Eruption at Mt. Askja Likely “Sooner Rather than Later”

Lake Askja, Askja, Volcano

Ármann Höskuldsson, a volcanologist and geochemist at the University of Iceland’s Institute of Earth Sciences, told Fréttablaðið on Wednesday that the Askja volcano was likely to erupt “sooner rather than later.” Temperature patterns at the surface of Lake Askja suggest that geothermal flux had significantly increased over the past few weeks.

“It’s about to erupt”

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, the University of Iceland’s Volcanology and Natural Hazard Research Group (i.e. Rannsóknastofa í eldfjallafræði og náttúruvá) revealed that the surface water of Lake Askja (situated in the crater of the volcano Askja in the northeast of the glacier Vatnajökull) had reached a temperature of 2°C and that a thermal analysis of a satellite image showed that the water was heating up steadily.

Ármann Höskuldsson, a volcanologist and geochemist at the University of Iceland’s Institute of Earth Sciences, spoke to Fréttablaðið regarding this update: “This means the geothermal fissures have opened up. It is the effect of magma flowing into the mountain. The roof of the mountain gives way and cracks open. This means that the heat reaches the surface faster and that the water heats up and the ice melts.”

Ármann added that under normal conditions there would be ice over the lake. This increased ground temperature in the area was, therefore, abnormal – which could only mean one thing: “It’s about to erupt,” Ármann concluded. The volcanologist was, however, careful to caveat this statement by saying that it was impossible to predict exactly when the eruption would occur.

“But we’ll hopefully be given reasonable notice when the time comes,” Ármann remarked.

Read the full post from the University of Iceland’s Volcanology and Natural Hazard Research Group here.

Reykjavík Municipal Archives to Be Closed Down

Yesterday, the City Council of Reykjavík approved the mayor’s proposal to close down the Reykjavík Municipal Archives. The operations of the Municipal Archives would be incorporated into the National Archives of Iceland. Historians and archivists have criticised the decision, RÚV reports.

Operations to be transferred to the National Archives

Yesterday, Reykjavík City Council approved Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson’s proposal to close down the Reykjavík Municipal Archives. The mayor’s proposal was presented at a city council meeting six months ago, although its formal processing was postponed until yesterday.

The proposal was predicated on a summary authored by KPMG, which reviewed the operation of the Municipal Archives and assessed three possible options to cut down costs: one, to continue running the Municipal Archives in its current form; two, to increase cooperation with the National Archives of Iceland, which would imply the construction of a new archive; and three, to close down the Municipal Archives and transfer its operation to the National Archives. The last option was considered, by far, the cheapest.

Mayor Dagur told RÚV that the city council had made “a policy decision,” but that the matter would go before the city executive council. “The [path] that was chosen was to start discussions with the National Archives about joint digital preservation and, in effect, the merging of these institutions. That would mean that the Municipal Archives, in its current form, would no longer be an independent entity.”

According to available analyses, operational changes will not be felt over the next four years, Dagur noted. “It will depend on the progress made during discussions, on the outcome of those discussions, and the overall outcome regarding these preservation issues in the country as a whole.” On this latter point, Dagur referred to the global discussion concerning the digital preservation of documents. He hopes that museums in Iceland will unite to ensure safe and accessible document storage.

“Our discussions have solely been positive and constructive,” Dagur said of his relationship with the state. “The National Archives is, in many ways, facing the same challenges as the Municipal Archives and the city itself. If we look to other countries, we see that they’re facing similar challenges, as well.”

Dagur observed that there was no reason to believe that ensuring access to archives would not improve if matters were handled properly. The goal was to translate a lot of data into digital form so that individuals weren’t forced to look to a single place in order to access documents.

A misguided decision based on limited understanding

As noted by RÚV, the proposal to close down the Reykjavík Municipal Archives surprised Svanhildur Bogadóttir, an archivist employed at the institution, when the media reported the proposal in the middle of last month. National Archivist Hrefna Róbertsdóttir further commented that, to the best of her knowledge, this would be the first time that a municipality’s archives were closed.

