Tourists Rescued from Highland River

Three foreign tourists were rescued from their car roofs on Wednesday after their vehicles got stuck in a glacial river on the Flæður highland route north of Vatnajökull glacier, RÚV reports.

“This was a group of foreign tourists in six cars,” explained an officer on duty with the Húsavík police department. “The last car that was crossing got stuck in the river. Then one of the cars turned around to help and also got stuck.”

“This is a special spot,” he continued. “It isn’t a straight riverbed – it flows out from under the glacier. It’s been really hot and thawing a lot and the [rivers] have expanded and their currents have become very strong.”

The officer interviewed about the rescue noted that the tourists had been travelling along a marked trail and had simply ended up in difficult straits because of the river conditions. It was, in fact, due to the strong currents and high water levels, that a Coast Guard helicopter was dispatched to rescue the travelers, rather than having rescuers ford the river.

At the time of their rescue, the tourists had been standing on the roofs of their cars for one and a half to two hours but were unharmed.

Swelling rivers are creating travel concerns in several places in the highlands. SafeTravel.is has since issued the following travel alerts:

“Gæsavatnaleið via Flæður is closed due to extremely high water levels on Flæður. Gæsavatnaleið can be driven by bypassing Flæður via Gígöldur – superjeeps only.”

and

“Sprengisandur, road F26, is only suitable for bigger jeeps due to swelling rivers. Smaller jeeps could cross in the early morning when water levels are lower.”

Underwater Volcanoes, Treasure Ship Mapped During Seabed-Charting Expedition

The Marine and Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI) used multibeam measurements to map 47,000 square kilometres of the sea floor just to the south of Iceland, RÚV reports. Never before has such a large area of the ocean floor within Iceland’s territorial waters been mapped using multibeam technology during a single expedition. It is hoped that by charting the sea floor within Iceland’s territorial waters, scientists will be better equipped to utilise, protect, and research marine resources both on and under the seabed.

Including the measurements that MFRI took in June, almost a third of the sea floor within Iceland’s territorial boundaries has now been mapped. Scientists on the Árni Friðriksson research vessel spent 25 days on this endeavour, which is part of a larger seabed-mapping project that began in 2017. The June expedition charted undersea mountains and volcanoes, explains the announcement on MFRI’s website, some of which were previously unknown to researchers. It also surveyed the site of the sunken German ‘treasure ship,’ the SS Minden, which was discovered in 2017 and rumoured to be carrying up to four tonnes of Nazi gold.

“The Icelandic government permitted foreign companies to search for valuables on the SS Minden during the summer of 2018, but without success,” reads the MFRI announcement. During the June surveying expedition, it confirms, “…wreckage of the SS Minden appeared as arch-shaped masses for a 120-metre [394ft] stretch at a depth of 2,275 metres [7,464 feet].”

Multibeam measurements are depth measurements, explains Guðrún Helgadóttir, a geologist with MFRI, but are different from typical depth, or bathymetric, measurements in that beams are projected from both sides of the research vessel, which allows for a much wider area to be measured and mapped at once. Using this method, an area of up to 3.5 kilometres [2.17 miles] can be measured on both sides of the ship.

When the seabed-charting project began in 2017, about 12.3% of the seabed around Iceland had been mapped and researchers aimed to complete the mapping of areas below 100 metres deep with 13 years. This would have required an average of 60 days spent charting a year. Even with the new multibeam measurements that significantly speed up the process, researchers now realise that the projected time must be extended if it is going to be completed as planned.

Fewer Mated Arctic Fox Pairs in Hornstrandir Than Last Year

Arctic Fox Iceland

Hornstrandir Nature Preserve in the Westfjords has half the number of arctic fox pairs with young than it usually does at this time of year, RÚV reports. The drop in the number of mated pairs comes even as the animals’ territory has doubled in size. Human foot traffic through the area is thought to disturb the foxes a great deal, particularly mothers who are still nursing their young and have to stay in their dens.

