Warmer Ocean Threatens Puffin Population

Rising ocean temperatures in the south of Iceland could impact the area’s puffin population, according to a RÚV report.

Iceland is home to the majority of the world’s Atlantic puffin population. The largest colony is in Vestmannaeyjar, the islands south of the coast of Iceland. The locals have a tradition where the children help rescue puffin fledglings who have become confused on their way to the sea and land in the village instead.

Warmer ocean temperatures

Director of the South Iceland Nature Research Centre Erpur Snær Hansen has noted that measurements this year show that ocean temperatures could be the highest so far this century. “You can see that the first months this year are very warm,” he said. “The warm period in the Atlantic Ocean began in 1995 and peaked in 2003. Temperatures went down after that, but are now rising again.”

The puffin population, much like other seabird populations, is dependant on the availability of food in the ocean. Warm waters are not good for sand eels, who are very important for the puffins’ diet. If there is a scarcity of sand eels, it affects both the adult puffins and their fledglings as they leave their nests.

Fledglings are weaker

“They’re laying their eggs later and fewer individuals lay eggs,” Erpur added. “It’s a big factor here on the islands in years like this when a half of the population doesn’t lay eggs. It’s all connected and the fledglings are slow to grow up, leave their nests later, and are weaker, which is very bad as their chance of survival is dependant on this time in their lives.”

2023 in Review: Nature

Grindavík earthquakes crevasse

As the year draws to a close, Iceland Review brings you a summary of the biggest stories in community, culture, and nature in 2023. Here are some of the biggest nature-related stories from the year, which included two volcanic eruptions in Reykjanes.

Grindavík Evacuated

It has been a time of upheaval for the Southwest Iceland town of Grindavík (pop. 3,600), which was evacuated on November 10 amid powerful seismic activity. This was the first time since 1973 that an Icelandic town has been evacuated (or ever since the eruption on the Westman Islands). Earthquakes and the formation of a magma dike under the town opened crevasses and damaged roads, homes, and infrastructure in and around Grindavík.

Read More: Out of Harm´s Way (The Evacuation of Grindavík)

In early December, it appeared that magma had stopped flowing into the dike and experts believed that an eruption was less likely. However, they warned that the seismic events could repeat over the coming months, with magma flowing into the dike once more and threatening Grindavík. While the town’s evacuation order was in effect, Grindavík residents were permitted to enter the town to retrieve belongings and maintain their homes and properties. Some businesses in the town have also restarted operations.

Volcanic Eruption Near Sýlingarfell

On the night of December 18, following weeks of waning seismic activity, and with some Grindavík residents complaining about the evacuation orders remaining in effect, a powerful volcanic eruption began near the town of Grindavík and by Mt. Sýlingarfell. The eruption occurred along a 4 km long fissure and the magma flow was much greater when compared to the previous three eruptions that had occurred on the Reykjanes peninsula over the past three years. Construction workers rushed to fill in gaps in the protective barriers by the Svartsengi Power Station. Fortunately, the lava did not damage infrastructure, although it could have threatened the Grindavíkurvegur road if it had continued flowing.

The eruption was short-lived, fortunately, and by December 21, it appeared that volcanic activity had completely ceased.

On December 22, the authorities announced the lifting of the evacuation orders, starting December 23. A handful of residents chose to return and spend Christmas at home; however, many residents, contending that it was still not safe to stay in town, chose to remain in temporary housing outside of Grindavík. The government had previously announced that it would extend housing support throughout the winter for Grindavík residents (the government had also secured additional housing through rental companies).

With land uplift having continued near the Svartsengi Power Station, experts believe that further volcanic activity is likely in the future.

Eruption at Litli-Hrútur

Starting July 4, 2023, a significant increase in seismic activity on the Reykjanes peninsula led to over 12,000 earthquakes near the area where two volcanic eruptions had occurred in 2021 and 2022 respectively. This seismic activity eventually culminated in a powerful eruption on July 10 near Litli-Hrútur. The eruption was strong: ten times more lava flow than the previous two eruptions. The eruption initially featured multiple fissures extending over 1 km and a very high lava flow rate, but it soon settled into a single fissure with a steadily growing cone.

Read More: Live, Laugh, Lava (the Litli-Hrútur Eruption)

Given how dry it had been, the eruption set off multiple wildfires, which kept firefighters working around the clock. Once again, the eruption, which was relatively brief, proved highly popular among tourists; volcanic activity ceased on August 5.