Sigurður Gylfi Magnússon, professor of history at the University of Iceland, told RÚV that the proposal was misguided and showed a limited understanding of museum issues.

Icelandic Bar Association Concerned About Increased Police Surveillance Powers

Jón Gunnarsson Minister of Justice

A new bill that would increase Icelandic police’s powers to monitor people who are not suspected of crimes is concerning to the Chairman of the Icelandic Bar Association. The Association submitted plenty of comments on the Justice Minister’s amendment bill to the Police Act, RÚV reports. 

Decisions on surveillance would rest solely in police hands

A new bill introduced by Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson proposes giving police more power to gather information and carry out surveillance in order to reduce crime. The Bar Association’s comments on the bill criticised that the decision-making power for such activities would rest solely with police. “We believe that increased legal certainty consists in these actions requiring a court order,” stated Sigurður Örn Hilmarsson, the chairman of the Icelandic Bar Association.

Sigurður stated he is concerned that the proposed surveillance is quite general and quite extensive. “There are, of course, some conditions in the bill, but it give the police authority to monitor people’s movements without they themselves being under suspicion of criminal conduct, whether or not they have committed a crime or are preparing to commit a crime,” he stated.

When it comes to investigating the most serious crimes, such as terrorism or organised crime, Sigurður says such cases would be better placed in the hands of a dedicated organisation, such as an intelligence service, if such an organisation is deemed necessary.

Submarine Cable Between Iceland and Ireland Begins Operation

Better telecommunications security and speedier cloud services are two of the benefits of a new submarine cable connecting Iceland and Ireland, RÚV reports. The cable, named ÍRIS, began operating yesterday and is the third submarine cable installed and operated by state-owned Icelandic company Farice. The first two are FARICE-1 and DANICE, which connect Iceland to the UK and Denmark, respectively.

“We have evaluated that with the arrival [of ÍRIS], we are increasing Iceland’s international telecommunications security tenfold,” stated Þorvarður Sveinsson. One of the reasons the company decided to lay submarine cables to Ireland is that the country hosts facilities of many tech companies. One example are Microsoft cloud services, and Þorvarður says the new cable should increase their speed for users in Iceland. “The transit time that it takes our data to go between Iceland and these data centres in Dublin is decreasing,” Þorvarður explained.

Farice has additional submarine cable projects in the works, including a pan-Arctic cable connecting Iceland to Japan, set to be completed by the end of 2026. It will be the first Arctic route connecting Asia with Europe through the Northwest Passage and should greatly reduce the optical distance between the continents, minimising latency.

Grímsey Ferry Out of Service for 6-8 Weeks

Grímsey

The ferry that connects the 53 residents of Grímsey island to the mainland of Iceland will be out of commission for 6-8 weeks this spring for regular maintenance, RÚV reports. No backup transportation has yet been found to move either people or goods to and from the island during that period. One local city councillor says it is the equivalent of cutting off a mainland town in Iceland from the Ring Road.

Grímsey falls under the municipality of Akureyri, North Iceland. Akureyri Municipal Council has criticised the situation and says the Road and Coastal Administration of Iceland, which owns and operates the Grímsey ferry, has not been keeping residents informed about the situation.

“The thing is that ferry routes are just like Route One [the main highway around Iceland] and we would of course not accept any community being cut off from the main transport artery,” Akureyri Councillor Halla Björk Reynisdóttir stated. The Grímsey ferry is not only used to transport people but also goods, including the fish caught by Grímsey fishermen. Sólveig Gísladóttir of the Road and Coastal Administration’s communication department stated that the organisation is working towards a solution and it should be found and presented to residents by the end of the week.

Grímsey residents have long been calling for a replacement for their island’s ferry. Sæfari, as the current ferry is named, was initially supposed to be used for 10 years but has now been operating for 15. The maintenance to be done on the ferry this coming April and May is meant to extend its lifetime by a few more years.

