PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir to Miss Meeting With Pence

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir will be attending the convention of Nordic trade unions when the official visit of USA vice president Mike Pence takes place. Katrín will hold the keynote speech at the convention while Pence’s visit is scheduled for September 2. Pence will stop in Reykjavík before heading to the United Kingdom and Ireland. His visit will focus on the geographical importance of Iceland in regards to the Arctic. Pence will also place emphasis on NATO operations to quell Russian activity in the area, as well as fostering and strengthening the business and investment relationship between Iceland and the USA.

“It was already known that I was offered to be the keynote speaker at the annual convention of the Nordic trade unions a long time ago, and like everyone knows I’ve never been one to shy away from labour market matters. It’s also been clear that the visit, which was planned by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, has been moving back and forth on the calendar so it has been difficult to plan around it,” Katrín said in an interview with RÚV.

Criticised visit
Opposition leaders have criticized Minister for Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson from the Independence Party, as he did not disclose that one of the main reasons for the visit was to discuss the geographical importance of Iceland in relation to the Arctic. Rósa Björk Brynjólfsdóttir, an MP from the eco-socialist Vinstri Græn, stated that the matter is unfortunate for the party. Rósa is a party colleague of Katrín. Furthermore, LGBTQ organization Samtökin 78 had criticized Pence’s visit on the grounds that his rhetoric and actions are anti-LGBTQ.

Katrín stated that her absence from the meeting has nothing do with the criticism. “No, not at all. However, we have a lot of projects to tend to. I had a good meeting with Mike Pompeo, the United States Secretary of State, earlier this year and likewise had a conversation with Donald Trump at a NATO meeting last year. I can assure everyone that when Mike Pence arrives in Iceland – I just hope the date is final now – that he will meet with Iceland’s finest leaders,” Katrín stated matter-of-factly.

When asked if it would have been expected that Katrín re-schedule for the VP, Minister for Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór had previously stated that he sees nothing wrong with Katrín’s absence. “It’s not always easy to [re-schedule], so I believe there is no reason to make it seem suspicious that she has other plans which were decided long in advance.”

USA to invest in Iceland
It was revealed recently that the United States Air Force will increase their activities significantly in Iceland, investing in facilities at Keflavík airport for around ISK 7 billion (€50m, $56m). The construction means that the US Air Force has facilities to operate two fighter squadrons at all times, ensuring that there are 18 to 24 fighter jets ready for operation. It is believed that this is to increase submarine surveillance in the North Atlantic and the Arctic. Along with this, Icelandic authorities will invest ISK 300 million (€2.1m, $2.4m) for maintenance of NATO facilities at Keflavík airport. Iceland was a founding member of NATO in 1949.

Land Rising Due to Melting Glaciers

The land around Höfn in Hornafjörður is rising rapidly due to the melting of the glaciers in the surrounding area. Normally, the most highlighted issue connected to global warming is the rise of sea levels which threatens communities and land close to sea level. In this case, the exact opposite is true as the land is rising to the tune of one centimetre per year.

“These are profound changes, especially in the area around Vatnajökull glacier,” says Páll Einarsson, professor emeritus in geophysics. The land in the East Iceland area is rising due to the rapid changes taking place for glaciers in the country. “It’s already had considerable effects in Höfn in Hornafjörður. There, the land is rising one centimetre per year,” Páll stated. The municipality of Höfn has invested significantly in construction projects to put a halt to the land-rise, or at the very least lessen its effects. “Hornafjörður is a clear example of the effect of climate change. In Höfn it’s a question of life or death for the town. If land rises significantly, the fjord can start to be impassable for ships.”

Hornafjörður became passable for ships in 1930 when the land had sunk enough for ships to be able to enter the natural lagoon in the area. Before that, a town was situated in nearby Papós í Lóni. That town became deserted as the town of Höfn grew in size. Vatnajökull glacier is the largest glacier in Iceland, covering 8% of the country’s total surface area.

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The area around Höfn í Hornafjörður is rising at a rate of one centimetre per year due to the melting of nearby Vatnajökull glacier.

The Icelandic Geological Survey measures both land rise and the sinking of land each year. “When the glaciers melt and lose weight, the earth’s crust rises. The foundation, the lower part of the crust, as well as the mantle, are soft below Iceland and gives way. It was profound close to the end of the ice age 10 to 18 thousand years ago. Now, the land is answering the glacial changes, which are significant enough for us to be able to measure them.” The land rise is happening at the most rapid rise in the Sprengisandur area. That area has risen about three centimetres per year for the last decades, and the land rise rate is only increasing.

Land sinking in South-West Iceland
The situation is different in South-West Iceland, as the land is sinking there. That part of the country is far from glaciers, but there’s also been a lack of volcanic activity in the area for a long time. “The Reykjanes peninsula sits on the plate boundary where the country is sliding apart. There’s been no volcanic activity there for around 800 years which means that the plate boundary sinks, as there’s a lack of material,” says Páll. This will change in a relatively short time, at least when it comes to geology, as volcanic activity is expected to resume in the next decades or hundreds of years. Areas which are vulnerable to land sinking, such as Seltjarnarnes and Álftanes, have had to react by placing expensive sea walls comprised of large rocks, on the coastline.

