Coast Guard Helicopter Called Twice Last Night

TF-GRÓ Icelandic Coast Guard Helicopter

Rescue helicopters from the Coast Guard were called out twice last night. In both cases, hikers ran into trouble, but no serious injuries occurred. Vísir reports.

The first case involved a hiker who called for help near Strútur, a mountain to the north of Mýrdalsjökull glacier. The helicopter is reported to have rescued the hiker and taken them to safety.

Later last night, reportedly around 2:00 AM, a helicopter responded to a second call from hikers at Vestrahorn, a popular mountain in Southeast Iceland. The helicopter is reported to have flown to the scene and transported the two individuals to safety.

Neither case resulted in any serious injuries to the hikers involved.

Although both of these incidents ended well, they nevertheless serve as reminders to respect the Icelandic highland. If you are planning on hiking this summer, you may want to read our brief guide to hiking in Iceland.

 

 

European-Siberian Tree Hybrid Iceland’s Fastest Grower

A screenshot from RÚV. The European-Siberian larch hybrid, called hrymur in Icelandic

“There is no other tree that grows as fast in Iceland except maybe black cottonwood,” says Þröstur Eysteinsson, a former director of the Icelandic Forestry Association, about the hybrid he created a couple decades ago by crossbreeding European and Siberian larch trees in Iceland. The new hybrid has been named hrymur in Icelandic and can produce usable wood in just over two decades. RÚV reported first.

Þröstur studied tree breeding in the United States and when he returned home, he wanted to apply what he had learned. The then-director of the Forestry Association Sigurður Blöndal pointed out a straight and tall European larch tree in Hallormsstaðaskógur forest in East Iceland. He cloned the seeds in the association’s production facilities and eventually created a hybrid with selected Siberian larch.

Good wood for carpentry

Within 4-5 years, the difference was clear. “It was clear right away that this hybrid grows much better. It grows around 30% faster in height and three times faster in diameter. It produces timber here in a much shorter time than the Siberian larch.”

Some of the hybrids planted 22 years ago were felled when the forest was thinned, and the timber proved usable. Þröstur made a coffee table out of some of the wood, which he says is lighter than Siberian larch but otherwise good wood for carpentry.

More demand than supply

Unfortunately, the hrymur’s fast-growing genes are limited to the first generation of hybrids, meaning that to get good seeds, European larch much be continuously fertilised with Siberian larch. The Forestry Association can provide some 100,000-200,000 plants per year, but the demand for the hybrid is up to 2-3 million.

Read More: Of Ashes and Evergreens

While black cottonwood may grow faster than hrymur, the new hybrid has one additional advantage. It can be planted in poor soil, while the black cottonwood requires more fertile land to achieve the same growth. “And it’s first and foremost poor soil that we have available for afforestation in Iceland. So here we have a fast-growing tree that can grow in poor soil.”

Read more about the history of forestry in Iceland.

Cold and Damp in Southwest, Sunny and Warm in East

Rain in Reykjavík

The weather in the capital region will be damp and cool in the coming days, with a sunnier and warmer forecast in East Iceland.

Today, southwest winds will range from 8 to 15 m/s, occasionally reaching 10 to 18 m/s from the northwest. Winds will ease gradually by afternoon. Expect intermittent showers or drizzle across western regions with temperatures between 9 to 15 degrees Celsius. In the east, it will be mostly sunny with temperatures ranging from 15 to 22 degrees Celsius.

Tomorrow, southerly winds will prevail at 5 to 13 m/s. There will be occasional precipitation in the west, but otherwise, conditions will be fair. Winds will strengthen later in the day with rain spreading across the western areas by evening. Temperatures are expected to remain steady.

New Improvements Begin Around Stuðlagil Canyon

stuðlagil

Work has now officially begun to further improve access for tourists to Stuðlagil Canyon, with plans to significantly enhance and expand walking paths in the area this summer, along with the installation of four new footbridges. The new developments are intended to increase safety and accessibility at the popular tourist site. Austur Frétt reports.

An increasingly popular tourist site

Stuðlagil Canyon, located in East Iceland, is renowned for its stunning basalt column formations and dramatic scenery. In recent years, Stuðlagil has become one of the most popular natural attractions in Iceland due to its unique geological features that have made it a sensation on social media. The area was relatively unknown until its recent explosion in popularity, meaning that the area has remained more or less undeveloped. However, access to Stuðlagil Canyon has improved in recent years with the development of hiking trails and footbridges, making it more accessible to visitors.

