Is Iceland Spar your national crystal? Is it a popular product in Icelandic gift shops?

iceland spar geology crystal

Iceland has no official “national crystal,” but if such a title were ever bestowed, Iceland spar would likely be a contender. Known alternatively as Icelandic spar or optical calcite, this crystal gained its name from its initial European introduction via the Helgustaðir mine in East Iceland during the 17th century (although the crystal is found in other parts of the world).

Iceland spar is celebrated for its unique optical properties, most notably its capacity for double refraction. This characteristic has made it a subject of extensive scientific inquiry. Historically, Iceland spar may have served navigational purposes. It’s speculated that Vikings used a “sólarsteinn” or sunstone, to determine the sun’s direction under cloudy skies or twilight conditions, and the likely candidate for this sunstone is Iceland spar.

We reached out to two gift shops in Reykjavík to inquire about the availability of Iceland spar. Only one shop sold the crystal – and it was imported rather than locally sourced.

Minister Denies University’s Appeal for Registration Fee Hike

icelandic startups

The Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation in Iceland, Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir, has denied a request from the country’s four public universities to increase registration fees, citing the financial strain already faced by students. The minister urges universities to improve the quality of education without raising fees.

Presidents appeal to ministry

Last year, the presidents of Iceland’s four public universities – the University of Iceland, the University of Akureyri, Hólar University, and the Agricultural University of Iceland – approached the Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation to seek legislative changes that would allow them to increase registration fees from ISK 75,000 [$553 / €516] to ISK 95,000 [$700 / €654]. The fee has remained unchanged since 2014.

In December 2022, Jón Atli Benediktsson, President of the University of Iceland, stated that it was “timely to adjust the fee.” He explained that the next fiscal year would be challenging for the University of Iceland, as many academic departments were facing financial constraints. Student numbers had declined again after an increase during the pandemic, resulting in lower financial contributions from the state budget.

Jón Atli also maintained that the government had not fulfilled the promises made in the coalition agreement to increase funding for universities to the OECD average by the year 2020.

Tuition disguised as registration fees

As noted in an article on the matter on RÚV, students have long criticised the registration fee, calling it a disguised tuition fee. Rebekka Karlsdóttir, then President of the Student Council of the University of Iceland, stated that it was “no coincidence” that university presidents were seeking a fee increase precisely when the budget was under discussion in Parliament.

She stated that authorities and university officials must “stop sugar-coating the truth” about the reality of public higher education. “Which is, that there are tuition fees in public universities,” she stated.

Request denied

Today, Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir, Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation, announced that the ministry had denied the request to authorise an increase in registration fees. The institutions had requested permission to raise the fees from ISK 75,000 [$553 / €516] to ISK 95,000 [$700 / €654].

“University students are among those who are either newly entering the housing market or are struggling to secure housing,” Áslaug is quoted as saying in a statement from the ministry.

She also noted that a larger proportion of university students in Iceland have young children compared to those in neighbouring countries, and are taking their first steps in supporting a family. “High interest rates, difficulties in securing childcare, and various other economic conditions are already putting a strain on university students to such an extent that it is crucial for public entities not to increase their expenses,” the minister added.

The announcement states that funding for universities has increased, with an additional ISK 3.5 billion [$26 million / €24 million] planned for the year 2024 compared to previous projections. By 2028, the funding for higher education is expected to increase by ISK 6 billion [$44 million / €41 million]

“It is important that public universities, like other public entities, exercise restraint in their operations and find ways to improve the quality of education without raising registration fees,” the minister is quoted as saying.

Icelandic Whaling CEO Defends Suspended Vessel

Hvalur, whaling company,

In a recent interview with RÚV, Kristján Loftsson, CEO of Iceland’s only whaling company, defended a recent incident that led to the suspension of one of his vessels. Kristján cited mechanical failure and criticised the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) for its lack of expertise and procedural lapses.

Untenable situation

In a recent interview with the news programme Kastljós, Kristján Loftsson, CEO of Iceland’s sole whaling company, addressed questions concerning an incident that resulted in the suspension of operations for one of his whaling vessels.

Kristján explained that the incident on September 7 was accidental, involving a hook entangled in a winch. This mechanical failure left the harpooned whale alive and attached to the hook, with the crew unable to either reel it in or release it. “It was an untenable situation with no better course of action available,” Kristján stated.

He further argued that a video capturing the incident was misleading. “The footage, taken by an inspector from the Directorate of Fisheries, employed by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), utilised zoom features that distorted the actual distance of the whale from the vessel,” Kristján said. He contended that the whale was out of range for immediate euthanisation, making the suspension of the vessel’s activities based on the video unjust.

Kristján criticised MAST’s expertise, stating, “To my knowledge, the organisation lacks individuals with a comprehensive understanding of fishing.” He estimated that approximately 70% of MAST’s staff consists of general office workers and veterinarians. Kristján also claimed that MAST had failed to consult with the Directorate of Fisheries before making the decision to suspend operations, thereby violating its own protocols.

