Lava Pools Formed at Ongoing Eruption

Volcano Reykjanes eruption on May 31, 2024

The Icelandic Met Office is closely monitoring lava pools that have formed at the ongoing eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula, Southwest Iceland, RÚV reports. Lava is pooling to the south of the eruption site and could burst forth from the pools suddenly in the coming days. The eruption continues at a steady pace and shows no signs of stopping soon.

The eruption northeast of Sýlingafell began last Wednesday, May 29, around 12:45 PM. It is the eighth eruption on Southwest Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula since 2021 and the fifth in the area north of Grindavík since December. The eruption does not impact international travel through Iceland.

The eruption began more powerfully than the four eruptions that preceded it in the area, but reduced in intensity within 24 hours. There are currently two to three active craters along the fissure and Natural Hazard Specialist at the Met Office Sigríður Magnea Óskarsdóttir stated that the institution was monitoring the flow of lava closely.

Lava could burst forth from the pools south of the eruption with considerable force, so it is vital to ensure no one is near the eruption when that happens.

Watch a video of our visit to the eruption area here.

Who is Iceland’s New President, Halla Tómasdóttir?

Halla Tómasdottir President

Halla Tómasdóttir won Iceland’s presidential election on June 1 with 34.1% of the vote, beating out a record number of candidates. Halla was polling at around 5% at the start of the election campaign but her support rose steadily leading up to the election. Her final share of the votes proved to be even higher than polls predicted only days before the election.

Halla is a businessperson and most recently CEO of The B Team, a global nonprofit initiative co-founded by Sir Richard Branson and Jochen Zeitz. She took leave from the position to run for president. Halla ran for the presidency once before, in 2016, when she received 27.9% of the vote and ended as runner-up to Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, who has been president since.

Halla has had a long career in business and founded the female-led investment firm Auður Capital as well as being an early member of the founding team of Reykjavík University. During her presidential campaign, Halla told Iceland Review she has “a vision of how to use the office to bring together different groups and generations to communicate and collaborate on the many issues we face.”

Presidential elections are held every four years in Iceland. While there is no term limit for the office, Halla has stated that she considers it acceptable for a president to sit two to three terms, like her predecessor Guðni. Halla is currently 55 years old. She is the second woman to be elected President of Iceland, after Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, who in 1980 became the first female democratically elected head of state in the world.

Halla takes office on August 1, 2024.

Over 80% Voter Turnout in Presidential Election

Halla Tómasdóttir at Bessastaðir

Halla Tómasdóttir was elected President of Iceland last Saturday with 34.1% of the vote. Voter turnout was 80.8%, the highest since 1996, RÚV reports. One expert asserts that many people who planned to vote for other candidates shifted their vote to Halla at the last minute.

The distribution of votes in the election proved significantly different from polls before the dates. Just two days before the election, Halla Tómasdóttir and former Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir were polling neck and neck at 24.1% followed by Halla Hrund Logadóttir at 18.4% support, Baldur Þórhallsson with 15.4% support and Jón Gnarr with 9.9%.

Unexpected margin of victory

Halla’s significant margin of victory was therefore somewhat unexpected. She ended up with around 10% more of the vote than Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who came in second place at 25.03%. Halla Hrund and Baldur both received a smaller share of votes than polling indicated they would, while Jón Gnarr received a slightly larger share.

History Professor Guðmundur Hálfdánarson stated that this difference between pre-election polls and voting results is significant, and argues that it indicates many voters shifted from  Baldur and Halla Hrund to Halla Tómasdóttir at the last minute. “It seems to be the case, if these polls can be taken seriously, that many voters were more influenced more by their view towards candidates who they did not want to win rather than maybe those who they would have preferred to vote for.” Guðmundur is referring to Katrín Jakobsdóttir in particular, whose resignation as prime minister in order to run for president was a controversial move.

Women received 75% of the vote

It bears noting that the three top candidates during polls and when votes were cast were women, and together they received 75% of the total votes. Professor of Political Science Eva H. Önnudóttir stated this shows positive societal change in Iceland since the nation elected Vigdís Finnbogadóttir as its first female president and the first democratically elected female head of state in the world.

Hlemmur Bus Terminal Officially Closed

Strætó bus Reykjavík miðborgin umferð fólk

Reykjavík city buses are no longer stopping at Hlemmur as of yesterday. The area is being turned into a pedestrian square and new routes for 15 buses have taken effect. New terminal stations are being implemented for several bus routes that previously stopped at the downtown square.