Whaling Season Postponed

On June 20, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, announced that she would be postponing the start of the fin-whale hunting season until August 31. The decision followed on the heels of a report authored by a council of specialists on animal welfare, which found that the methods employed in the hunting of whales did not comply with the Act on Animal Welfare.

Read More: Sea Change (Has Iceland Seen Its Last Whaling Season?)

After much clamour from anti-whaling activists around the world, the Minister did not extend the temporary postponement of the whaling season, which commenced on September 6. The ships of Iceland´s only whaling company, Hvalur hf., were, however, subjected to increased surveillance and stricter regulations set by the Minister of Fisheries in September. Charges were pressed against two activists, who had climbed into the crow´s nests of two of Hvalur´s whaling vessels to protest.

Sea-Lice in Tálknafjörður, the Great Escape — More Controversy Surrounding Salmon Farming

On August 20, approximately 3,500 farm-raised salmon escaped through two holes on an open-pen fish farm operated by Arctic Fish in Patreksfjörður, a fjord in Iceland’s Westfjords. Arctic Fish had not inspected the condition of the pens for 95 days.

In September, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), confirmed that 26 farmed salmon traced to the escape in Patreksfjörður had been caught in several fishing rivers in West and North Iceland. By October, the Federation of Icelandic River Owners claimed that 344 farmed salmon had been captured in 46 different locations. In response to the escape, the Directorate of Fisheries announced that it would provisionally extend the angling season until mid-November to increase the chances of farmed salmon being caught (teams of Norwegian divers were dispatched to aid in the capture of the escaped fish).

Read More: Balancing the Scales (Do the Costs of Fish Farming in Iceland Outweigh the Benefits?)

On October 7, a protest against salmon farming in open-net pens was held on Austurvöllur Square in Reykjavík. Less than a month later, Heimildin reported that at least one million salmon had perished or had been discarded due to an uncontrollable outbreak of sea lice in Tálknafjörður in the southern Westfjords. Speaking to Heimildin, Karl Steinar Óskarsson, Head of the Aquaculture Department at the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), stated that “no one had seen a sea lice infestation spread like this before.”

New Climate Report Published

In September, a report titled “Climate Resilient Iceland” (i.e. Loftslagsþolið Ísland in Icelandic) was unveiled. Commissioned by the Minister of the Environment, Energy, and Climate, a steering committee produced the report to assess the necessary measures for society to adapt to climate change, emphasising that the impacts of climate change are already evident.

Read More: In Due Force (Unprecedented Mudslides)

According to the report, altered weather patterns, increased landslides, and heightened flood risks are among the challenges Icelanders will face in the coming years. When asked whether emphasising adaptation to climate change signified a form of resignation, Anna Hulda Ólafsdóttir, Office Manager of Climate Services and Adaptation at the Icelandic Meteorological Office and a co-author of the report, replied, “Yes and no; this is the reality we are facing. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the truth. Humans have always adapted to changing circumstances.”

 

Sea Ice Unusually Close to North Iceland Coast

The Coast Guard flight yesterday discovered plenty of sea ice unusually close to Iceland’s northern coastline, which could pose a risk to seafarers. At the same time, parts of the North Atlantic Ocean are warmer than ever before. RÚV reported first.

“We have some very scattered ice coming up to the shore some eight to nine nautical miles from Hornstrandir [nature reserve in the Westfjords], which is closer than we’ve been seeing lately,” sea ice expert Ingibjörg Jónsdóttir, who was on the flight yesterday, stated. Thicker sea ice was also present further out to sea. Although the ice is thin in many places, it could be dangerous for smaller ships, according to Ingibjörg.

While the sea of Iceland’s north coast is currently cold, south of the island it has reached higher temperatures than ever before. The average temperature in the North Atlantic Ocean has never measured higher since record-taking began, breaking records for the past three months in a row. The ocean’s average temperature is just over one degree hotter than the average over the past two decades. In some areas, it is up to 4 degrees Celsius hotter than is considered normal.

Halldór Björnsson, Coordinator of Atmospheric Research at the Icelandic Met Office, says there is no doubt about the reason for this warming. “The basic reason is that all the world’s oceans are much warmer than they were, and that is simply the result of global warming,” he stated.