Fulfilling the quota impossible

When questioned about the likelihood of the suspension being lifted with only ten days remaining in the hunting season, Kristján Loftsson responded, “I’m loathe to peer into the brains of MAST’s employees. I refuse to do it.”

Kristján concluded by revealing his intention to apply for a new whaling licence once the current one expires. He also disclosed that the company has thus far hunted fifteen whales, approximately 10% of the total quota of around 160, acknowledging that fulfilling the quota is unlikely. While he confirmed experiencing significant financial losses, he declined to specify the amount.

Siglufjörður Resident Loses Home to Severe Storm

Siglufjörður

A severe storm hit the town of Siglufjörður in North Iceland on Monday night, leading to the complete destruction of one residence. RÚV spoke to the homeowner yesterday, whose three cats remain missing.

“Future plans” blown away

A severe storm swept through the town of Siglufjörður in North Iceland on Monday night, prompting local authorities to issue an orange weather alert.

In the early morning of Tuesday, September 19, it was confirmed that a residence had been completely demolished by the storm. RÚV interviewed homeowner Hilmar Daníel Valgeirsson yesterday, who admitted that the inclement weather had taken the community by surprise.

Hilmar, an eight-year resident of Siglufjörður with an American upbringing, stated that while he was familiar with weather-related damage from his time in Florida, he had not anticipated such an event in Iceland. He had been intermittently at home that evening and was alerted by concerned neighbours about unusual noises emanating from his property.

“A neighbour reported loud, unsettling noises. Upon inspection, I realised that my home’s roof had been severely damaged,” Hilmar recounted. He is currently residing with his father and noted that local residents have extended offers of assistance. His three cats, however, remain missing.

“All of my future plans have simply been blown away,” Hilmar lamented.

“A dangerous storm”

As noted by RÚV, Strákar (the local rescue team in Siglufjörður), in coordination with local police and fire departments, was actively engaged in emergency response efforts. Debris, including roof tiles and wooden planks, was scattered throughout the town, posing a significant risk, though no injuries have been reported.

Magnús Magnússon, Chair of the Strákar rescue team, emphasised the danger that the storm had posed to the area, particularly near the docks. “We took measures to restrict vehicular access to mitigate risks,” he said, adding that while northeastern winds are common in Siglufjörður, the severity of this storm warranted regional warnings.

Decision to be made on Seyðisfjörður evacuations

Hjördís Guðmundsdóttir, Communications Director for the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, informed RÚV that assessments are underway to determine ongoing landslide risks in Seyðisfjörður. The MET Office is currently evaluating conditions, and several homes in Seyðisfjörður remain evacuated. Hjördís anticipates a decision on the status of the evacuations will be made by midday.

Experts Alarmed by Surge in Daily Drinking Rates

bar beer alcohol

According to a physician at the National Centre of Addiction Medicine (SÁÁ), the surge in online alcohol sales poses a concern for public health. Over the past four decades, the daily alcohol consumption rates among patients admitted to the Vogur Detox Centre and Rehabilitation Hospital with alcohol-related issues has more than tripled, Vísir reports.

Improved access, increased consumption

At a Nordic conference on alcohol and public health held yesterday, the impact of increased access to alcohol on consumption rates was a focal point of discussion.

In his opening remarks, Health Minister Willum Þór Þórsson expressed concerns over the rising levels of alcohol consumption, emphasising the irrefutable evidence that greater accessibility leads to higher usage rates. “Undeniably, better access results in increased consumption. This is an empirical fact that we must acknowledge and confront, particularly in our preventive efforts,” Minister Willum asserted.

Daily alcohol consumption on the rise

Lára G. Sigurðardóttir, a physician at the National Centre of Addiction Medicine (SÁÁ), echoed the minister’s sentiments in an interview with Vísir. She highlighted statistics that indicate a significant surge in daily alcohol consumption.

Read More: IR speaks to Dr. Lára Sigurðardóttir about nicotine pouches

Data from the Vogur Detox Centre and Rehabilitation Hospital reveals that around 1990, approximately 17% of patients admitted for alcohol-related issues consumed alcohol daily. Fast forward to last year, and that figure has skyrocketed to 66%. “Moreover, over 70% of patients aged 50 and above are daily alcohol consumers. The trend is particularly pronounced among older demographics,” Dr. Lára noted.

Dr. Lára also expressed concerns over legislative pressures to privatise alcohol sales, a move she and other experts warn could exacerbate the issue. “That’s the alarm that all the experts today have been sounding,” she added, noting that the online sale of alcohol has greatly increased public access.

In conclusion, Dr. Lára advocated for the retention of a state monopoly on alcohol sales, citing its proven efficacy in preventive measures. “A state monopoly remains the most effective sales model for mitigating the public health risks associated with alcohol consumption,” she stated.

This article was updated at 08:56