Scientists from the University of Edinburgh analysed rocks along a 5km stretch of the canyon – which contains the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river and the mighty Dettifoss waterfall – to create a timeline of how the landscape was created.
They connected major changes in the landscape to floods that occurred 9,000, 5,000 and 2,000 years ago.
By using geochemical analysis, the researchers were able to determine how long rocks on the canyon walls had been exposed to the elements – helping them pinpoint how the shape of the landscape had changed over time.
The floods were caused by volcanic activity under the glaciers, forming the canyon’s 100-metre walls and pushing three waterfalls – including Dettifoss – back upstream by up to 2km each time.
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.