Four new footbridges, expanded paths

Permission for the project was obtained from Múlaþing municipality in early June. The development will expand and improve extant walking paths, making them also accessible to ATVs. This is important for future maintenance, as the vehicles are used to transport material to and from the remote area.
In addition, four new footbridges will be added to the area. Upon completion of the development, it will be possible to take a circular path around the popular area, which planners hope will better distribute the visitors to the site.

The majority of the work is expected to be completed before this winter, with the project fully concluded in summer of next year.

 

Plans to Eradicate Scrapie Over 20 Years

Icelandic sheep

Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, Minister of Food, Hrönn Ólína Jörundsdóttir, the Director of the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority, and Trausti Hjálmarsson, the Chairman of the Icelandic Farmers’ Association, signed a national plan for the eradication of scrapie yesterday, July 8. The plan aims to end scrapie, a deadly disease in sheep, over the next 20 years by placing a greater emphasis on artificial insemination in order to cultivate a population with genotypes resistant to the disease. Morgunblaðið reports.

Costs of scrapie in Iceland

Scrapie is a fatal, degenerative disease affecting the nervous systems of sheep. Scrapie is characterized by intense itching (leading to the scraping behavior that gives the disease its name), loss of coordination, behavioral changes, and ultimately, death. The disease is caused by prions, which are abnormal, infectious proteins.

Scrapie has had significant economic repercussions for Iceland’s sheep farming industry. Infected flocks often need to be culled to prevent the spread of the disease, leading to substantial financial losses for farmers. This includes the loss of livestock, decreased productivity, and costs associated with disease control measures. The necessity of culling infected sheep has also been devastating for individual farmers. Many have faced the emotional and financial strain of losing entire flocks, sometimes repeatedly, which can result in a significant impact on rural communities and farming sustainability.

Read more: Good Breeding

Regarding the agreement reached yesterday, Bjarkey stated “I am just extremely pleased that we have finally reached this point. It is long, long overdue that this is happening.” She continued, saying: “Of course, it has been incredibly sad to witness for so many years and decades when it has been necessary to cull sheep on rural farms and see farmers lose everything.”

“The plan is for 20 years but will be reviewed annually, and I believe that farmers are very eager to participate in this and are, of course, already starting […] so I hope that we can achieve this even sooner than planned,” she stated.

Bjarkey also reminded the press that measures to combat scrapie have also been ongoing for some time, with artificial insemination of sheep with scrapie-resistant genes being practiced for some time now.

“It is starting to bear fruit, and we are already identifying more genotypes that are being further researched, which will hopefully help speed up the process,” the Minister said.

The Minister also highlighted that the agreement would also represent a significant savings for the state in the long run: “It costs money to pay compensation to farmers involved in this. It costs money to rebuild the livestock, and it costs money to fence in sheep.”

Expert Suggests Puffin Hunting Ban

Puffins lundar látrabjarg

Iceland should ban puffin hunting on state land and ban the sale of puffin meat to protect the birds’ declining population, the country’s foremost puffin expert told RÚV. Hunting as well as environmental conditions have contributed to the ongoing decline of Iceland’s puffin population. Iceland has a global responsibility to protect the bird, according to biologist Erpur Snær Hanssen.

Puffin population declined by 70% over 30 years

Iceland has the world’s largest population of breeding puffins, with 20% of the global population nesting in the Westman Islands alone, and some 3 million nesting pairs across the country. A study published last year indicated that Iceland’s puffin population had declined by a staggering 70% since 1995, surpassing the previously believed figure of 40%. Hunting accounts for at least 10% of this decline, according to biologist Erpur Snær Hanssen of the South Iceland Nature Centre.

Erpur has been monitoring Iceland’s puffins for decades. He says the Atlantic puffin has been hunted unsustainably for over 200 years. The Environment Agency of Iceland and the Ministry for the Environment are urging hunters and restaurateurs to limit puffin hunting and sales, but they should do even more, according to Erpur.