Construction has begun at Hlemmur that will eventually divert traffic away from the square. According to public bus service Strætó, at first, public bus routes will use the infrastructure of the future bus rapid transit system Borgarlína that will run through the square. Bus routes will also run north/south via Snorrabraut.

When the construction of the first round of Borgarlína is finished, four routes will run through Hlemmur, but no routes will have Hlemmur as an end stop. There will be no central terminus in Reykjavík’s bus system in the future. The development of Hlemmur is expected to be completed by summer 2025.

Changes to bus routes can be seen below and on the Strætó website. Riders are encouraged to send in their suggestions about the new routes.

New bus routes in Reykjavík as of June 1, 2024.

June Snowstorms in Iceland this Week

winter weather road snow

Snowstorms, gale-force winds, rain, and sleet are in the forecast across Iceland this week. Orange and yellow weather alerts have been issued across the country starting this evening and lasting until Thursday. Travellers are encouraged to check weather conditions and road conditions before setting out.

The Icelandic Met Office has issued orange weather alerts for the Northwest, Northeast, East, and Southeast regions and the uninhabited Central Highland starting this evening. Snow is expected in most of those regions throughout Tuesday, as well as strong winds reaching gusts of up to 23 metres per second. Roads, particularly mountain roads, may become impassable and livestock may need adequate shelter, according to the Met Office.

Yellow weather alerts have been issued for the Southwest, West, and Westfjords regions starting tomorrow morning. Strong winds are expected in those regions and locals are encouraged to secure outdoor furniture and belongings to ensure safety. There may be snow on roads, particularly mountain roads, in Breiðafjörður and the Westfjords, but no snow is expected in West or Southwest Iceland, including the Reykjavík capital area.

The unseasonable weather is expected to continue into the week. A yellow weather alert has been issued country-wide for Wednesday and Thursday.

Sit-In in Support of Palestine at Iceland’s Foreign Ministry

Sit-in for Palestine May 30, 2024 at Iceland's Foreign Ministry. Photo: Kata Jóhanness

A group of protesters has begun a sit-in at Iceland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs due to Icelandic authorities’ lack of action on Palestine, RÚV reports. The group is not from a single organisation, rather is a diverse group of civilians who say they are fed up with Iceland’s lack of action and aim to disrupt business as usual until the government reacts. Their demands include that trade sanctions be imposed on Israel and that the Icelandic government sever diplomatic relations with the country.

“It’s been 234 days of an escalating genocide of Palestinian people and Icelandic authorities have done nothing to prevent it,” Salvör Gullbrá Þórarinsdóttir, one of the protesters, told reporters. “The government has said that they want a ceasefire in Gaza and kept saying that they aim for peace and a two-state solution but those are all empty words and they are not followed by any actions.”

Protesters request meeting with minister

Salvör Gullbrá says that the recent attack of the Israeli army on Rafah where civilians were killed was the last straw. “A horrifying attack where people were burned alive.” Salvör says that the protest will continue until the government takes action. The group has asked for a meeting with Foreign Minister Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir and has not been granted meetings with any ministry staff at this point.

“It’s is very clear that the Icelandic public wants a ceasefire in Palestine and supports Palestinian people,” Salvör stated. “This is apparent in various surveys that have been conducted about the public’s dissatisfaction when Iceland abstained on a ceasefire vote last October.” Salvör also pointed to the controversy surrounding Iceland’s participation in the 2024 Eurovision Song Contest on the same grounds.

Demand sanctions and coordinated action

The protester’s demands are as follows:

  1. That trade sanctions be imposed on the State of Israel.
  2. That Iceland sever diplomatic relations with the State of Israel.
  3. That Iceland support South Africa’s lawsuit against Israel before the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
  4. That Minister for Foreign Affairs Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir initiate a discussion on coordinated actions with the Nordic countries, Ireland, and Spain.

Norway, Ireland, and Spain officially recognised the State of Palestine recently, an action Iceland was the first among Nordic countries to do so, in 2011. The Iceland-Palestine Association is echoing those first two demands in a protest to be held in outside the regular cabinet meeting tomorrow morning.

Katrín and Halla Neck and Neck in Most Recent Presidential Poll

Halla Hrund Logadóttir, Halla Tómasdóttir, and Katrín Jakobsdóttir

Just two days until Iceland’s presidential election and Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Halla Tómasdóttir are neck and neck in Maskína’s latest poll, released today. Both received 24.1% support in the poll, conducted between May 27 and May 30. This presidential race has been a close and exciting one, with a record number of candidates, several of whom still appear to have a shot at the presidency. The poll was conducted for Vísir, Stöð 2, and Bylgjan.

