Deep North Episode 66: Skeletons in the Closet

björn sveinsson

Saturday, May 18, 1946 was a pleasant spring morning in Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen. The war, with all its horror, had ended a year previously and western Europe was gradually moving toward a civil society based on human rights, justice, and democracy while simultaneously rebuilding and ridding itself of the last vestiges of Nazi occupation. At Vestre Fængsel prison, a 36-year-old Icelandic detainee sat alone in his cell, reading an English novel his younger brother had brought for him. When he had been taken into custody, he had been certain that the arrest order was built on an unfortunate misunderstanding and that he would surely be released once the post-war situation had calmed. A long, boring, and lonely year later he was still awaiting trial, having been indicted on a number of onerous charges. His hope was flagging and none of this boded well for his future.

Many might know the story of how Iceland was affected by the Second World War, but the story of many Icelandic ex-Nazis remains untold. We take a look at the life of Björn Sv. Björnsson – an Icelander and member of the Waffen SS.

Correction: In the discussion after the article, Björn Sv. Björnsson is mistakenly referred to as Sveinn Björn Sveinsson.

Read the story here.

Is it safe to travel to Iceland in March 2024?

Volcanic Eruption in Reykjanes Iceland, 2023

Volcanic eruptions are notoriously hard to predict. Nevertheless, during the seven eruptions on the Reykjanes peninsula within the last three years, travel to and from Iceland was never seriously impacted. Based on past evidence, there is little chance that an eruption on Reykjanes will significantly affect travel.

Previous eruptions

Many people remember the Eyjafjallajökull eruption of 2010, which severely disrupted air travel across Europe for several days and are consequently worried that such a disruption could happen again. One important factor for determining whether air travel will be impacted is the production of ash. The Eyjafjalljökull eruption of 2010 was what is known as an explosive eruption. Due to the volcano’s location underneath a glacier, the erupting lava comes into contact with water and produces ash plumes, which disturbed flights for six days. In contrast, the Reykjanes eruptions have all been effusive fissure eruptions, resulting in relatively calm lava flows with minimal ash and gas.

Blue lagoon may be affected

Previous eruptions have likewise not threatened Keflavík International Airport nor Reykjanesbraut, the main highway between the airport and the greater Reykjavík area. Some local tourist activities such as the Blue Lagoon may remain closed for some time, so travellers are advised to stay updated. While the first three eruptions on Reykjanes were described as “tourist-friendly,” the four eruptions since have threatened the community of Grindavík. As such, the authorities have advised the general public to stay away from these eruptions. The town of Grindavík remains evacuated and unnecessary travel near the eruption sites should be avoided.

Useful resources

At the time of writing, the most recent eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula occurred on March 16. It is currently still active, but will not affect the greater capital area.

In addition to staying up to date with our news coverage, travellers may find the following links useful:

The Icelandic Met Office, which provides updates on earthquake and volcano activity.

The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, which provides detailed updates on road conditions all over the country.

Safe Travel, which provides continuously updated information relevant to traveling to and within Iceland.

Isavia, which operates Keflavík International Airport.

Svartsengi Geothermal Power Station Evacuated Due to Air Pollution

grindavík evacuation svartsengi power plant

The Svartsengi geothermal power station was evacuated this morning due to sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution from the ongoing Reykjanes eruption. Five employees were reported to be in the area when the decision to evacuate was made. RÚV reported first.

Svartsengi can operate remotely

The Svartsengi geothermal power station is a major provider of electricity and hot and cold water for the Reykjanes peninsula. After the first Reykjanes eruption in 2021, steps were taken to ensure the continued operation of the station, even during an eruption. It is capable of operating nearly autonomously for shorter periods of time, and during such eruptions, it operates with a skeleton crew. It has been operated almost entirely remotely for the past month.

reykjanes eruption march 19
Meteorological Office of Iceland

Not advisable to remain in area

Birna Lárusdóttir, a spokesperson for HS Orka, the operator of Svartsengi, stated to Morgunblaðið that “SO2 levels had reached a point where it was no longer advisable to be in the area.” She noted that they had prepared for this eventuality and that as wind patterns change later in the day, it may be possible for employees to return today. She emphasised that such decision are made in cooperation with Civil Protection and the Met Office.

Power production not at risk

Birna continued: “However, this is certainly not a completely unmanned power plant. We need to attend to various tools and equipment that are part of the daily operations of the power station. We need to take care of buildings, equipment, and machinery when we deem it necessary, as we did this morning.”

According to Birna, power production at Svartsengi is not currently at risk.

Deep North Episode 64: Wall of Fire

Reykjanes peninsula eruptions

On Sunday morning, January 14, around 4:30 AM, Ari Guðmundsson’s phone rang. The Reykjanes peninsula was trembling. Three and a half hours later, it rang again. This time it was Víðir Reynisson, the head of Iceland’s Civil Protection Department. A fissure had opened and an eruption had begun.