International responsibility to protect the puffin

Erpur says that the government has an international responsibility to protect the species and that it must take harsher measures than simply urging hunters and restaurateurs to limit their puffin hunting and consumption. “Regarding improvements, a ban on the sale [of puffin products] would be one very strong element, then it’s also a question of the state setting an example and protect its own colonies, it has a number of colonies [on state land], like Málmey island in Skagafjörður,” Erpur stated.

The Atlantic puffin’s conservation status has been considered “vulnerable” since 2015.

Unseasonal Cold and Rain Mark Iceland’s June

People in the rain on Skólavörðustígur street, Reykjavík.

June in Iceland was colder and wetter than average, with Reykjavík and Akureyri experiencing below-normal temperatures and significant rainfall, the Icelandic Meteorological Office reports. June also saw an unusual snowstorm in North Iceland, leading to major disruptions.

Below-average temperatures

According to the Icelandic Meteorological Office, the average temperature in Reykjavík in June was 8.7°C, 1.1°C below the 1991-2020 average and 1.1°C below the last decade’s average. In Akureyri, North Iceland, the average temperature was 8.2°C, 1.4°C below the 1991-2020 average and 2.3°C below the last decade’s average.

The northeast of Iceland experienced the coldest temperatures relative to the rest of the country, while the south of Iceland saw the warmest, the MET Office notes.

Significant precipitation

June was also unusually wet in North Iceland. In Akureyri, precipitation measured 54.9 mm, more than twice the 1991-2020 average. June precipitation has only been higher five times in Akureyri, most recently in 2005, the MET Office notes.

Precipitation in Reykjavík measured 59.3 mm, about 35% above the 1991-2020 average. Days with 1.0 mm or more of precipitation in Reykjavík totalled 10, which is one more than the average. In Akureyri, there were 11 such days, seven more than average.

An unusual amount of snow

As reported by IR, there was also an unusually high amount of snow in North Iceland owing to a northerly spell in early June. The highest snow depths were recorded at Vöglum in Vaglaskógur (43 cm on June 5).

Various places around North and Northeast Iceland – Grímsstaðir á Fjöllum, Dalsmynni in Hjaltadalur, Sakka in Svarfaðardalur – experienced the highest recorded snow depth for June from freshly fallen snow.

The snow caused significant problems. “Farmers suffered damage, many birds died, and mountain road travel was greatly disrupted,” the MET Office notes.

Finally, sunshine hours in Reykjavík measured 197.5, 8 hours above the 1991-2020 average. In Akureyri, sunshine hours totalled 187.9, two hours below the 1991-2020 average.

Svartsengi Barrier Elevation Progressing Well

lava barrier Iceland

The elevation of the protective barriers around the Svartsengi power station, which will be raised by 4-9.5 metres to a height of 10-21 metres, is progressing well. The project is expected to be completed before Merchant’s Weekend.

Project progressing well

On June 18, lava breached a protective barrier near the Svartsengi power station, not far from the town of Grindavík. Firefighters responded by using water from fire trucks to halt the lava flow. They also experimented with cooling machinery but encountered issues relating to water pressure.

The eruption drew to a close on June 22, although another eruption is likely to occur in the coming weeks or months. On June 27, the Minister of Justice authorised raising and strengthening protective barriers around Svartsengi to prevent damage from volcanic activity.

In an interview with Mbl.is published this morning, Hörn Hrafnsdóttir, an engineer at Verkís, stated that the elevation of the protective barrier, where lava overflowed in the last eruption, is progressing well.

Read More: Wall of Fire (On the Construction of Lava Barriers on Reykjanes)

The project is expected to be completed before Merchant’s Weekend (August 2 – August 5). The barrier in question, referred to as L1, extends from Mt. Sýlingarfell. As noted by Hörn, the height of the barrier varies, although it will generally be raised by 4-9.5 metres in different sections. This means the height of the barrier will range between 10-21 metres.

“Things are going very well, and the elevation should be finished before the Merchant’s Weekend,” Hörn stated.

As reported by Mbl.is, approximately 30-35 people were working on elevating the barrier near Svartsengi. Hörn noted that Verkís has not yet conducted simulations to determine whether the lava would have reached the Svartsengi power plant without the barriers. Regarding the last eruption, it was evident that the lava came dangerously close.

