Witnessing the aurora borealis, commonly referred to as the Northern Lights, is nothing short of a magical experience. These celestial curtains of green, pink, and violet are on the bucket list of many travellers and Iceland is one of the worlds best locations for experiencing the lights.
The big question is, where, when and how does one witness this magical show?
Aurora Basecamp: Your Prime Destination for Aurora Insights
Before diving into the science of the Northern Lights forecast let’s look at some of the locations that are well suited to enjoy your night-out because even though knowing your Kpi’s and Bz’s is good it is still far less important than knowing where to go and what to look for.
This is where the domes at Aurora Basecamp, with the purpose designed Darkpark comes in. Originally designed and built just before the Covid-19 pandemic, its owners (all seasoned Northern Lights Guides) used the time to fine-tune the place for giving the best possible advice and assistance to people that were looking to experience the Northern lights for the first time.
The “Secret Sauce ” component in the visit to Aurora Basecamp is the 10 min “training” session in the Darkpark which, as the name implies, is a blackout dome designed to help your eyes get adjusted to the dark. It takes the human eye approx 10 minutes to maximise the colour night vision and until that is done people will have a hard time seeing the faint green light emitted from Northern Lights when they are just getting started and most people will likely just drive by without any sightings.
During the 10 minutes spent there, the Aurora Basecamp guide will teach you what to look for and what type of light pollution ruins your visibility (spoiler alert: it is not the nearby city lights).
Aside from the Darkpark, the whole Aurora Basecamp has everything you could possibly want from a Northern Lights Observatory. Heated domes, Restrooms, Outside campfires and knowledgeable guides and most importantly a great sighting location in the middle of the lava field.
For those eager to chase the Northern Lights in Iceland, the Aurora Basecamp should be your first stop. Here’s why:
- Learn what to look for in the Aurora Basecamp Darkpark: Knowing the subtle signs that are hardly visible to the untrained eye is the single most important step you can take in your search for the aurora borealis.
- Live Aurora Forecast Updates: The camp provides real-time aurora forecast insights, ensuring you’re always in the know.
- Interactive Learning: Before you set out, immerse yourself in understanding the science behind the Northern Lights. Knowledge enhances experience, after all!
- Campfire Chronicles: Share stories, learn from seasoned aurora chasers, and bond over shared anticipation beside a roaring campfire.
Book your aurora borealis experience at aurorabasecamp.is for a complete immersion in the world of Northern Lights.
Best Places to See and Enjoy the Aurora Borealis in Reykjanes Iceland
Once you’re equipped with the knowledge, it’s time to scout for locations. Here are some good spots in Reykjanes that are well within reach from Reykjavik capital area.
If you are looking to stay warm during your Northern Lights hunt then this is the place. Hot chocolate and heated domes to warm up and campfire and wild lava rock outside that form a great background to your pictures.
Kleifarvatn Lake Overlook
Beyond its natural beauty, the serene waters of Kleifarvatn Lake, on a clear night, offer a reflective view of the auroras, doubling the spectacle. The aurora forecast often shows heightened activity in this region due to its dark skies, devoid of light pollution.
Geldingadalir Volcano Parking
Since the eruption of March 2020, this spot has turned into a popular aurora site due to accessibility. It has limited visibility to the North so secure a place in the eastern upper parking lot for a better view.
While popular due to its proximity to the capital, Grótta shines bright when the aurora forecast promises high KP numbers but is more suited for those that don’t have a car due to limited space and light pollution from fellow travellers.
Grindavíkurvegur Rest Area
A strategic stop if you’re travelling from Reykjavík or the airport. The vast skies here offer a panoramic view, especially on nights when the aurora forecast is promising.
The Bridge Between Continents
Besides its geological significance, this bridge offers a unique perspective of the sky, especially on nights with a strong aurora forecast.
Lighthouse at Garður
Overlooking the vast ocean, this spot magnifies the aurora experience, especially when the forecast suggests heightened activity.
Great open view to the north and a good parking place by the church but the site is frequently occupied by big buses so expect some crowds on clear days.
Understanding the Aurora Forecast for Iceland
Now that you know your potential locations it’s crucial to understand what the aurora forecast is and how it can help you chase the northern lights in Iceland.
Popular (but inaccurate) science says that the higher the forecast’s KP number (a scale that measures geomagnetic activity), the higher the chances of seeing the Northern Lights.
The Kp-index is a three-hour global average measure of geomagnetic activity, representing the average of geomagnetic disturbances. It is a scale that goes from 0 to 9, with 0 indicating very low geomagnetic activity and 9 indicating a significant geomagnetic storm.
While the level of geomagnetic activity does influence the visibility, strength, and location of the Northern Lights it is important to note the words “average” and “three-hour”. This means that a night with a low Kpi forecast might give a great show and similarly that a high Kpi evening might have a No-Show.
The Bz component of the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) is however vital for predicting the Northern Lights, or auroras. This component indicates the north-south orientation of the magnetic fields carried by solar wind from the sun.
The alignment between Earth’s magnetosphere and the IMF hinges on the Bz’s direction.
When the Bz is southward (negative), it aligns opposite to Earth’s northward-pointing magnetic field, allowing the two to connect. This is akin to the attraction between opposite poles of regular magnets.
This connection facilitates the flow of charged particles from the sun into Earth’s magnetosphere. Once inside, these particles follow the Earth’s magnetic field lines towards the polar regions. Upon reaching the atmosphere, they collide with oxygen and nitrogen atoms. These collisions cause the atoms to emit light, resulting in the mesmerising displays we recognise as the Northern Lights.
Thus, for aurora hunters, monitoring the Bz component is key. A southward Bz boosts the chances of observing the Northern Lights. Keeping track of the Bz orientation, especially during periods of strong solar activity, can enhance the predictability of these stunning natural light shows, making the hunt more successful.
The Cloud Cover
The single most important factor of a northern lights visibility is the cloud cover. Thick clouds will prevent any display even when all other conditions are met. We therefore put in the extra effort when designing the Cloud Cover for the Aurora forecast and it has become one of the most important tools for a successful Northern lights chase in Iceland along with the combined Satellite images and weather radar display of thick clouds and precipitation.
While the forecast is mostly useful for a Go and a No-Go decision by the tour operators, the actual satellite images can be used if you want to explore possible gaps coming your way.
Just remember that the weather changes quickly in Iceland and even thick clouds can hide a gap big enough for a beautiful show of Northern Lights when the activity is going your way. For this, patience is key.
Tips for Using Aurora Forecast
- Check Multiple Times: Solar activity can change, so it’s good to check the forecast multiple times throughout the day.
- Seeing some stars during your drive is a more important predictor of a sighting than a high KP number. Pay more attention to the Bz as that might give an early warning.
- Use the Sat images to spot gaps in the clouds. The gaps move as the wind blows so picking a good spot and waiting is often more successful than driving around in the dark.
The pursuit of the Northern Lights, aided by a reliable aurora forecast, is among the most exhilarating experiences one can have. While Iceland offers a plethora of spots to witness this phenomenon, being in the right place at the right time, equipped with the latest forecast, ensures that you don’t miss out on nature’s grandest show. Whether it’s at Aurora Basecamp or the tranquil expanse by Kleifarvatn Lake, may your aurora chase be successful and memorable.