Year in Review – Top Stories of 2018 #3
Year in Review highlights the most significant news stories of 2018 in Iceland. Part 3 covers July through September.
Whaling company Hvalur hf., which restarted whale hunting in 2018 after a two-year break, was the subject of intense criticism when they killed a rare blue whale-fin whale hybrid. Hunting fin whales, the company’s target, remains legal in Iceland. Though blue whales, considered endangered, are a protected species, there is no legislation specifically protecting hybrid whales. The company’s image took another hit in August when animal welfare organisation Hard to Port posted a picture of a pregnant fin whale they had killed. Though causing widespread outrage, the reports had little effect on Hvalur’s operations, which continued through the whaling season.
An enormous landslide on Fagraskógarfjall mountain in West Iceland took place in late July, flooding a well-known salmon fishing river with mud and rock and changing the face of the landscape. Likely caused by an unusually wet summer, it is believed to be the largest landslide in Icelandic history. The mud and rock that flooded the river diverted its course, creating a new lake beneath the mountain that is here to stay. Locals have been invited to submit name ideas for the new feature of the area, though the local council and Iceland’s Place Name Committee have the final say. Meanwhile, a large fissure in the mountain that formed after the landslide could mean more movement is ahead.
Actor Stefán Karl Stefánsson passed away after a two year long battle with cancer. He was known internationally for his role in Lazytown, where played the villain Robbie Rotten. The internet remembered Stefán Karl fondly, and fans poured out supportive messages on social media. He is remember all over the world, and not least in Iceland, as he led anti-bullying incentives in his home country.
A glacial flood in Skaftá river in early August proved to be the largest in the river since 2015. The flood inundated the Ring Road by Kirkjubæjarklaustur, leading authorities to close the route to traffic for days. Glacial outburst floods, usually triggered geothermal heating and occasionally by eruptions, are a common occurrence in Iceland, though their intensity varies greatly. This flood was a historic event, as both cauldrons of the glacier Skaftárjökull flooded at the same time, whereas in the river’s previous glacial outburst floods, only one cauldron at a time had been activated.
A tornado ripped through a farm in South Iceland, causing substantial damage.Though Iceland may be known for strong winds and extreme weather, tornadoes are a very rare occurrence in the country. The owners of the farm were just as bewildered as the employee of an insurance company who was dumbfounded when he heard the news.
When a scientific report revealed that Iceland’s volcano Katla was emitting more CO2 than previously thought, panic broke out. Many believed the volcano, which last erupted 100 years ago, was about to blow. Though the report revealed Katla to be one of the largest volcanic sources of CO2 on Earth, releasing up to 4% of total global volcanic emissions, experts assured that there was no need to duck and cover. The only conclusion that could be drawn from the report, experts said, is that more research is needed in order to know what the carbon emissions actually signify.
The Supreme Court of Iceland acquitted five individuals charged in the infamous, decades-old Guðmundur and Geirfinnur case. Family members of the five men: Sævar Cieselski, Tryggvi Rúnar Leifsson, Kristján Viðar Júlíusson, Guðjón Skarphéðinsson, and Albert Klahn Skaftason, witnessed the acquittal in an emotionally charged courtroom. The five convictions, made in 1980, were based on confessions extracted by police, which were later revealed to be invalid due to their length and intensity. The story is well known outside Iceland, and was the subject of recent BBC programme The Reykjavík Confessions (2014) and Netflix documentary Out of Thin Air (2017).