New App for Learning Icelandic Vocabulary

Háskóli Íslands University of Iceland

Academics and students at the University of Iceland have created a new mobile and computer app that uses flashcards to teach Icelandic vocabulary. The flashcard deck contains the 4,000 most frequently used words in Icelandic and provides translations into English, Polish, Chinese, and Ukrainian.

“Flashcards [are] a well-known and well-established method used in diverse studies. The cards used to be made out of paper but now they are usually digital on phones or in computers,” says Anton Karl Ingason, associate professor of Icelandic linguistics and language technology at the University of Iceland. Anton has developed the app, called IceFlash 4K, along with Xindan Xu, Veronika Teresa Kolka, and Alesia Kovaleva at the University of Iceland’s Institute of Linguistics.

“There has been rapid progress in Icelandic language technology in recent years, both when it comes to software and databases,” Anton stated. “We also believe that there is a considerable demand for tools to facilitate learning Icelandic; this project is thus a certain contribution to meet this demand.”

The vocabulary app is open to all and is free of charge. Anton stated that the database behind the teaching tool is open source, making it easier for other developers to create language-learning tools built in part on IceFlash 4K.

Instructions on how to set up the app are available in the YouTube video below. See Iceland Review’s comprehensive guide to online resources for learning Icelandic.

Voting on New Mediating Proposal “the Right Decision”

Samningar Verkföll Sátti

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Chair of the Efling union, believes that putting the state mediator’s new proposal to a vote was “the right decision.” Sólveig told Vísir that claiming that any kind of victory had been achieved was preposterous, given that  SA had been unwilling to negotiate directly with Efling.

Lockouts and strikes postponed

After temporarily-appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson announced this morning that Efling and SA had agreed to vote on a new mediating proposal – and that all ongoing and impending strikes and lockouts would be postponed – Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, the Chair of the Efling union, shared her reaction to the proposal with the media.

In an interview with Vísir, Sólveig stated that she was unwilling to say whether or not she recommended that Efling members vote in favour of the new proposal – but that it was, nevertheless, “the right decision to hold a vote;” the impending lockout and wage improvements for maids and truck drivers were among the reasons why Efling’s negotiating committee had agreed to vote on the proposal.

“This is a legally presented media proposal. It is, of course, clear that SA does not intend, and will not sign a collective agreement with Efling,” Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir commented.

Asked what it was in the mediator’s proposal that convinced Efling’s negotiating committee to put it to a vote, Sólveig Anna referred to the fact, among other things, that hotel maids and Samskip drivers would be moved up a pay bracket; that an agreement had been reached with the employers of striking drivers regarding a bonus for transporting hazardous material; and that full retroactivity of the wage agreement had been negotiated (active from November of last year).

“Being presented with this legal mediation proposal, given that there was this devastating lockout on the horizon, I – as the chair of this association, and as the chair of the negotiating committee – […] felt that, in a conversation with the committee, that this was something on which our members could vote. And I believe it is the right decision,” Sólveig Anna told Vísir.

Up to Efling members to decide

Sólveig Anna also told Vísir that although she was unwilling to say, as previously noted, whether she would recommend that Efling members vote on the proposal, she would do her job: “Of course, I will do what I have to do as Efling Chair, and as the chair of the negotiating committee, which is to clarify what has happened – to clearly explain the content of the proposal, alongside anything else that was discussed yesterday. It is then up to the members themselves to decide how they vote,” Sólveig Anna explained.

Sólveig was likewise unwilling to speculate whether the new proposal would serve to end the wage dispute; if she had signed a collective agreement that she and the negotiating committee had struck, and with which they were happy, then she would have certainly encouraged members to vote in favour of it.

“There are simply different rules to the game when it comes to a mediating proposal, but I will, as I’ve stated, do my job,” Sólveig Anna observed.