These findings were among those made by the Icelandic Institute of Natural History (IINH) and their collaborators at the Arctic Fox Centre after their yearly site visit to Hornstrandir from June 17 – 30. During this time, researchers made stops at every known burrow in the reserve and made note of whether these were inhabited, as well as tracking foxes’ movements in and out of them. Three burrows were monitored for twelve hours, specifically to monitor how long adult foxes spent in them, and what food they brought back to them, if any. A log was kept of any food scraps that had been left in or around the burrows and stool samples were collected for future study.

Researchers also monitored and made observations about the number of visitors moving through fox-inhabited areas, as well as their behaviour around burrows. As IINH reported on its Facebook page, visitor traffic was minimal at the start of the expedition, but it increased during the almost two weeks that researchers were present in the reserve.

Even though the number of mated arctic fox pairs with young is significantly less than usual, the research teams affirm that the overall status of the population is good. Even so, researchers plan to monitor human traffic through Hornstrandir and another expedition to the reserve is already planned for later this summer to check in on the status of the arctic fox population at that time. Researchers hope that any travellers to Hornstrandir will follow the directions of the park rangers, stay on marked paths, and not disturb any wildlife they may encounter while visiting.

WAB air to Rise from the Ruins of WOW Air

WOW air tourism Iceland

Two ex-directors at the now defunct airline WOW air are working on founding a new low-fare airline from the ruins of WOW air. The twosome is working on raising the airline from the ground with investors. It is planned that WAB air becomes operational next fall. According to plans, the airline will operate six airplanes which will fly to fourteen destinations in Europe and the United States. WAB is a working name at the moment and stands for We Are Back.

The plans account for a million passengers travelling with the airline in the first year, and that it will hire 500 employees in the next twelve months. The revenue is expected to be close to 20 billion ISK (140m €, 157m $) in the next year. Former founder and CEO of WOW air Skúli Mogensen is not involved with the new airline.

This was revealed recently in Markaðurinn, a supplement to the business journal Viðskiptablaðið. The Irish investment fund Avianta Capital has committed 5 billion ISK (35m €, 39.2m $) towards new shares. Avianta receives a 75% share in WAB air in return. The investment fund is owned by Aislinn Whittley-Ryan, the daughter of one of the owners of low-fare airline Ryanair. The remaining 25% will be in control of the company Neo, owned by two former WOW air directors. The ex-directors are Arnar Már Magnússon, who ran WOW air’s flight operations, and Sveinn Ingi Steinþórsson, from WOW air’s economic department. Along with the WOW air employees, Neo is owned by Bogi Guðmundsson, a lawyer at Atlantik Legal Services and a board member of BusTravel, as well as Þóroddur Ari Þóroddsson, a consultant in airplane trade.

There have been discussions with Icelandic banks Arion Bank and Landsbankinn in order to secure a 3.9 billion ISK (27.4m €, 30.7m $) to Avianta Capital. The loan window would be for one year, and the loan is intended for use as equity to secure a loan from an unnamed Swiss bank.

Authorities Look to Raise Fines for Off-Road Driving

The best weapon in the fight against off-road driving is education, according to Minister for the Environment, Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson. He says more people are conscious of the damage caused by off-road driving and wants to look into raising fines.
Evidence of off-road driving can take a long time to disappear naturally. Nature lovers have resorted to fixing damage where they can but if the vegetation is damaged, that can be impossible to fix. Off-road driving is a growing problem in Iceland, as travellers disregard laws. Recently, a Russian social media influencer bragged about his off-road driving. He was prosecuted, however, and had to pay a hefty fine.

This summer, damages have been discovered when mountain roads were opened again for the season. Recently, the Environment agency reported off-road driving in the geothermal area by Sogin in the Reykjanes nature reserve to the police but the tracks will be wiped out in the next few days.
Government agencies put a lot of work into stopping off-road driving, according to Guðmundur Ingi. “I believe education is our main weapon when it comes to off-road driving. But there are also rules and the nature conservation law states that off-road driving is subject to fines, and also that vehicles can be impounded and offenders can even face jail time.”

The police consider every individual case. The minimum fine for off-road driving is 350,000 ISK (€2,477, $2,781) and fines higher than that amount are often issued. “I believe that the basis of the rules is good. It may be that we should raise the fines, and that’s something which I’m very ready to inspect,” minister Guðmundur continued.

