational vehicles and camping are permitted only in designated
Nature, with its diversity of life and landscapes, must be
treated with respect.
The locals should also be approached with
Please be extremely careful in geothermal areas and enjoy