Icelandic Cod Stock Endangered by Warming Waters

capelin loðna fishing

Unprecedented changes to the waters surrounding Iceland may put the nation’s cod stock in danger, a professor in biological oceanography has told Fréttablaðið. A new era in our ocean biosphere is under way.

Warming waters, new patterns

Katherine Richardson is a professor in biological oceanography at the University of Copenhagen and the leader of the ROCS (Queen Margrethe’s and Vigdís Finnbogadóttir´s Interdisciplinary Research Centre on Ocean, Climate, and Society).

Among the ROCS’ research projects is analysing core samples extracted from the ocean floor in Reykjanes by a vessel operated by Iceland’s Marine & Freshwater Research Institute (Hafró). The results of the research are being introduced at a conference in Reykholt, Fréttablaðið reports.

“We can expect changes to fish stocks around Iceland, a decrease in certain species, e.g. cod, which prefer colder waters, and an increase in species that prefer warmer waters, e.g. mackerel and sardines,” Katherine told Fréttablaðið.

New research shows that formerly unknown changes are occurring in the waters surrounding Iceland. Katherine emphasises, however, that it’s currently not possible to generalise regarding the effect of these changes on fish stocks in Iceland.

“We’re entering a new era when it comes to the ocean biosphere, including fisheries,” Katherine observed, adding that those who participate in the fishing industry need to be aware of these changes.

As reported by Fréttablaðið this summer, the cod quota will be lowered by 13% next year; Iceland’s Marine & Freshwater Research Institute has overestimated cod recruitment over the past few years.

More research required

Fréttablaðið also quotes Daði Már Kristófersson, professor of economics at the University of Iceland, who stated that there are plenty of unknowns when it comes to the ecosystem surrounding Iceland – and that it is surprising, given the stakes, that Icelanders have not investigated these ecosystems.

Research indicates that capelin – a cold-water fish and a key food for cod – propagation patterns are changing.

As noted in an article in the New York Times in 2019, ocean temperatures around Iceland have increased between 1.8 and 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 20 years.

Icelandic Delegation to Advocate Sticking to 1.5 °C Goal at COP27

The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) will be held from November 6 to 18 in Egypt. The leader of Iceland’s delegation has told RÚV that Iceland will advocate sticking to the goal of curbing the rise of global temperatures to 1.5 °C.

Sticking to the Paris Agreement

The United Nations Climate Change Conference is a venue for governments to agree on action to limit global temperature rises associated with climate change. This year’s conference (COP27) will be held from November 6 to 18 in Egypt.

Iceland will send a delegation to the conference as the country’s formal representative. In an interview with RÚV, delegation leader Helga Barðadóttir elucidated some of Iceland’s main points of emphasis:

“Our hope is that countries will keep the goal of curbing the global temperature rise to 1.5°, meaning that Earth’s temperature will not rise above 1.5° from industrial levels, which was enshrined in the Paris Agreement. Despite increasing emphasis being placed on curbing the rise of temperatures to 2°,” Helga stated that Iceland would “emphasise 1.5°.”

Read More: The climate disaster has already begun to materialise

This summer, Halldór Þorgeirsson, Chair of Iceland’s Climate Council, underscored the importance of ensuring greater supervision of governmental action plans. An assessment report recently noted that a gap remained between current emissions and the goals laid out by the government’s action plan.

“Following up on such a big project requires constant work,” Helga remarked. “What marks a big leap forward for us is that work has begun where we’ve pulled different sectors of the economy into a larger conversation, encouraging them to set goals to reduce emissions. The companies working within these sectors are most familiar with their own operations and so are best suited to identify those aspects of their operations where emissions can be curbed. Alongside of that, we’re reviewing our action plan.”

The Climate Disaster Has “Already Begun to Materialise”

Climate Change

The international community is “falling far short of the Paris goals,” a new UN report finds. “The disaster has already begun to materialise,” Halldór Þorgeirsson, Chair of Iceland’s Climate Council, told RÚV yesterday.

The 2022 Emissions Gap Report

Yesterday, October 27, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published its 2022 edition of the Emissions Gap report. The report provides an update on the progress towards “achieving national mitigation pledges” and the goals set by the Paris Agreement by taking stock of the so-called “emissions gap.”

As noted by a UN press release, the report concludes that the international community is “falling far short of the Paris goals, with no credible pathway to 1.5°C in place.” The authors state that the only way to avoid climate disaster is via an urgent “system-wide transformation.”