Strikers “the real heroes” of the labour movement

Sólveig Anna reiterated her displeasure with the fact that SA had refused to enter into a collective agreement with Efling. Labour improvements had been made for staff, including hotel maids and drivers, who had been willing to strike. However, Sólveig noted, no one could claim that any kind of victory had been achieved, given that it had proved impossible to reach a collective agreement – and that a mediation proposal had been the only way forward.

Efling had, however, won certain smaller victories when it came to the dispute: the organisational and fighting power of the union was obvious to everyone: “These are the real heroes of the Icelandic labour struggle: low-wage workers who show that they know what they’re worth,” Sólveig Anna remarked.

Sólveig also considered the fact that Efling had not been forced to hand over its electoral roll (i.e. membership registry) to the Office of the State Mediator, in order to vote on Aðalsteinn Leifsson’s initial mediation proposal – which Sólveig Anna described as “illegal” – as a victory.

Given the state of the dispute, Efling’s negotiating committee believed that it was impossible to continue. SA was “ready to do everything in its power” to avoid entering into a collective agreement with Efling and “deprive the company of its independent bargaining rights.”

“It would be absurd for anyone to perceive that as a victory,” she stated.

A warning for the future

Finally, Sólveig Anna warned the members of the labour market not to act against Efling in the future:

“I truly hope that those parties within the Icelandic labour market who have lobbied for the union to be deprived of its independent bargaining rights will think twice before doing it again,” said Sólveig Anna, who described Efling as “the most powerful labour union in the country.”

Powerlifter Elsa Pálsdóttir Sets Three World Records in Budapest

Icelandic powerlifter Elsa Pálsdóttir set three world records at the European Masters Classic Powerlifting Championships in Budapest, Hungary, yesterday. Elsa, who’d been nursing a minor groyne injury in the run up to the competition, told Mbl.is that she was delighted by her achievements.

A world-record squat

When we met powerlifter Elsa Pálsdóttir last year, she concluded our interview by saying that she hoped to defend her powerlifting titles in the future and that she was convinced that there was “room for improvement.”

“As long as I have my health, I’ll keep at it,” Elsa remarked. “And as long as I’m having fun. That’s why I do this; you’ve got to enjoy yourself, too.”

Read More: Staying Power (an interview with powerlifter Elsa Pálsdóttir)

Elsa certainly appeared to be enjoying herself at the European Masters Classic Powerlifting Championships (held in Budapest, Hungary) yesterday. Competing in the 60-69 age group, Elsa set three world records and one Icelandic record over the course of the three events (there were four other women in her weight class, i.e. -76 kg).

The champion powerlifter spoke to a reporter from Mbl.is at the end of the night: “I began by lifting a safe 125 kg in the squat,” Elsa observed. “I then attempted 138 kg, which is half a kilo over the world record. I failed the first attempt, so it was do or die on the next one – and the bar went up.”

This would prove to be Elsa’s first world record of the day.

More world records

During the bench press, the sexagenarian opened with 62.5 kg – just three kg lighter than her Icelandic record. She followed this lift by successfully bench pressing 67.5 kg, an Icelandic record. Her final attempt was 70 kg, which Elsa did not manage to lift.

Next up, the deadlift.

Elsa faced tough competition in the final event. She began with a safe lift of 155 kg and then managed a remarkable 163 kg, thereby breaking two world records – one in the event itself and another in the total weight lifted across all three events. Elsa’s joy was, however short-lived. A Finnish competitor lifted 167.5 kg, surpassing Elsa’s achievement and setting a new world record.

Elsa was not ready to give up. She asked for 170 kg to be loaded onto the bar – and then slowly pulled the weight off the ground, thereby setting yet another world record: her third of the day, across the squat, deadlift, and combined events.

As noted by Mbl.is, one could say that Elsa set four world records (if one includes the initial deadlift record, which only stood for a few minutes).

“I feel great”

“I feel great,” Elsa told Mbl.is. “It was a great relief to manage 138 kg in the squat. I’ve been increasing the load in training, but because I’ve been nursing a minor groyne injury, I’ve struggled a bit with the depth of my squat. My record in Iceland is actually 142.5 kg, but it isn’t a valid world record because it was not set at an international tournament.”