The task of educating drivers is mostly handled by rangers. 200 million ISK (€1.4m, $1.58m) were added to the budget for land protection this year, and an extra 300 million ISK (€2.11m, $2.37m) of funds will go towards the cause next year.

Authorities charged individuals for 40 instances of off-road driving in 2018. “Truth be told, the overall management of this matter has improved in the last 5 or 10 years. Both the police along with search and rescue squads, which have started to be more prevalent in the highlands. So rangers, search and rescue teams, and the police are collaborating well in this field. It’s an infinite task which we will just have to continue to fight,” Guðmundur said.

Head to the website of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, www.road.is, for further information on road conditions and what is considered off-road driving.

Vatnajökull National Park Approved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Vatnajökull national park has been approved to the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture along with the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources revealed this today. Vatnajökull national park becomes the third site in Iceland to feature on the World Heritage List following Þingvellir national park in 2004 and volcanic island Surtsey in 2008.

The decision to add Vatnajökull national park to the list was made earlier today by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Baku, Azerbaijan. The decision was made on the basis that the national park features unique nature which is invaluable for mankind, and should be part of our legacy. Vatnajökull national park has now been placed in a group with national parks such as Yellowstone National Park in the United States, Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia, and the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, to name a few.

Area of unique natural beauty
Vatnajökull national park covers 14% of Iceland’s surface area, 14,701 square kilometres in total. Largely covered by the Vatnajökull glacier, which is the largest ice cap in Iceland, it is also an active geological area featuring lava fields. The glacier itself became part of the Vatnajökull national park in 2008. Iceland’s highest peak, Hvannadalshnjúkur, is 2109.6 metres high and sits in the southern part of the glacier. The area features natural phenomena such as the Askja caldera, the ‘queen of Icelandic mountains’ Herðubreið, Dettifoss waterfall, Ásbyrgi glacial canyon, as well as Hljóðaklettar rock formation in the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon.

The application for the Vatnajökull national park to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage List has been in the works since 2016. The Icelandic government delivered a suggestion for the park to be added to the list in January 2018. Since then, the World Heritage Committee has inspected the merits of the park with the assistance of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The IUCN values suggested sites using factors such as world heritage value, authenticity, integrity, along with the status of protection.

Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson commented on the matter. “The nature in the area which has now been approved is magnificent – with fantasy like lava formations, black sands, rare oases of fauna, vast areas like none others, remnants of incredible cataclysmic floods, and glaciers which store incredible history and reflect the climate crisis at the same time. It is very unusual for such a large part of a country to be put on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is truly a happy day.”

[media-credit name=”Vatnajokull National Park” align=”alignnone” width=”563″][/media-credit]
Map of the national park. The blue lines indicate the park area. Red lines indicate no-go zones for vehicles, while special protection rules apply for the purple zones. For further information, head to https://www.vatnajokulsthjodgardur.is/en

Record Amount of Passengers on Westman Islands Ferry

Heimaklettur

A record amount of passengers travelled with the ferry Herjólfur between mainland Iceland and Vestmannaeyjar (The Westman Islands) this past June. The total amount of passengers were 62,545, an increase of 5,400 people when compared to 2018. The last record was set in 2017 when 57,538 travelled with Herjólfur to the islands, RÚV reports.

Guðbjartur Ellert Jónsson, managing director of Herjólfur, stated that there have been more foreign travellers than normal. He stated that the summer has gone off to a good start. The good weather in South Iceland has played its part as well as the fact that Herjólfur sails at a different time than before, as well as the ferry taking more frequent trips.

Just over 4,300 people reside in Vestmannaeyjar, which is famed for its natural beauty in the North Atlantic. The Westman Islands are an archipelago just south of Iceland, rich with birdlife such as puffins. The picturesque islands are rich in history, and a short tour to the island has long been a popular pastime of Icelanders. Two beluga whales have also recently made Vestmannaeyjar their home in an open sea beluga whale sanctuary handled by Sea Life Trust.

Vestmannaeyjar residents have not felt the reduction in the number of travellers following the bankruptcy of WOW air. Íris Róbertsdóttir, Vestmannaeyjar’s mayor, says that the island is always popular in the summertime. She stated that she felt there was even an increase in the number of travellers heading out to the islands.

