Deep North Episode 12: Public Transport Funding

Strætó bus Reykjavík miðborgin umferð fólk

With ambitious climate goals, rising oil prices, and an energy transition underway, many Icelandic politicians want to de-centre the private automobile. One might assume that public transportation in Iceland would simultaneously see increased support. Sadly, this has not been the case, and in addition to large budget deficits in 2022, public bus service Strætó has seen significant cuts in service, alongside some of the largest price hikes in recent years.

Read more about the funding of public transportation in Iceland in our recent In Focus piece.

2023 Reindeer Hunting Quota Released

Reindeer hunting Iceland

Iceland’s reindeer hunting quota for 2023 will be up to 901 reindeer: 475 cows and 426 bulls. This number is subject to the condition that there will be no significant changes in stock size until the hunting season begins. The Environment Agency of Iceland released the quota yesterday.

The bull hunting season will be from July 15 to September 15 inclusive. In the period from July 15 to August 1, hunting of bulls is only permitted provided that they are not accompanied by cows and that the hunting does not disturb cows and calves during summer grazing.

Cow hunting season is from August 1 to September 20. During the first two weeks of the hunting season, hunters and guides are strongly advised to avoid killing cows that are suckling calves as much as possible. These recommendations are intended to reduce the impact of hunting on calves and to ensure that calves do not become motherless before 12 weeks of age. The quota is split between nine regions to ensure a more even impact on the reindeer population.

Orange Weather Warning for North Iceland and Westfjords

orange weather warning

The Icelandic Met Office has upgraded its weather warning for North Iceland and the Westfjords tomorrow from yellow to orange. Yellow weather warnings have been issued for the rest of the country as well. A south and southwest gale will begin tomorrow morning and hit hardest in the afternoon. Warnings remain in effect in areas of North Iceland and the Westfjords until early Sunday morning.

The gale will bring south and southwest winds at 20-28 metres per second, with strong gusts expected close to mountains. These conditions are particularly hazardous for vehicles that are sensitive to wind and residents are advised to secure outdoor furniture and belongings. Snow showers and poor visibility are expected throughout the evening across the entire country.

Travellers can monitor weather conditions on the website of the Icelandic Met Office and road conditions on road.is.

Increased Geothermal Activity at Askja

Askja

Satellite images taken two days ago indicate increased geothermal activity at the bottom of Lake Askja, part of the Askja volcanic system in Iceland’s highland. Increased geothermal activity coincides with land deformation (uplift) and seismic activity in the region. There are no signs of an imminent eruption.

The Volcanology and Natural Hazard Group at the University of Iceland published a series of satellite images of Askja on their Facebook page yesterday, showing large thaw holes in the ice on the lake as compared to previous years. “The thaw holes that appeared [January 8] are big and can only be explained by increased geothermal heat in the water. That’s in line with the signs of uplift and earthquakes that have been measured (see Icelandic Met Office). So, it is therefore worth being vigilant about Askja these days.”

GPS measurements show that the land around Askja has risen about half a metre since August 2021, when monitoring began. The development has been relatively steady, with little seismic activity. In September 2021, the National Police Commissioner declared an “uncertainty phase” due to the uplift that remains in effect.

The last eruption at Askja occurred in 1961. It lasted 5-6 weeks and produced about 0.1km3 of basaltic lava, considered a moderate eruption. Askja lake is the youngest caldera in the volcanic system, occupied by a lake measuring 12km2 [4.6mi2] and 200m [656ft] deep. Askja erupts on average 2-3 times every century.

Frost

Individually, snowflakes are fragile, easily broken, dissolving into droplets of water at the mere touch of a finger or a breath of air, while en masse, they’re capable of wreaking havoc on the city streets and causing catastrophe when avalanching down a mountainside.

Contrary to expectation, the correlation between outside temperature and the feeling of cold is less straightforward than people would think. It’s the wind that gets you.

At -19°C [-2.2°F], everything feels crisp. The air, certainly, but also the few rays of light that make it all the way up north at this time of year. The horizon turns an impossibly pastel shade of blue or pink and the grey streaks on the sides of the mountains solidify into a texture that, from a distance, looks soft to the touch.

They say there’s no such thing as bad weather: only a bad attitude to whatever conditions nature offers. Besides, bad weather is good weather under the right conditions. Snuggling beneath a warm blanket wouldn’t be half as nice if the sun were out and temperatures were warm.The weather is an opportunity: a not-so-blank canvas on which one can impose one’s limited imagination.

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These past two months have suggested, however, that the gods have come to show a more determined frigidity towards their human subjects: a lasting and glowering disapproval for our nonchalance towards nature.

Temperatures in Iceland usually vacillate. The weather here is infamously fickle. As if the product of temperamental gods, bestowing, depending on their mood – commendation or condemnation on the mortals dwelling below them.

It’s hard to describe the feeling when you breathe deep in -19°C weather and – for a split second – your nose freezes shut.

We care about the cold weather only as it affects our human lives. We lament that the accompanying snow has blocked the road to the airport. That the municipalities have been lacklustre in their clearing of sidewalks.

And we, worst of all, remain continually apprehensive that the utility companies will announce the indefinite closure of the public pools. Otherwise, the constant cold has made for beautiful weather. Less wind, clearer skies; there’s beauty in steadfastness.

The ground is frozen solid. Icicles form along the gutters of roofs. And birds struggle to eke out their existence. Cars are warmed before passengers clamber inside. Old people slip on the sidewalks. And the unhoused entreat the municipalities to keep the shelters open around the clock. But even so, nature’s long exhalation of cold air provides pleasant relief for a mind dreading the coming warmth. 

Fishing Industry Parties Sign 10-Year Collective Agreement

Fish processing workers preparing salt cod

Four seafood industry unions signed a 10-year collective agreement with Fisheries Iceland (Samtök fyrirtækja í sjávarútvegi, or SFS) last night. The new agreement emphasises wage hikes in line with those of the Federation of General and Special workers in Iceland (SGS), a rise in pension contributions, and increased safety and health for workers. Workers will vote on the agreement in the coming weeks, but negotiators on all sides have expressed satisfaction with the outcome.

On the Icelandic labour market, collective agreements are often negotiated for 2-3 year periods. According to Vísir, the newly-signed fishing industry agreement could be the longest in Icelandic history. Four unions are signatories to the agreement with SFS: the Association of Shipmasters (Félag skipstjórnarmanna), the Seamen’s Association of Iceland (Sjómannasamband Íslands), the Seamen’s and Engineers’ Association of Grindavík (Sjómanna- og vélstjórafélag Grindavíkur) and the VM Association of Engineers and Metal Technicians (VM Félag vélstjóra og máltæknimanna).

The last collective agreement between these parties expired three years ago, and previous negotiations, last held in 2021, proved unsuccessful. The parties began negotiating again at the start of this year and now have an agreement to show for it. Chairman of the Seamen’s Association of Iceland Valmundur Valmundsson said the mood among negotiators was positive and called the agreement a watershed for workers in the industry, which ensured wage hikes in line with hikes on the general labour market as well as better pension benefits. The agreement also establishes a special safety committee to increase emphasis on the health and safety of workers at sea.

The Icelandic seafood industry is one of the country’s key industries, employing around 7,500 people or approximately 3.9% of the workforce. The seafood industry contributes around 8% directly to Iceland’s GDP, but its indirect contributions are much greater. Marine products account for 43% of the value of Iceland’s exported goods.