Elsa also shed some light on her rivalry with the Finnish competitor.

“This Finnish woman entered my age group at the end of the year; she was born in 1963 (Elsa was born in 1960). I had a bit of an advantage over her in the squat; a half a kilo on her in the bench press; but, prior to this tournament, we were on equal footing when it came to the deadlift  – so I knew that it would be quite the battle,” Elsa remarked. “I thought it was incredibly sweet to set a world record, see it taken from me, and then get it back.”

When asked about her preparation for the tournament, Elsa replied that the training had gone well, aside from the groyne injury: “It went very well. I’ve been lifting well, but I’ve been struggling with this groyne injury, so we needed to adjust our training a bit so that it wouldn’t interfere with this tournament. But otherwise, the preparation went very well,” Elsa replied. As noted in our long-form article on Iceland Review, Elsa is coached by Kristleifur Andrésson, to whom Elsa refers as “her rock.”

Elsa concluded by saying that light training would be up ahead over the next few weeks and that her dream was to defend her World Masters Women’s Classic Championship title, which she won in October of last year in Canada. “But this year’s tournament will be held in Mongolia, which means a lot of travel and high costs. Nevertheless, that’s our aim, and we hope to begin preparations in a few weeks.”

Vote on New Proposal Approved, Strikes and Lockout Postponed

State mediator

Temporarily-appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson called a press conference at 10 AM this morning. He told reporters that representatives from the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) and the Efling union had approved of his new mediating proposal and that all ongoing and impending strikes and the proposed lockout would be postponed while voting took place.

Voting to begin on Friday

“Good morning, I’ve called this meeting because I’ve decided to submit a new mediating proposal in the dispute between SA and the Efling union,” temporarily-appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson told reporters at a press conference that began at 10 AM this morning.

“This mediating proposal will replace the old one, which was originally submitted on January 26. The involved parties have agreed to put the proposal to a vote, which will be conducted on the website of the State Mediator’s Office. Voting will begin on Friday, March 3, at noon, and it will conclude on Wednesday, March 8. We believe that the results will be in shortly thereafter. The parties have also agreed to postpone all ongoing and impending strikes and the lockout beginning at noon today and until the results are in.”

Ástráður added that the new proposal was very similar to the original one; the agreement would be retroactive and salary increases would be the same as stipulated in agreements signed by other unions. “There is one item that is different. There is an alteration to the employment title for general workers in guesthouses and their respective salary bracket, but otherwise, it’s the same agreement as signed in the SGS agreement.”

Ástráður also noted that the parties would have six days to vote on the proposal to ensure that as many people as possible could vote.

Things evolve over time

When asked to pinpoint what exactly had led to this resolution, Ástráður responded thusly:

“It’s always the case, in such disputes, that life goes on, and things change, and we’ve had strikes going on for nine or ten days straight, which affects these negotiations. But the main thing is that the parties managed to conclude certain matters that aren’t a part of the proposal itself – and which have nothing to do with my role in these negotiations – but that matter in their communications and their future relationship. They managed to wrap that up yesterday. So they’ve agreed to vote on the proposal. But we’ll have to wait for the results.”

Ástráður clarified the above point by pointing to certain side agreements, aside from the main wage negotiations, that aren’t addressed directly in the proposal itself, but that were crucial to the proposal being approved. When asked if the negotiating committees would encourage members to approve of the proposal, Ástráður was unwilling to say.

Displeased with the retroactive clause of the agreement

Vísir also spoke to Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson, Director of SA, who stated that he would need to place the proposal within its proper context. The dispute had been locked in a Gordian knot and that the parties were worn out after long negotiations. The strikes and impending lockout also had an effect.

“We expect that the disputing parties will encourage members to approve of the proposal,” Halldór stated, emphasising that the wage agreement stipulated in the new proposal was, in its material substance, the same as the original proposal. He also stated that he was not pleased with the fact that the agreements would be retroactive, as he did not want to reward unions for going on strike.