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Seltjarnarnes and Álftanes are threatened by rising sea levels. The coastline of both areas has been reinforce with sea walls made of large rocks

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The south-west peninsula of Iceland is sinking due to its placement near the Reykjanes tectonic plate ridge. A lack of volcanic activity in the area has led to a dearth of material.

Greenland glacier affects local conditions
The size of the Greenland glacier affects Iceland in two ways. The glacier has shrunk significantly due to global warming. “The mass of the Greenland glacier draws sea toward itself and forms a sort of sphere. The grand mass of the glacier is disappearing, and the attraction lessens which affects sea levels,” according to Páll. Greenland is rising due to the melting of the glaciers, much like Iceland, and the rise of Greeland also affects Iceland. The material in the mantle streams towards Greenland which leads to the sinking of the land under the South-West part of Iceland. The effect of the glacial changes in Iceland has a more profound effect, though.

Projections indicate that all of the Icelandic glaciers will have disappeared in 200 years due to global warming. “As things stand now, the world temperature appears to be rising. Then, the melting will take place in a shorter time span.”

Sunk British WWII Tanker Still Leaking Oil in Seyðisfjörður

The British tanker El Grillo is still leaking oil into Seyðisfjörður 75 years after it was sunk by a German air raid. The oil is killing off birds in the fjord while old oil can still be seen on beaches in the area. Municipal authorities intend to request the United Kingdom for assistance with cleaning up the wreck and preventing further pollution.

SS El Grillo was sunk after a German air raid on February 10, 1944. Although there were no casualties, the ship was heavily damaged and the captain decided to sink it to remove the ship as a target and a risk. The air raid, which set out from Norway, was comprised of three Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condors. The wreck lies at a depth between 22 to 45 metres, lying almost upright. The site is one of the more popular diving sites in the country.

Polluting the fjord
A significant amount of bunker oil seeped out into the fjord after the attack, and the subsequent voluntary sinking. Oil dirt can be seen under stones when they are turned, and a foul smell rises. The wreck constantly leaked oil, so cleaning operations have been carried out twice. The last one took place in 2001 when a Norwegian contractor was hired to clean out the estimated 2,000 tons of oil in the wreck. Ultimately, only 90 tons of oil were found and cleaned from the wreck.

The wreck is still leaking oil into the Seyðisfjörður fjord and is affecting local birdlife. Eider duck ducklings can ill handle the oil as it becomes stuck in their feathers and immobilize them. This development can be difficult to spot as seagulls quickly seize the easy prey. Visible oil slicks can be seen in the fjord itself.

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A duckling in the tidemark struggling to deal with oil

Rúnar Gunnarsson, head port security officer and chairman of the security council, says the conditions have been especially bad this summer in an interview with RÚV. “As the sea warms, more oil surfaces as the oil needs only a small change in temperature to start to move. The ship is presumably getting more and more damaged, as it’s laid there for 75 years. The current brings the oil into the fjord, which enters the beaches and affects the birds. It’s very serious. Adolescent birds and the eider duck ducklings can’t seem to handle the oil. The adult birds seem, for some reason, to handle the oil better, but the adolescent birds have died in drove this year,” a worried Rúnar said. He wants to see a floating pen placed over the wreck before the oil starts to rise again next summer. No-one knows for sure how much oil can be found in the wreckage. “I’ve heard people speak of 14 tons which is quite a lot in the grand scale of things. We are going to contact the British embassy and see whether the British want to take any part in the cleaning. When it boils down to it, it’s their ship. They owned the ship and the oil which went down with it.”

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El Grillo the day of the attack in Seyðisfjörður fjord

Wartime Iceland
Although Iceland remained neutral in World War II, the British invaded Iceland on May 10, 1940. The country was considered of strategic importance due to its position in the North Atlantic. It was mainly used as a base for Allied shipping convoys headed with supplies to Murmansk in northern Russia. On July 7, 1941, the United States took control of the defence of Iceland. It is believed that around 230 Icelanders lost their lives in the war, most on fishing and cargo vessels sunk by German aircraft, U-boats or mines.

Seyðisfjörður was home to one of the Allied bases in the country, as both warships and merchant vessels moored in the bay before heading to Russia. Seyðisfjörður was attacked once more in WWII, other than the attack which led to El Grillo’s sinking. On September 5, 1942, two German aeroplanes attacked Seyðisfjörður and dropped two bombs into the fjord. One of the bombs fell only seven metres from four boys who were playing in an old rowboat. Luckily, none of the boys lost their lives but one of the boys lost his leg while two others sustained injuries. Aðalbergur Þórarinsson was one of the boys and he was struck in the groin by a bomb shard. Although Aðalbergur long dealt with a fear of aeroplanes, he remains stoic about the event, “I bear no ill-will towards the man who flew the aeroplane. These were men who were summoned to war and were simply fighting.” Just last year, a group of twelve-year-old boys were throwing an active bomb between them, putting themselves at considerable risk. The bomb is believed to be from El Grillo’s anti-aircraft gun.

Seyðisfjörður is situated in East Iceland, home to 673 people. Nowadays it is home to an active art community, hosting the yearly art festival LungA. The ferry MS Norröna travels sails from Denmark to Seyðisfjörður, stopping in the Faroe Islands capital Tórshavn en route.

Video of the wreck, oil slicks in the fjord along with affected ducklings, can be seen here: