Glacial Outburst Flood Likely Begun in Skaftá

Electrical conductivity readings from the Skaftá river have increased and water levels by Sveinstindur have increased this morning, signifying that a glacial outburst flood is in progress. It is likely that the flood originated from the western Skaftá ice cauldron which last drained in 2019, although it is not impossible that a flood from the eastern cauldron might follow.

In addition to rising water levels and increased electrical conductivity, the Iceland Meteorological Office has also been notified of sulfuric smell in the area around Skaftá and Hverfisfljót. It is believed that the changes are not due to melting glaciers or rain, but rather that a glacial outburst flood has begun. Data suggests that the flood origin is in the western ice cauldron in the Vatnajökull glacier, which last flooded in September 2019. The western ice cauldron usually produces smaller floods than the eastern one.

The flow of Skaftá by Sveinstindur was around 290 m3/s at noon today but the Met Office doesn’t expect the maximum flow during this flood to surpass 750 m3/s. However, there is a possibility that water drains from the eastern ice cauldron on the heels of the current flood from the western one, as happened in August 2018.

It’s important that everyone who is travelling in the flood area is conscious of the situations that can arise and that travellers are well informed of the situations:

  • Flood conditions are expected in Skaftá over the next two to three days. Some flooding of unpaved roads close to Skaftá is possible.
  • Hydrogen sulphide is released from the floodwater as it drains from the Vatnajökull ice-cap. The gas is particularly potent at the ice margin, where concentrations will reach poisonous levels. Travellers must stay away from the edges of Skaftárjökull, Tungnaárjökull and Síðujökull while the flood occurs.
  • Crevasses will develop rapidly around the ice cauldron, so travellers on Vatnajökull should stay away from the region, including the lower part of Skaftárjökull and Tungnaárjökull, where floodwater could burst through the surface.

Floods in Skaftá are sourced from two ice cauldrons, formed due to persistent geothermal activity beneath Vatnajökull. On average, the cauldrons drain every two years, producing floods of up to 1,500 cubic metres per second. When the interval between floods is short, the flood tends to be smaller. The eastern cauldron is responsible for the largest floods. The river has flooded at least 58 times since 1955, with each cauldron usually draining at a two-year interval.

In Focus: Iceland’s Dairy Industry

There is a famous cow in Norse mythology named Auðhumla. According to myth, she played a key role in the creation of the world – milk from her udders fed the first giants and she freed the first god, Búri, by licking on a salt block. Iceland’s first settlers not only drank milk, they used […]

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In Focus: Upcoming Parliamentary Elections

Photo by Golli

Icelanders will head to the voting booths on September 25, where individuals from the country’s various parties will vie for 63 seats from the country’s six constituencies: the Northwest (8), Northeast (10), South (10), Southwest (13), Reykjavík South (11), and Reykjavík North (11). The elections could mark the first time that women gain a majority […]

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End of the Road: Paving the Way to the Last Town in East Iceland

The paving of a 15-kilometre [9.3-mile] section of road to the town of Borgarfjörður eystri, East Iceland, marks a turning point for transport in East Iceland. When it is completed, all of the towns in the Fljótsdalshérað region will be connected to paved roads.

The road in question runs north from Egilsstaðir through Úthérað. Héraðsverk took on the project for ISK 666 million [$5.28 million/€4.47 million] and constructions crews are getting started at the site now. “There’s been a lot of traffic, but it is declining now,” project manager Viðar Hauksson told Stöð 2. “So now we can go full steam.”

Residents of Borgarfjörður eystri campaigned for a paved road to the isolated town for years, even paving a section themselves in protest of the government’s inaction. The new paved section will for the most part follow the route of the current gravel road, Viðar says, though the new road will be wider and easier for locals and tourists to drive year-round.

Borgarfjörður eystri, population 98, features a café, hotel, fish factory, and puffin colony.

Read More: Fragile Hope

Golli. Puffins in Borgarfjörður Eystri

First Election Debate Covered Economy, Climate, and Healthcare

election debate 31 august 2021

The first televised debate for Iceland’s upcoming election on September 25 was held last night by national broadcaster RÚV. Party leaders of all ten parties officially running discussed their party platforms, as well as three of the main issues for the upcoming elections: the economy, climate, and healthcare system.

