Fjallabak Nature Reserve was established in 1979. The Nature reserve is 47.000 hectares and is over 500 meters above see level. The land is mountainous, sculptured by volcanoes and geothermal activity, covered by lavas, sands, rivers and lakes.
The objective of Nature Reserves is to protect natural features so that forthcoming generations will have the opportunity to enjoy them as we do today. In order to achieve this the country code of conduct is enforced to prevent damage to nature and to the appearance of the land. The desolate wilderness and tranquility are the main characteristics of the Fjallabak Nature Reserve, which thousands of travellers enjoy every year. Guests in the area are reminded to abide by the code of the Nature Reserve so as to conserve its natural features and to support recreation in this popular area for the enjoyment of future generations as our own.
The Fjallabak region takes its name from the numerous wild and rugged mountains with deeply incised valleys, which are found there. The topography of the Torfajokull, central volcano found within the Fjallabak Nature Reserve, is a direct result of the region being the largest rhyolite area in Iceland and the largest geothermal area (after Grimsvotn in Vatnajokull).
The Torfajokull central volcano is an active volcanic system, but is now in a declining fumarolic stage as exemplified by numerous fumaroles and hot springs. The hot pools at Landmannalaugar are but one of many manifestations of geothermal activity in the area, which also tends to alter the minerals in the rocks, causing the beautiful colour variations from red and yellow to blue and green, a good example being Brennisteinsalda. Geologists believe that the Torfajokull central volcano is a caldera, the rim being Haalda, Suðurnamur, Norður-Barmur, Torfajokull, Kaldaklofsfjoll and Ljosartungur.
The bedrock of the Fjallabak Nature Reserve dates back 8-10 million years. At that time the area was on the Reykjanes – Langjokull ridge rift zone. The volcano has been most productive during the last 2 million years, that is during the last Ice Age Interglacial rhyolite lava (Brandsgil) and sub-glacial rhyolite (erupted under ice/water, examples being Blahnukur and Brennisteinsalda are characteristic formations in the area. To the north of the Torfajokull region sub-glacial volcanic activity produced the hyaloclastites (moberg) mountains, such as Lodmundur and Mogilshofdar.
Volcanic activity in recent times (last 10.000 years) has been restricted to a few northeast – southwest fissures, the most recent one, the Veidivotn fissure from 1480, formed Laugahraun (by the hut at Landmannalaugar), Namshraun, Nordurnamshraun, Ljotipollur and other craters which extend 30 km, further to the north Eruptions in the area tend to be explosive and occur every 500 – 800 years, previous known eruptions being around A. D 150 and 900.
The average temperature in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve is probably 0-1°C. Temperatures between 5-14°C may be expected in July and August, and in the winter the average temperature is about –6°C. Mountain areas have a tendency to alter the general weather situation, and the Torfajokull Mountains are no exception. The most important local weather variations being; lowering of temperatures, increases in wind speed, local changes in wind direction, production of fog and mist, increased likelihood of rain and snow. As a rough guide, winds from the south to southeast rend to bring rain and bad weather whereas north to northeast winds usually bring cold but finer weather. Always be prepared for sudden and unexpected variations – they are frequent.
Plants are primary producers. In short this means, when they grow they utilize solar energy to make the most of the inorganic nutrients from the soil and air. All other life lives on plants either directly or indirectly.
The weather, soil and animal life determines the extent of the vegetation in each place.
Because of the cold climate in the Nature Reserve, the vegetation’s growing period is only about two moths every year, and the formation of soil very slow. The soil is deficient in fully rotted and weathered minerals and is therefore rough and incoherent, furthermore wind and water transport is easily. Sandstorms, common in large parts of the area, as well as volcanic eruptions cover the Nature Reserve with lava and ash. If all these conditions are born in mind, together with the region being heavily grazed through the years it does not come as a surprise that vegetation is scarce in the Nature Reserve. Continuous vegetation cover is rather small and the largest and greenest vegetated areas are close to rivers and lakes i. e. the Kylingar area, which is a continuous fenland with pools and ponds and various marsh plants. The acidic rhyolite bedrock is largely barren, but the hyaloclastite formations are often clothed in moss top to bottom.
About 150 types of flowering plants, ferns and allies have been distinguished. Least willow is common on dry sands and lava, and cotton grass in marshes. Lowland vegetation is found nest to the geothermal area at Landmannalaugar with common sedge widespread and marsh cinquefoil pleasing the eye.