Laila Pétursdóttir, from local tour operator RibSafari, strikes a similar note as she’s been happy with summer so far. The weather plays its part, but she also feels a marked increase in foreign travellers between years.

Invented a Carbon Offset Calculator to Fight Flying Shame

An Icelandic PhD student in computer science has created a program which calculates how many trees travellers have to plant to carbon offset their flights. Matthías Páll Gissurarson, a student at Chalmers University in Gothenburg, Sweden, wanted to find a way to get rid of his ‘flugviskubit‘ (flying shame). Originally derived from the Swedish term ‘flygskam’, flying shame refers to the guilty conscience travellers feel due to the substantial environmental impact air travel has. The ‘flygskam’ movement is essentially anti-flight as it aims to get people to stop travelling by aviation to lower carbon emissions. However, flying in and out of Iceland is the only viable option for many, so a calculator such as this can help avid travellers heading to Iceland with calculating their carbon emissions.

Matthías has named the calculator FFCO, the fuel-based carbon offset calculator for flights. The website also provides links to carbon offset projects both in Iceland and the United States where users can carbon offset their travels.

Getting rid of flying shame
“I was buying a flight to the United States and saw that the flight which I was purchasing did not reveal information on how much carbon the flight releases,” Matthías said in an interview with Vísir. More and more airlines have started to offer passengers the option to pay extra fees to carbon offset their travels. “I saw how easy it was to find the information so I decided to create a program to get rid of the flying shame more easily,” he stated. Those using the calculator can now compare the environmental impact of their flight to different flights, as the impact can vastly differ between companies based on factors such as aircraft type or fuel economy, amongst others.

Users input the flight number of their flight leg and receive information about how much fuel the plane uses on the trip as well as how many trees need to planted to offset the environmental impact. Matthías retrieves fuel data information from the flight tracking website FlightAware and seating information from SeatGuru. The carbon offset calculator always uses the most recent information about flights, which get updated regularly.

Head to Matthías’ website to calculate how many trees you need plant for your flight: FFCO, the fuel-based carbon offset calculator for flights

Matthías on Twitter: https://twitter.com/tritlo

[media-credit name=”FFCO / Matthías Páll Gissurarson” align=”alignnone” width=”1024″][/media-credit]

Glacial Outburst Flood in Múlakvísl Expected

Measurements from Mýrdalsjökull glacier indicate that a glacial outburst flood could occur in Múlakvísl river in the next days or weeks. A relatively large flood is expected, the largest in the last eight years. Authorities do not expect to have to enforce closures on roads at this point in time, but they will follow developments in the area closely. Closure of Route 1 might occur. The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management reported this yesterday, and will continue to monitor the situation.

The results from The Institute of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland indicate that enough water has collected below geothermal heat calderas in the eastern part of Mýrdalsjökull glacier. The water flow during the height of the glacial flood could be significantly more than the flood which took place in 2017, but likely less than the severe flood of 2011. The flood in 2011 destroyed the bridge on Route 1 crossing the Múlakvísl river east of Vík í Mýrdal.

Regular flooding of Múlakvísl
Small glacial floods have occurred in Múlakvísl river almost yearly in the last couple of years, close to or right after mid-summer when the thaw in Mýrdalsjökull glacier is at a high point. Those floods have most often been small enough that the river does not flow out of the riverbed, and have therefore not caused any damages. There was no glacial outburst flood in 2018. The flood in 2017 was considered significant although it did not cause any damages. However, the flood in 2017 caused significant air pollution due to the release of hydrogen sulphide. In the last 100 years, there have been at least two severe glacial outburst floods in Múlakvísl, in 1955 and 2011. In both of those floods, the bridge crossing Múlakvísl river was ruptured. For scale, the flood in 2017 is estimated to have been to the tune of 200 cubic metres per second near the Route 1 crossing, which was 20% of the maximum water flow in the 2011 flood in the same site.

