Travel Advisory: Glacial Flood in South Iceland

The Icelandic Met Office has issued a travel advisory for Southern Iceland, where the Skaftá river is expected to experience a glacial outburst flood (jökulhlaup) over the next few days. According to the announcement, “GPS measurements from the eastern Skaftá cauldron on Vatnajökull show that the ice-shelf above the lake is lowering. This is an early sign of the onset of an outburst flood (jökulhlaup), which will affect the river Skaftá in southern Iceland. The jökulhlaup is expected to reach the edge of Vatnajökull late on Friday 3 August, with the peak of the flood possible during the early hours of Sunday 5 August.”

Travellers are strongly advised to avoid travel near the Skaftá river during the coming days. The advisory also notes that “in addition to flooding along Skaftá, gas pollution from the floodwater could affect the region, particularly at the edge of Skaftárjökull.”

A glacial outburst flood is a subglacial outburst of water usually triggered by geothermal heating and occasionally by eruptions.

According to Hulda Rós Helgadóttir, a natural disaster expert working for the Met Office who spoke to RÚV about the event, the flooding, which began around 1:00 PM local time on Friday, started much earlier than scientists anticipated. Based on measurements and data from the last glacial outburst flood, which took place in 2015, it’s currently expected that the flood waters will take 10 – 12 hours to reach the Ring Road (Route 1).

Drivers with Foreign Citizenship 40% of Those Stopped for DUIs

Roughly 40% of people stopped by capital-area police since the start of the year for driving under the influence have foreign citizenship, RÚV reports. In total, 1,300 people have been suspected of this infraction; 1,135 individuals have actually been stopped by police.

There have been 670 people suspected of driving under the influence of illegal drugs and 622 suspected of driving drunk. When compared to the same time period over the last three years, this is a 53% increase in people driving while high and a 40% increase in people driving while intoxicated.

Criminologist Helga Gunnarsson says that the increase in these cases could be attributed to a parallel increase in police surveillance.

Special Forces to be Present at Westman Islands Festival

Two officers from Iceland’s special forces unit will be present at the Þjóðhátíð Festival in the Westman Islands this weekend, RÚV reports. This was confirmed by police commissioner Haraldur Johannessen in a written response to questions submitted to him by the press.

Þjóðhátíð is the largest festival taking place over Merchant’s Weekend. It’s estimated that 15,000 people will be present at the height of festivities. The festival has come under scrutiny in recent years over the number of sexual assaults that were reported as taking place there, and received criticism over how local law enforcement has responded to these incidents.

The police chief in the Westman Islands specifically requested that members of special forces attend the festival this year, but officers from this unit will not be present at any other celebrations or festivals taking place over the coming Merchant’s Weekend holiday. Two members of special forces were also present at last year’s Þjóðhátíð Festival, for the first time in three years.

Bottlenose Whales Spotted in Northern and Eastern Fjords

An unusually high number of northern bottlenose whales (Hyperoodon ampullatus) have been sighted in fjords in North and East Iceland, RÚV reports. It’s unknown why these creatures have been frequenting Icelandic waters, but whatever the reason, it’s been a treat for landbound whale-watchers and nature enthusiasts.

Pods of bottlenose whales have remained around the Akureyri waterfront over the last few days. They’ve also been spotted further east around villages such as Þórshöfn and Borgarfjörður Eystri.

While scientists are unsure why the bottlenoses have been spending time in the area in such numbers, they do know that they are not in search of food in Icelandic fjords. “No, bottlenoses are deep-sea whales,” explained marine/fisheries biologist Hreiðar Þór Valtýsson. “They’re part of the Ziphiidae family and are big deep-sea and open-water animals. Most whale species head south in the fall and maybe they’ve wandered into the fjords here on their way.”

Bottlenose whales have been known to enjoy long stopovers in Iceland before, but tend to leave just as quickly as they appear. During the summer of 2008, a pod of them remained around the Akureyri waterfront for many weeks and became a major tourist attraction in the process. Days after an informational placard about the pod had been put up along the water’s edge, however, they’d decided to move on.

Fewer Foreigners, More Icelanders Booking Overnight Accommodation

Overnight accommodations booked by foreigners were down this June as compared with June of 2017, Kjarninn reports. This marks the first time since 2008 that June bookings among foreign tourists have been lower from one year to the next. At the same time that foreign bookings have been down, however, overnight stays booked by Icelanders have been on the increase.

Figures published by Statistics Iceland show that while the number of overall bookings has remained largely unchanged since last year—1.189 million bookings in 2017 to 1.195 million bookings in 2018—the number of overnight stays booked by foreign tourists (835,000 in June 2018) was down by 3% this year. By contrast, 163,000 Icelanders booked overnight stays in June 2018, which marks a 21% increase from the same time period last year. This represents the largest increase in domestic overnight stays as compared to those of foreign visitors since 2010, as well as the largest number of domestic overnight bookings that have ever been recorded in the month of June.