Katrín’s following shrinks, Halla’s grows

While Katrín’s following dropped slightly from Maskína’s last poll, released on May 23, Halla Tómasdóttir’s rose significantly. The third-place candidate, according to the poll’s results, is Halla Hrund Logadóttir, with 18.4%. Halla Hrund also saw a rise in her following compared to last week’s poll. The top three candidates are followed by Baldur Þórhallsson with 15.4% support, Jón Gnarr with 9.9% support and Arnar Þór Jónsson with 5.0% support. The remaining six candidates have a combined 3.2%.

Many voters decide last minute

Ólafur Þ. Harðarson, professor emeritus in political science who has decades of experience leading research on Icelandic elections, stated that this Presidential race is the most exciting one since Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was narrowly elected in 1980 to become the first democratically-elected female head of state in the world. Polls have shown significant shifts in following in recent weeks, and according to Ólafur, research has shown an increasing number of voters make up their minds last-minute.

Read more about Iceland’s 2024 presidential candidates.

Iceland’s Latest Eruption Continues at Lower Intensity

eruption lava volcano Reykjanes eruption May 2024

The eruption that began yesterday around 12:45 PM on the Reykjanes peninsula continues but it has decreased considerably in intensity, RÚV reports. It is the eighth eruption on Southwest Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula since 2021 and the fifth in the area north of Grindavík since December. The eruption has no impact on international travel through Iceland.

Yesterday morning, the town of Grindavík, the Blue Lagoon, and Svartsengi Power Station were evacuated as seismic activity indicated an eruption was imminent. What began shortly afterwards was the most powerful eruption the area has experienced since activity began in 2021. The eruption has already decreased in intensity since then, however.

Lava from the eruption cut off two roads yesterday, Grindavíkurvegur and Nesvegur, but lava barriers have successfully prevented it from entering the town of Grindavík. Gas from the eruption is minimal and has not impacted air quality in the Reykjavík capital area. Experts say that no other roads or infrastructure are at risk for the time being.

Additional information on tourist safety

For more information on tourist safety on the Reykjanes peninsula, see our latest In Focus Article.

“With four eruptions in the Sundhnúkagígar crater system during this spell, it’s no wonder that prospective tourists have been asking themselves if it’s still safe to visit Iceland. The short answer is ‘yes, absolutely.’ The long answer is ‘yes, but use common sense!’”

You can also watch a video of our visit to the eruption area here.

Investigate Narcolepsy in Icelandic Horses

A working group in Iceland is investigating narcolepsy in Icelandic horses, RÚV reports. By gathering data and samples, the group hopes to develop a test to identify carriers. Their ultimate goal is to breed the disease out of the Icelandic horse breed.

Narcolepsy among horses is a disorder of the nervous system. It is a hereditary disease and can occur in the offspring of two genetic carriers. The symptoms are apparent early on in foals. “It manifests in the individual sort of staggering about,” explains Sonja Líndal, a veterinarian and horse breeder who is a member of the newly-established working group. “It basically falls asleep, hangs its head and becomes unsteady on its feet. We usually see it in foals right next to their mother. They usually stop, it’s sort of sudden, they fall asleep and then they run off as if they’re normal.”

Foals with symptoms are put down

Sonja underlines that the disorder neither causes the horses to suffer nor does it impact their development. However, it excludes them from typical use and activity. “It’s just difficult to find a role for them because you don’t want to use them in breeding and there are few people who will rely on them for riding so it is first and foremost a financial loss for the breeder.” She adds that foals who show symptoms of the disorder are usually put down.

Disorder possibly on the rise

In Iceland, farmers are not required to report horses with the disorder, which means there are no clear figures on how many horses are born with it. However, thousands of foals with the disease are reported each year, according to RÚV. For reference, Iceland’s entire horse population is around 80,000.

There is rising awareness around narcolepsy in Icelandic horses, and it may also be on the rise, particularly in the population that is actively bred for competition and genetic improvement, according to Sonja. That subset has less genetic diversity and is more interrelated.

In Focus: New Limits on Short-term Rentals

Reykjavík drone

In May, Iceland’s Parliament passed an amendment aiming to limit short-term rentals in the Southwest region. The legislation bans businesses from renting out units classified as residential housing on short-term rental sites such as Airbnb. The amendment is a response to rising housing prices in the country and an Airbnb boom in downtown Reykjavík. So, […]

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