Coastal Fisher Rescued After Boat Begins to Sink

The Icelandic Coast Guard helicopter and three rescue boats were dispatched due to a significant leak in a coastal fishing boat in Faxaflói Bay. One person was transported to the hospital. Rescue workers successfully sealed the leak and towed the boat to Hafnarfjörður.

Fisher in a state of reduced consciousness

The Icelandic Coast Guard helicopter and three rescue boats were dispatched around 11 PM last night due to a leak in a coastal fishing boat, Vísir reports. One person was on board and was transported to the emergency room at National University Hospital due to injuries.

In an interview with Vísir published this morning, Viggó M. Sigurðsson, from the Coast Guard’s operations division, stated that the Coast Guard assessed the situation as posing an immediate danger.

“A leak occurred in a fishing boat about five miles northeast of Grótta [at the tip of the Seltjarnarnes peninsula in West Reykjavík] in Faxaflói Bay. It seemed to be significant. We called out a helicopter and requested the aid of rescue boats from Reykjavík, Kópavogur, and Hafnarfjörður,” Viggó told Vísir.

Viggó noted that about 40 minutes after the call, the first responders arrived at the scene and observed a considerable leak. Helicopter crew members boarded the vessel, examined the crewman, and determined he needed to be transported to the hospital. He arrived there about an hour after the call was received. RÚV reports that the man had been in a state of “reduced consciousness.”

Towed to Hafnarfjörður harbour

Rescue personnel from the ships subsequently boarded the coastal fishing boat with pumps, removed most of the water from the boat, and sealed the leak: “They then towed it to the harbour in Hafnarfjörður,” Viggó said, noting that they arrived about five hours after the call was received.

According to Viggó, the operation went smoothly despite taking several hours. He added that what happened to the person on board remained unclear and that he has no further information about his condition. Viggó emphasised that the danger was significant.

“When there is so much water in the boat that it starts listing, stability is compromised. At that point, you never know how long it will be before it sinks. We, therefore, decided to dispatch everyone with the highest priority. It was a close call.”

Prudent to Reinforce Barriers for Anticipated Eruption

Protective barrriers in Reykjanes

A volcanologist anticipates a potential summer eruption in Sundhnúksgígar to be similar to past events, Mbl.is reports, although increased lava mounds will likely complicate magma flow predictions. The Icelandic Meteorological Office reports a quicker land uplift rate in the area, suggesting a likely eruption in the coming weeks or months.

Similar to previous eruptions

If another eruption occurs this summer in the Sundhnúkar crater row, volcanologist Haraldur Sigurðsson expects it to be similar to previous ones.

In an interview with Mbl.is published yesterday, Haraldur noted that the lava mound in the Sundhnúksgígar area has increased, making it more challenging to control the flow of magma and predict its direction. For instance, protecting areas near the Blue Lagoon and Grindavík could become more complex.

“However, significant work is being done on these defensive barriers,” Haraldur added. “If the eruption follows the same direction along the fissure, it should be manageable, but I think it’s wise to continue reinforcing the barriers and be prepared for anything, especially around the Blue Lagoon.”

When asked to comment further about the lava mound, Sigurður explained that the lava has built up with each eruption. “Each time lava emerges, that point rises by 5 to 10 metres, or at least several metres repeatedly. It’s the bulge on this ‘turtle’. The turtle’s shell has become quite tall, affecting the flow of lava and making it harder to predict the direction,” he explained.

Quickening land uplift

As noted on the website of the Icelandic Meteorological Office, the rate of land uplift in Sundhnúksgígar is currently proceeding at a quicker speed than before the May 29 eruption and is similar to the rate at the beginning of the year.

“A model based on deformation data shows that the magma inflow into the magma chamber beneath Svartsengi is now 4-6 m3/s. At the start of the magma intrusion and the subsequent May 29 eruption, it is estimated that about 13-19 million m3 of magma exited the chamber. Model calculations indicate that at the current inflow rate, the magma chamber beneath Svartsengi will reach a similar state to before the May 29 eruption within three to six weeks.”

The MET Office noted that, as of yesterday, it is likely that a magma intrusion or eruption will occur in the coming weeks and months.

A brief note on safety

It is important to note that the eruptions on the Reykjanes peninsula over the past three years have been highly localised, with minimal effect on air travel and travel in general.

For more information on tourist safety on the Reykjanes peninsula, see our recent 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!’”