Eight parties poll high enough to win seat

The debate featured ten party representatives, mostly chairmen:

  • Þórhildur Sunna Ævarsdóttir, Pirate Party representative (Southwest constituency)
  • Logi Einarsson, Social-Democratic Alliance Chairman
  • Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Left-Green Movement Chairperson and current Prime Minister
  • Sigurður Ingi Jóhansson, Progressive Party Chairman
  • Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir, Reform Party Chairperson
  • Bjarni Benediktsson, Independence Party Chairman
  • Inga Sæland, People’s Party Chairperson
  • Gunnar Smári Egilsson, Socialist Party representative (Reykjavík North constituency)
  • Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, Centre Party Chairman
  • Glúmur Baldvinsson, representative of the Liberal Democratic Party (Reykjavík South constituency)

According to a recent poll conducted by Gallup, eight of these parties polled high enough to win at least one seat in Parliament. When it comes to the three parties that form the current coalition government, just over 24% of respondents stated they would vote for the Independence Party; just over 12% for the Left-Green Movement, and just under 10% for the Progressive Party.

Just under 12% of respondents stated they would vote for the Social-Democratic Alliance. The Pirate Party and Reform Party both polled at just under 11% while The Socialist Party polled at 8% and the Centre Party at 7%. Parties require 5% of the vote to win a seat in Parliament. The People’s Party polled just under that figure while the Liberal Democratic Party polled around 0.7%. Nearly 11% of respondents did not take a stance while over 7% stated they would not vote or would submit a blank ballot.

Taxes and fishing quota fees

The debate covered three main topics: economics, climate, and healthcare, on which the party leaders expressed their differing views. On economy, current Finance Minister and Independence Party leader Bjarni Benediktsson stated the party did not have plans for large investments or raising taxes, preferring rather to keep interest rates low and support businesses. Social-Democratic Alliance Chairman Logi Einarsson stated his party would raise fishing quota fees and taxes on the richest 2%. Left-Green Chairperson and current Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir emphasised the importance of a stepped tax system in support of wage equality, while the Centre Party promised cash payments to voters of ISK 100,000 [$794/€672] per year as well as shares in Íslandsbanki bank.

Reform Party Chairperson Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdótir emphasised the importance of increasing economic growth in order to be able to invest in social welfare while Socialist Party representative Gunnar Smári wanted to lower taxes on those with the lowest income. People’s Party Chair Inga Sæland proposed raising the minimum wage and disability and pension benefits as well as raising fishing fees and taxes on banks. Progressive Party Chairman Sigurður Ingi Jóhansson praised the current government’s pandemic response measures for maintaining economic stability and promised an additional child benefit paid to families.

Pirate Party representative Þórhildur Sunnar Ævarsdóttir criticised the current government for neglecting those who were hit hardest by the pandemic recession. It’s necessary to do more for those who lost their jobs and have the least. The government prioritised businesses over people who needed the most support, she stated. Glúmur Baldvinsson, representative of the Liberal Democratic Party, stated it was crucial to impose higher taxes on the fishing industry, which would improve the state of the treasury.

Climate Goals and Measures

Logi Einarsson stated the Social-Democratic Alliance wanted to set more ambitious climate goals than the current government as well as speeding up the construction of the Borgarlína rapid bus transit system. Bjarni Benediktsson stressed the importance of building up new energy industries to replace oil. Inga Sæland stated that green taxes should targe those who pollute the most and not those low-income groups, while Glúmur stated the current government put too much of its budget toward climate issues. Centre Party Chairman Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson stated that Iceland could contribute to global climate goals by building up industry, which would be more environmentally-friendly in Iceland than elsewhere.

Healthcare system

Socialist Party representative Gunnar Smári stated that the party aimed to eliminate fees in the healthcare system entirely, as data showed that low-income residents avoided seeking healthcare treatment due to high costs. The Reform Party campaigned for increased collaboration with private healthcare providers in order to shorted waitlists, for which the Progressive Party also expressed support. Katrín Jakobsdóttir pointed out the current government had increased funding to the healthcare system and stated that the Left-Green Movement would continue to do so. Sigmundur Davíð proposed the government would pay damages to patients that had waited longer than three months for necessary operations.

No coalitions promised

The crowdsourced constitution and membership in the European Union were also touched on in the debate. All three chairmen of the parties in the current governing coalition stated they would consider continuing the coalition if the three parties won enough seats to do so. However, all parties stated they were campaigning on their individual platform and made no promises of collaboration. The next debate will be held on Friday, September 24, the night before election day.