Ambassador Nomination Draws Surprise and Criticism

foreign minister bjarni benediktsson

Minister for Foreign Affairs Bjarni Benediktsson has nominated his former assistant as Ambassador to the United States, RÚV reports. An administrative analyst has called the nomination unusual while Pirate Party MP Björn Leví Gunnarsson has called it a breach of ethics.

Svanhildur Holm Valsdóttir, Bjarni’s nominee, has been director of the Icelandic Chamber of Commerce for the past three years. Between 2013 and 2020, she worked as Bjarni’s assistant. Prior to that, she was the CEO of the Independence Party, of which Bjarni is the chair. Svanhildur holds a law degree as well as an MBA from Reykjavík University.

Threshold for ambassador lowered

“The threshold for the rank of ambassador has really been lowered with the appointment of Svanhildur Holm, as her promotion in this regard is very rare,” Haukur Arnþórsson, an administrative analyst, told RÚV. He added that the appointment was a surprise. While in the past, former politicians have been appointed as ambassadors, often to strong criticism, appointing a former political assistant and a public official from a minister’s former ministry is something completely new, Haukur stated.

Breach of ethics, says opposition

Pirate Party MP Björn Leví Gunnarsson asserted that Bjarni’s nomination of Svanhildur may constitute a breach of ethics. He stated that the Parliamentary Ombudsman can investigate the matter if he considers there to be reason to do so.

Position not advertised

Bjarni Benediktsson stepped into the role of Minister for Foreign Affairs two months ago, after resigning as Minister of Finance when the Parliamentary Ombudsman concluded he had been unfit to approve the partial sale of Íslandsbanki bank.

Svanhildur’s appointment is for a period of five years. The position was not advertised. US authorities have yet to accept the nomination.

In 2020, Bjarni’s fellow party member Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarsson proposed tightening the regulations for appointing ambassadors. The proposed amendments, which, among other changes, would have made advertising ambassadorial openings mandatory, were not passed.

Indications of Magma Chamber Under Svartsengi

svartsengi power plant reykjanes

As the eruption that began near Sýlingafell on Monday night appears to be ending, scientists say there are indications of a magma chamber underneath the nearby Svartsengi area. Construction of an underground pipeline has begun to ensure heating will not be cut off in case of an eruption affecting the Svartsengi Power Plant.

The eruption by Sýlingafell is part of a chain of events that has been ongoing since at least 2020, Halldór Geirsson, an associate professor in geophysics at the University of Iceland, told RÚV. This chain of events stretches across the Reykjanes peninsula, whose multiple volcanic systems have shown increased activity since the 2021 Fagradalsfjall eruption.

Magma in current eruption likely travelled under Svartsengi

Halldór says the magma in the ongoing eruption “probably comes from some kind of magma chamber that is there under Svartsengi, or possibly lies from Eldvörp and to the Sundhnúkar area, or at least that is one way to look at it.” The chamber is likely located at a depth of 5-7 km [3.1-4.3 mi]. Geochemistry, earthquake data, and the eruptions in the area since 2021 all point to its existence, according to Halldór.

Digging begun for new pipeline

Svartsengi is the site of a power plant that supplies most of the Reykjanes peninsula with water and electricity. Around 30,000 people depend on the supply of hot water from the plant, which is provided through the Narjðvík pipeline. This pipeline, however, is above ground, and is vulnerable to lava from potential eruptions, particularly where it passes through low-lying areas. RÚV reports that construction on an alternative underground pipeline has begun, but will take some time to complete.

Construction of above-ground barriers to protect the power plant from lava flow is nearly complete.

Iceland’s Eruption May Be Over

Iceland eruption

The eruption that began on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula on Monday evening may already be over. Scientists on a monitoring flight saw no visible activity at the eruption site this morning, according to a Facebook post from the Met Office. Their observations were confirmed from the ground. It is, however, too early to declare the eruption officially over as there could still be activity in closed lava channels, experts say.

Most powerful eruption in recent years

The eruption began on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula just three days ago, near Sýlingafell mountain, some 3km [1.9mi] away from the evacuated town of Grindavík. It was quickly apparent that it was more powerful than the previous three eruptions that have occurred in the area over the past three years. During its first seven hours, the eruption produced more lava than the three-week Litli-Hrutur eruption that occurred earlier this year.

Read more: What do we know about the 2023 eruption near Grindavík?

Experts predicted that this eruption would be short-lived. Volcanologist Þorvaldur Þórðarson described it as typical for shallow magma eruptions, where built-up pressure leads to rapid magma ascent followed by a quick decrease in intensity. Þorvaldur and other experts have, however, stated that the area might experience more eruptions in the coming years, either on the Sundhnúka rift, along the line in Fagradalsfjall, or possibly slightly westward.

Read more about the geology of the Reykjanes peninsula.