Read More: The Age of Eco-Anxiety

“Global and national climate commitments are falling pitifully short,” Secretary General of the UN António Guterres stated in a video message during an introduction of the report yesterday. “We must close the emissions gap before climate catastrophe closes in on us all.”

Chair of Iceland’s Climate Council

To address the report’s findings, RÚV invited the Chair of Iceland’s Climate Council Halldór Þorgeirsson (and a retired Senior Director at the UN Climate Change Secretariat) to an interview during yesterday’s nightly news. Halldór was blunt: “These disasters have already begun to materialise, and this year, we have seen disasters that are truly man-made. The strongest example being Pakistan, and, just as bad, and nearer to home, Florida.

“These things are already manifesting in such a way that it’s no longer a question of the future. Our meagre achievements means that the window of opportunity grows ever narrower; there’s much less time. That’s why the only feasible path forward is to undertake fast and extensive system-wide transformation.”

The only way to do this, Halldór maintained, was increased investment. “These are large figures but in reality, it’s only about 2% of the total budget. So it certainly seems doable. Central banks play a big role, and we need to rethink the economy. That’s what this is about – alongside greater cooperation between nations.”

The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) will be held from November 6 to 18 in Egypt. It will mark the 27th United Nations Climate Change conference. According to Halldór, no “big decisions” are expected to be made during the conference.

“This conference will focus more on following through with the agreement,” Halldór observed. “The implementation of the Paris Agreement was concluded in Glasgow last year. During the first two days of the conference, global leaders will be present, and the messages that they send matter. All eyes will be on China. They’ve been quite reticent. Then there’s this very strong undercurrent, connected to those aforementioned disasters because one of the big questions of this conference is how we provide aid to nations who suffer such disasters.”

New Study Shows Large Hole in Arctic Ozone Layer

mosaic polarstern

A major research expedition has recently shed new light on the extent to which the arctic ozone layer has been depleted.

The MOSAiC program, then the largest research expedition ever of the Arctic Ocean, set off in September 2019. Hundreds of scientists representing some twenty nations were involved with the project.

Central to the project was the German ice breaker “Polarstern,” or Polar Star, which was left adrift in polar ice for a year. Instruments aboard the vessel took atmospheric measurements, and the results of the study are now being discussed at the Arctic Round Table.

A key finding in the study was that even after the international banning of ozone-harming substances, the largest hole ever found in the ozone was detected over the Arctic at an altitude of some 20km.

Dr. Markus Rex, a German researcher at the University of Potsdam, stated that: “the ozone layer is not improving. Things are getting worse in the Arctic. Now we understand that it is because the decomposers from the gas are still present in the atmosphere. Climate change makes them more aggressive: it’s bad news for the future of the ozone layer in the Arctic.”

Nevertheless, there is some occasion for hope.

Dr. Markus Rex continued: “We saw that under the ice the sea reaches a freezing point down to a depth of 14 meters in the winter. There is a healthy base for winter ice formation, and we believe we are still in a position to save the ice if we stop global warming. It responds very linearly to warming, and if we stop the warming, the melting of the ice will stop. That is good. This puts a lot of responsibility on our shoulders. We are the last generation that can save the sea ice in the Arctic.” 

Read more about the MOSAiC expedition here.

“The task is massive,” PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir tells Arctic Council

Arctic Circle

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir addressed the audience at the Arctic Circle conference yesterday. In her speech, Katrín warned that if sufficient action wasn’t taken today, the arctic could “become unrecognisable” in the future.

Facilitating dialogue between interested parties

The Arctic Circle is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organisation founded by former President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, former publisher Alice Rogoff, and former Premier of Greenland Kuupik Kleist, among others. The organisation aims to facilitate dialogue between governments, organisations, corporations, universities, think tanks, environmental associations, indigenous communities, concerned citizens, and other stakeholders to address issues facing the Arctic as a result of climate change and melting sea ice.

During the opening of the 2022 Arctic Circle Assembly yesterday, October 13, at the Harpa Conference Hall in Reykjavík, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir addressed the audience. Katrín began her speech on a note of positivity, acknowledging the “broad political determination” to protect the Arctic and capitalise on present opportunities:

“On the positive side, we see expanding scientific networks, greater knowledge with both the public and businesses and growing skills, there is more investment in green technology, and we are witnessing various green solutions emerging.” However, Katrín noted, the Arctic could become “unrecognisable in a few decades” if further decisive action was not taken.