“We’ve performed measurements in the same calderas four times since 2017. We can expect that the flood will be the largest flood which has occurred in Múlakvísl in the last eight years. In all likelihood, it will be significantly smaller than the 2011 flood which ruptured the bridge, but nonetheless, it would be the largest flood since then. The main explanation is the fact that there was no outburst from these calderas last summer,” said Eyjólfur Magnússon, a glacial research expert at The Institute of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland in an interview with RÚV. The warmth in Iceland this summer could be causing an earlier flood than usual, according to Eyjólfur. “It could be causing that this flood will happen sooner than usual. These calderas often have outbursts in July or the beginning of August. That has been the main rule. It seems to be so that the summer thaw is starting this flood. So it seems to be often that these calderas empty when the summer thaw is at high-point up on the glacier, or soon after that.

There is considerable geothermal heat under Mýrdalsjökull glacier which creates about 20 calderas on the surface of the glacier. The heat melts the glacial ice and the meltwater collects under the geothermal calderas. In addition to this, thaw water from the surface of the glacier seeps through the glacier and is added to meltwater collecting below the glacier. When enough water has collected, it breaks out from under the glacier and causes the glacial outburst flood.

Members of the travel industry in the nearby area have been informed of the danger. If a flood should occur, they will be informed of further proceedings right away. Scientists believe that the flood will come with some prior warning, and they are now working on putting up a GPS measurement device in one of the sub-glacial calderas to measure proceedings more accurately.

At this point in time, it is believed that it is not necessary to close roads. That situation could change quickly, however, and authorities will step in if they believe a flood is about to occur.

What can happen, and how should travellers react?
Dangers which accompany a glacial outburst flood in Múlakvísl river:
– Floodwater can block the route from Route 1 towards Kötlujökull glacier west of Hafursey.
– Floodwater can flood over and block, or even rupture, Route 1 at the bridge crossing of Múlakvísl river.
– Floodwater can block the route into Þakgil.
– The gas hydrogen sulphide could be found in copious amounts close to Múlakvísl river. The gas can burn mucous membrane in the eyes and in the respiratory tract

Instructions:
– Respect road closures, as well as evacuations if they should occur.
– Keep away from the Múlakvísl river when a glacial outburst flood is occurring.
– Avoid places affected by gas pollution, such as along the river as well as in depressions nearby by it. Do not stop at the bridge crossing Múlakvísl or Skálm.

Travellers passing through the area are instructed to head to the website of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, www.road.is, for further information on road conditions, or call 1777.

Rangers Remove Tourist Warts

Rangers are systemically removing cairns left behind by travellers out in nature. This ever-growing problem did not start yesterday, and rangers are witnessing new mounds being placed every day in Vatnajökull national park, for example. Rangers state that they disrupt the natural look of the country and that it is important to educate people on the matter.

Many rangers have started to call the stone mounds ‘tourist warts’. Helga Árnadóttir, a ranger in the south part of Vatnajökull national park, says that it is safe to call it a plague at this point in time. She states that the problem isn’t new and that there’s not really one reason for travellers putting them up. People seem to instantly build up a mound from rocks which they find on their way, and that there’s always a danger that when one mound is placed, others will follow.

The rangers working in the national park work hard to disassemble the mounds as they are not part of the natural landscape which travellers have come to see, and especially not within nature reserves. By placing the mounds, travellers are putting a human touch on a natural area. In fact, visitors in nature reserves are prohibited from disrupting the natural landscape in any way. Furthermore, displacing stones can leave ugly open sores in grown land.

In centuries past, mounds served the purpose to direct travellers and those mounds are considered cultural relics today. Many of those directional mounds still serve that purpose today to direct travellers in the highlands.

The Environmental Agency of Iceland shed a light on this persistent problem on its Facebook page when it told the story of ranger Helena. Helena, who is a ranger in Þjórsárdalur, removed a mound close to Hjálparfoss waterfall. The mound was made up of 3219 stones in total and it took Helena an hour and eighteen minutes to disassemble the whole mount. Once she had removed them all, the area gained back its natural outlook.

“Let’s defend the country together. Let’s not build unnecessary mounds and let’s encourage others not to do so,” part of the status read.

https://www.facebook.com/umhverfisstofnun/posts/2999959910044240

We ask travellers and hikers to respect nature and leave it as it was. If you intend to travel to Iceland, please take a look at the Icelandic Tourist Pledgehttps://www.inspiredbyiceland.com/icelandicpledge/