“Everyone had to yield certain demands … the magic often occurs in the grey areas,” Halldór observed. He concluded by saying that he was greatly displeased with the nature of the two parties’ discourse over the past weeks.

This article was updated at 10:46 AM

Clock Winding Down on New Mediating Proposal

The clock is winding down for temporarily-appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson; with a 20,000-worker lockout set to begin on Monday, Ástráður would need to submit a new mediating proposal sooner than later – if there is to be a vote on the proposal prior to the lockout. As noted by Vísir, Ástráður also occupies a narrower position following a ruling by the Court of Appeal, given that he has to be certain that both parties to the dispute would agree to a vote on his proposal.

No substantive result

After temporarily-appointed state mediator Ástráður Haraldsson called for a “ceasefire” prior to a meeting between SA and Efling on Monday night, SA decided to heed the mediator’s suggestion by postponing its planned 20,000-worker lockout (originally slated to begin on March 1). Likewise, Efling signalled its willingness to cooperate by postponing all further strike action.

When the meeting concluded, in the early hours of February 28, however, Ástráður Haraldsson announced that no substantive result had been reached; he told reporters that he had hoped to convince the parties to vote on a new mediating proposal.

Such an agreement was the basis for the submission of said proposal given that the Court of Appeal had ruled in February that Efling was not required to hand over its electoral roll (i.e. membership registry) to the Office of the State Mediator with regard to the original mediating proposal, submitted on January 26. In light of this ruling, Ástráður Haraldsson could hardly submit a new proposal without the disputing parties assuring him that it would be put to a vote.

Media blackout

Prior to the meeting on Monday, Ástráður Haraldsson instructed members of each party’s negotiating committee not to speak to the media during the negotiations. He also closed his meetings to the media.

As noted by Vísir, Stefán Ólafsson – an expert in the labour market and standard-of-living research at Efling, and one of the company’s negotiators – shook the weak foundations of the negotiations shortly before noon yesterday by contravening the mediator’s instructions and publishing a post on Facebook.

He wrote that the meeting last night was “put on hold” while SA’s negotiating committee mused on whether to allow the submission of a new proposal: “At the end of the day, it’s food for thought for me: how long people who earn millions of króna a month can mull over an ISK one-thousand salary increase for workers – to no avail,” Stefán wrote.

Ástráður Haraldsson was displeased with Stefán’s statements; first of all, he had asked the negotiating parties to refrain from public comment in light of the sensitive state of the negotiations.

“Secondly, according to the law on trade unions and labour disputes, it is expressly forbidden to publicly report … on statements made in negotiating meetings without the authorisation of the other party, that is, without the consent of both parties. Thirdly, which is perhaps worst of all,  Stefán’s account was simply not true,” Ástráður stated in an interview on Bylgjan yesterday afternoon.

Watching from the sidelines

As noted by Vísir, if no agreement is reached – or no consensus regarding the new proposal is achieved, so that it’s submitted for a vote by both parties over the next 24 hours – it is likely that the government will begin to get worried. However, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir told Vísir that it was “not yet time” for the government to intervene.

“My assessment of the situation is that the appointed mediator has determinedly worked his way through the issues. He’s really left no stone unturned and continued to explore all options at the meeting [Monday]. We’ll have to wait and see whether he thinks that it’s timely to reconvene the negotiating parties. While people are still sitting down at the negotiating table, I remain hopeful that a successful resolution to the dispute can be achieved,” Katrín stated after a government meeting today.

Katrín added that the government would continue to monitor the situation closely.

“What we’ve been doing, as I’ve previously stated, is assessing the impact of the ongoing strikes. That assessment changes from day to day. After the meeting was called [on Monday], of course, SA’s lockout was postponed. It changes our assessment of the situation so that we do not consider it timely to intervene in the dispute at this point in time,” Katrín Jakobsdóttir told Vísir yesterday.