A little more than a century ago, or just after the year 1900, the Danish government began mapping Iceland and the work started in the southeast. At that time glaciers were at a miximum after a long cold spell that lasted for decades. With regard to mapping glaciers this was good timing and the Danish maps from this time depict well the glacier maximum. It´s estimated that the glacier extent around 1900 had not been as great for over two thousand years. Since the turn of the 20th century the glaciers have retreated and are doing so at a fast rate but their retreat has fluctuated. Although difficult to estimate it is not unlikely that the present extent of glaciers in Iceland is more like what is was when Iceland was settled some 1100 years ago. On the image below the glacier outline is shown on the Danish map of Skeiðarár- and Svínafell glaciers in the year 1904. Note that the Skaftafell og Svínafell outlet glaciers are joined together and mount Hafrafell, to where the road now extends, was fenced off by glacier ice. Also noteworthy on the map is to see position of Sheiðará river at this time. The river flows below Skaftafell and onward, almost to the where the camping site is now.
Below is a photograph from the year 1929 showing how Skaftafellsjökull and Svínafellsjökull are still joined together and reaching Hafrafell can only be done by crossing the ice. The two glaciers were joined together until 1940. The photograph is probably taken by working on the telephone line. A few telephone poles can be seen in the sand.
The areal photo below was taken on August 29th, 1986 (NLI) and shows conditions by Skaftafellsjökull at that time. The lagoon had not formed and vegetation had only to a small degree covered the new land.
Below is shown, for comparison, the position of Skaftafellsjökull in 2012. A long stretch by Hafrafell foothill is icefree and a large lagoon has begun to form in front of the glacier edge center. Behind the concave glacial moraine the “new” land dips sharply inland and between it and the ice behind a a lagoon has formed. The lagoon can be expected to increase in extent but the Skaftafellsá river may deepen its path in the future and thus lower the water table in the lagoon that might thus actually disappear or be much reduced.
To reach Svínafellsjökull you drive to Hafrafell along the gravel road from highway 1, just east of the Skaftafellsá river. There is a good parking site by Hafrafell mountain, just by the a newly formed lagoon in front of the Svínafellsjökull. This lagoon has increased rapidly in the last years and if ice melting will continue a big lake will probably be formed here within a few years.