“Everything is changing – we see more extreme weathers around the globe – only in the last two weeks we saw hundreds of trees here in Iceland being ripped up by their roots because of extreme storms in the eastern part of the country. We see glaciers receding, permafrost is melting, heat records are beaten and forests are burning. And all this is happening much faster in the Arctic – where the ecosystem is sensitive and the resources are great.”

Some of these resources, Katrín noted, should not be meddled with: “We see big business and big countries showing more and more interest in the Arctic – not least because of its rich resources which should not all be harnessed. I applaud the decision of the government of Greenland not to drill for oil – my government has also declared that we will not issue licences for oil exploration in Iceland’s exclusive economic zone and this will be put into legislation.”

Condemning the war in Ukraine

Alongside addressing climate-related issues in the Arctic, Katrín also turned her attention to the war in Ukraine and the exclusion of Russia from the Council: “Our region is directly affected as the aggressor is an important player in the Arctic with legitimate interests. But Russia’s illegitimate actions made it impossible for us not to respond and they were rightly excluded from the Arctic Council. From day one Iceland has condemned Russia’s aggression in the strongest possible way. Iceland has solidly supported Ukraine, and we will continue to do so, together with our Nordic, European, US, and Canadian friends.”

Katrín concluded her speech with a nod to the massiveness of the task lying ahead:

“This room is full of hope and concerns for the future of the Arctic. We represent different interests, different politics, different ideas. But we should all be united in the will to protect the Arctic and provide a sustainable future for the local populations in the area, as well as for our ecosystems. The task is massive, but the solutions exist, it is ours to get the job done.”

Reykjavík Hosts Cryosphere Symposium on Climate Change

Vatnajökull Grímsfjall Grímsvötn Bárðarbunga Kverkfjöll Jöklar Jökull Vísindi

The 2022 Cryosphere Symposium will take over Reykjavík’s Harpa this week with lectures and events on ice, snow, and water in a warming world. Organised and funded by the Icelandic Met Office, the World Meteorological Organization, the UN, and other partners, the conference also features events open to the public. The symposium intends to highlight rapid changes occurring in all components of the Earth’s cryosphere, the portions of the Earth’s surface where water is in frozen form.

The symposium will include presentations on the latest scientific results on changes occurring in the cryosphere all over the planet as well as new technologies. Besides lectures, there will also be panel discussions and events open to the public. Tonight at Bryggjan Brewery, four specialists will share experiences from the field and give the audience insight into glaciological work. The presentations, which are open to all, will be in English, and attendees are invited to ask questions in a relaxed atmosphere.

The conference’s full program is available on the Cryosphere website.

New Plant to Capture Ten Times More CO2 from Atmosphere at Hellisheiði

green energy iceland

A new plant in Iceland will capture 36,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide directly out of the atmosphere, increasing the direct air carbon capture at Hellisheiði Power Station tenfold. Named Mammoth, the new facility adds to the existing 4,000 tonnes captured by the plant Orca, which commenced operations at the same location in September 2021, the first of its kind in the world. The plants are a project of Swiss company Climeworks, in collaboration with Carbfix and ON Power.

Hellisheiði Power Station is the world’s third-largest geothermal power plant. Since 2012, the Carbfix project has been capturing carbon dioxide directly from the plant’s emissions, in collaboration with Climeworks. Once captured, the carbon dioxide is dissolved in water, pumped into the ground, and turned to stone, thus permanently removing it from the atmosphere. Orca and Mammoth, however, capture carbon directly from the atmosphere, making them key technologies in the fight against climate catastrophe.

See Also: Set in Stone

“Today is a very important day for Climeworks and for the industry as construction begins on our newest, large-scale direct air capture and storage plant,” stated Jan Wurzbacher, co-founder and co-CEO of Climeworks.

The IPCC’s latest report shows that in addition to significant reductions in emissions, the capture and storage of CO2 from the atmosphere is a necessary component of most scenarios limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees by 2100. The report states that to reach this goal, up to 310 gigatonnes of CO2 must be captured from the atmosphere by that time.

“Large-scale carbon removal is vital in addition to rapid emission reduction if we are to reach our climate goals and our mineralisation technology provides the safest and most permanent storage mechanism for capture CO2,” stated Edda Sif Pind Aradóttir, CEO of Carbfix.

Climeworks is currently running pilot projects around the world to determine other suitable locations for their carbon capture technology.