The long, earthen lava barriers – of which Ari had led the design and rapid construction, which were meant to protect the evacuated town of Grindavík, and which were still incomplete – were about to go through trial by fire.

Read the story here.

Grindavík and Blue Lagoon Evacuated, Next Eruption Uncertain

Grindavík - Þorbjörn

Following increased seismic activity on the Reykjanes peninsula, Grindavík and the Blue Lagoon have been evacuated. Though an eruption was previously considered imminent, it is now considered less likely for the immediate future.

Earthquake swarm

An earthquake swarm began around 15:55 today, according to the Met Office. The seismic activity moved southeast following the magma intrusion from December 2023, stopping near Hagafell mountain.

The Met Office notes that the current deformation measured is smaller than previously measured in the lead-up to volcanic eruptions. This could potentially indicate a smaller eruption, but it is also possible for a magma dyke to form without forming an eruptive fissure.

Currently, the depth of the seismic activity does not indicate that the magma will break through to the surface. The Met Office considers an eruption in the immediate future to be unlikely, but it cannot be entirely ruled out.

Grindavík and Blue Lagoon Evacuated

Both the town of Grindavík and the neighbouring Blue Lagoon were evacuated out of precaution.

RÚV reports that the evacuations were completed around 5:00 pm.

Víðir Reynisson from Civil Protection stated to RÚV that the evacuation went smoothly and that responders are still in the area to ensure that all residents have left. Responders are reported to be on standby in case of an eruption.

Helga Árnadóttir, director of the Blue Lagoon, also stated to RÚV that the evacuation went well, with all staff and guests having left the area.

The Icelandic Meteorological Office has updated their risk assessment, which is valid for the next 24 hours.

Icelandic Language Resource BÍN Launches App

Edda Centre for Icelandic Studies

The free Icelandic online language resource BÍN has recently released an app: BÍN-kjarninn, created by William Stewart.

BÍN is an online inflection reference for modern Icelandic. Though not an Icelandic dictionary, it is an essential resource for native Icelandic speakers, in addition to those who have learned Icelandic as a second language.

The new app, BÍN-kjarninn, features a simplified subset of the BÍN database. Árnastofnun, the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, states that the app will be particularly useful for learners of Icelandic.

The simplified BÍN-kjarninn database is also accessible via an API connected to the BÍN database.

The vocabulary in BÍN-kjarninn covers both basic word forms in Icelandic and a selection of recognized word forms adhering to grammar rules and conventions. It aligns largely with the word list in the Íslensk nútímamálsorðabók (Icelandic Contemporary Dictionary), which contains approximately 50,000 words. Additionally, common non-inflected words (including prepositions, conjunctions, etc.) are included in BÍN-kjarninn in limited numbers.

The app is available both on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store.

Icelandic language learners can find more resources here.

Breaking: Eruption Begins on Reykjanes Peninsula

reykjanes eruption at sundhnúk february 2024

An eruption has begun in Iceland, the third on the Reykjanes peninsula since December. It poses no immediate threat to infrastructure, inhabited areas, or flights through Iceland.

The eruption is reported to have began around 6:00 this morning. After seismic activity around 5:30 this morning, February 8, a fissure opened on the Reykjanes peninsula near Sundhnúk.

Following a Coast Guard surveillance flight, the Icelandic Met Office reports that the fissure opened near the eruption of December 18, approximately one kilometre from Grindavík.

The Met Office also reports that the initial fissure seems to be some 3 km [1.8 mi] in length. Initial reports indicate a slightly lesser lava flow than the December 18 eruption.

Lava jets are estimated to reach 50-80 m [164-262 ft] and can be seen from the capital area.

The Blue Lagoon is reported to have evacuated its guests shortly after the beginning of the eruption.

Initial reports show no immediate threat to the town of Grindavík or the Svartsengi geothermal power plant. The established pattern of such eruptions is that they begin with the most force and die down relatively quickly.

This is breaking news. Stay up to date with our coverage for the latest on the situation, or read about the history of the Reykjanes eruptions here.

Deep North Episode 60: Boom Town

iceland immigration

If you’re looking for a community in Iceland that has been profoundly changed by tourism, there is hardly a better place to look than Vík, the urban centre of the Mýrdalshreppur municipality. Over the past eight years or so, building after building has sprung up in the town: a two-storey Icewear store opened in 2017, a 72-room hotel in 2018. Since 2015, the municipality’s population has nearly doubled, from 480 to 877. Ten years ago, there may have been one or two places in town for a traveller to sit down for dinner. Now there are enough restaurants for Tripadvisor to compile the top ten.

And along with the tour boom, the community in Vík has grown in recent years as well. Here’s how this South Iceland community is making the best of it. Read the story here.