Falcon Population Dwindling

An Icelandic falcon

The falcon population in Iceland has never been smaller, at least not since research into it began in 1981. Bird flu is the likely cause, experts at the Icelandic Institute of Natural History told RÚV.

The gyrfalcon is the largest of the falcon species and its Icelandic population is genetically unique compared to other populations in countries across Arctic coasts and tundra. Its image was featured on the crest of the Icelandic coat of arms until 1919 and Iceland’s highest honour, the medal of The Order of the Falcon, is named after it and bestowed upon citizens and foreigners by the president of Iceland.

Only one case of bird flu discovered

For over 40 years, the Icelandic Institute of Natural History has monitored falcons in an area of over 5,000 square kilometres in the northeast of Iceland. Since research began, the population has never been smaller and has dwindled significantly in the last three years. In only 38 of 88 known nests did experts discover nestlings. Never before have there been as many empty nests in the northeast area. Fluctuations in population size are not unusual, however, and are linked to the population of ptarmigan in Iceland, the gyrfalcon’s main prey.

Experts still say this drop is worrying. The likeliest explanation is that more birds succumbed to bird flu than originally estimated. Only one case of bird flu in falcons was discovered in Iceland in 2022, but many more falcons have been found dead with bird flu as the suspected cause.

New Signs of Potential Eruption

Reykjanes eruption Iceland eruption

The crustal uplift at Svartsengi is slowing down, according to a new notice from the Icelandic Meteorological Office. This is an indication that magma pressure is building and that a new magma intrusion or volcanic eruption are becoming more likely.

These developments, confirmed by GPS data discussed by a group of Met Office scientists, are similar to the ones observed on December 15, three days before the eruption at Sundhnúkagígar began. “It’s difficult to assert that this pattern will repeat,” the notice adds.

Seismic activity stable

The first sign of a magma intrusion is a sudden increase in seismic activity, much like before the December 18 eruption that lasted only a few days. Seismic activity has been stable in recent days, however, with around 200 earthquakes per day. Most of the quakes are measured at under 1.0 on the Richter scale. 30 have been above 1.0 since December 29, with the largest one at 2.1 on the north side of the town of Grindavík. The town was evacuated on November 10, but residents were allowed to return to their homes after the eruption just days before Christmas.

Sundhnúkagígar the most likely eruption spot

The Met Office scientists estimate that if an eruption takes place it will be at Sundhnúkagígar again, in between Stóra-Skógfell and Hagafell. Magma intrusions do not always result in a volcanic eruption and this has been observed in previous developments in the Reykjanes peninsula.

Iceland’s Population to Reach 400,000 This Year

Reykjavík old historic centre

In the first six months of 2024, Iceland’s population should pass 400,000, Morgunblaðið reports. As it stands, the population is only around 1,000 away from that mark.

The growth in Iceland’s population has been much more rapid than expected. Statistics Iceland projected in 2008 that the population would only surpass 400,000 people in the year 2050. “This projection was very good, even if we’re reaching this goal 26 years earlier than expected,” Professor Stefán Hrafn Jónsson, Dean of the School of Social Sciences at the University of Iceland, told Morgunblaðið. “The projection showed a 0.6 percent yearly growth, but it turned out different. The shifts in Icelandic society were simply larger than expected in the projection.”

Population ageing faster

According to new projections, the population could grow by another 200,000 people in the next 40 years or so. “The latest projection from Statistics Iceland expects us to reach a population of 600,000 in the year 2067 or so,” Stefán said. “There is much uncertainty in such projections like in any projections about the future. That uncertainty grows the further we go into the future.”

Population projections are based on birth rates, mortality rates and migration. Historical developments, such as wars and pandemics, can influence these developments. “Even if births and deaths are biological processes, and therefore both the subject of health sciences, these events and everything that happens in between them are affected by social factors,” Stefán said. He added that Iceland will see an increasingly ageing population, which will put pressure on the healthcare system. The number of inhabitants over the age of 80 could triple in the next 50 years. “But the effects will also be seen in the pension system, the economy, labour market, governance, political ideologies, inequality, crime, customs, traditions, legislation, social services, housing, welfare, domestic and foreign trade, governance of businesses and institutions, markets, disability issues, cultural policy, language, religion, and morality, just to mention a few of the subjects of the humanities and social sciences,” Stefán added. “It could be a real cause for concern in the next decades whether we respond correctly to the ageing of our population.”

President Will Not Seek Re-election

President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson.

Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, president of Iceland, has announced that he will not seek re-election this year. A new president will be elected this summer, RÚV reports.

In his scheduled new year’s address Monday, Guðni announced that he would step down after two terms in office, having served eight years in total. Elected after an eventful campaign in 2016, Guðni had stated that he would serve three terms at most, or 12 years. He said that he carefully considered running for a third term, but that in a democratic society it is not healthy for a person to consider themselves irreplaceable. “I came to the conclusion that it would be better to follow my heart,” he said.

A surprise rise to the presidency

Elections will take place on June 1 and the new president’s term will begin on August 1. So far, no one has officially announced their candidacy, although a number of people are rumoured to be considering a bid. A low threshold is in place for anyone wanting to run, as they only need to collect 1,500 signatures of support to be eligible.

Nine candidates were in the running when Guðni was elected in 2016. The previous president, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, had announced on January 1 that he would not seek re-election. The spring of 2016 saw major political turbulence in Iceland with the revelations of Prime Minister’s Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson’s offshore tax haven holdings in the Panama Papers, leading to his removal from office. As a scholar of the Icelandic presidency, Guðni appeared frequently on live television to analyse the situation. President Ólafur Ragnar briefly entered the race again, citing political turmoil. As support for Guðni to run mounted, he entered the race and Ólafur Ragnar withdrew his candidacy again in the wake of Guðni and former Prime Minister Davíð Oddsson deciding to run.

Guðni received a plurality of 39.1 percent of the votes. In 2020, he handily won re-election with 92.2 percent.

A popular and liberal president

Analysts describe Guðni as a successful and popular president, with an approval rating around 80 percent. He championed liberal viewpoints and didn’t have any major setbacks during his time in office. Guðni remains a professor of history at the University of Iceland, but has been on leave during his service. He could therefore return to academics after his term ends.

Only one president in Iceland’s history has served for fewer years than Guðni. Sveinn Björnsson, Iceland’s first president, was elected when the country became a republic in 1944, but died while still in office in 1952 having served just over seven years.