Image: Google Earth

Steady Growth on Surtsey Island

 In Nature, News

Vegetation is growing at a relatively rapid rate on volcanic island Surtsey. A team of biologists from The Icelandic Institute of Natural History found one new plant species and two new bug species in a recent expedition. Expeditions head over there yearly to assess how life has developed on the island, which formed following an undersea volcanic eruption in 1963.

The new plant species is coltsfoot while the recently arrived bugs are lesteva longoelytrata and mitopus morio, an arachnid species often named harvestman. Mitopus morio is quite common all over in Iceland, but scientists believed it to be unlikely for the species to arrive all the way in Surtsey. These species are the first new species to be discovered since 2015.

Grass has slowly and steadily grown around the island, assisted by a sizable seagull population which fertilizes the soil with their droppings. There is now a sizable colony of birds in the area, around 200 pairs in total, most of which are seagulls. Scientists saw at least two exotic butterflies as well.

The team cleared out rubbish from the Surtsey beach, most of which came from fishing vessels. The cleaning has been performed yearly since 2016. For more information on the expedition, albeit in Icelandic, head to https://www.ni.is/frettir/2019/07/surtseyjarleidangur-liffraedinga-2019

Island untouched by humans
Surtsey is the southernmost point in Iceland, just south of the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago. The volcanic eruption started at a depth of 130 metres below sea level and reached the surface on November 14 1963. The eruption lasted until June 5, 1967. At that point, Surtsey’s surface area reached a maximum of 2.7 square kilometres, which eventually whittled down to the 1.3 square kilometres it is today. Surtsey is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as a nature reserve, humans are strictly forbidden on the island except for the yearly scientific expedition. The island has a small house, as well as a weather station and a permanent webcam.

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