Icelandic Student Takes Second Place in European Statistics Competition

Ólöf María Steinarsdóttir, a student at Reykjavík’s Technical College, won second place in the 16-18 age group of the European Statistics Competition (ESC) for her statistical analysis of why Iceland has such high greenhouse gas emissions per capita. RÚV reports that 17,000 students from 19 countries took part in the competition.

The ESC is a competition organized by Eurostat and participating national statistical institutes, aimed at encouraging secondary students to become literate in statistics and official statistical sources. The competition is divided into two phases, national and European. Participants first participate at the national level and then those winners proceed to the European finals. This is the fifth year the competition has been held, but the first year Iceland has participated.

After winning the national competition in Iceland, Ólöf María and her fellow finalists were asked to produce two-minute videos on the environment. “Contestants had to present their findings on what official statistics tell about the environment in their country/region,” explains the press release on the Eurostat website. “The students produced really powerful videos, some even in the form of a rap song. Their message is clear: we need to build (statistical) knowledge about environmental issues and take action!” A jury of European experts reviewed the 66 submissions and selected the top five videos in the 14 – 16 age group (32 submissions) and the 16 – 18 age group (34 submissions). Ólöf María’s video placed second in the latter group, behind the team from Bulgaria. (A description of, and links to, all the top-placing videos can be found here.)

‘The Green Facade: The Story of Iceland Told by Statistics’

In her video, ‘The Green Facade: The Story of Iceland Told by Statistics,’ Ólöf María examines why Iceland produces 5.24x as much in emissions as its larger European neighbours. This despite the fact that on a household-level, emissions are low in Iceland, and have been consistently so for over 25 years. Industry, and most specifically aluminum production, produces 90% of Iceland’s emissions. See the full, two-minute video, in English, below.

Fizzy Bubbles in Lagoon No Cause for Concern

The Icelandic Met Office has determined that unusual air bubbles in the Kvíárlón lagoon to the southeast of the Öræfajökull volcano neither pose a health hazard to travellers nor indicate the onset of volcanic activity. Vísir reports that a local landowner contacted the meteorological office after seeing unusual air bubbles in the lagoon that “sounded like a soft drink.”

In a post on its Facebook page, the Met Office explained that employees visited the lagoon on Wednesday with a device that can measure carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulphide, sulphur dioxide, and hydrogen in its environment. Repeated attempts to take measurements of these compounds under the surface of the lagoon, however, returned only trace-amount readings. Based on this, experts agree that the whatever is causing the bubbles in the lagoon does not pose a safety concern for travellers.

Further tests will be run on water samples taken from the lagoon, but the current hypothesis is that carbon dioxide emissions from the volcano are causing the carbonated effect. Such emissions are normal and do not in and of themselves indicate an increase or onset of volcanic activity. Indeed, earthquake and expansionary activity at Öræfajökull has been on the decline this year.

Speculations on Imminent Katla Eruption Were Premature, Says Geophysicist

Reports that the formidable Katla volcano is gearing up for an imminent eruption were premature, says a leading geophysicist. RÚV reports that a recent publication co-authored by Cambridge-educated (and Iceland-raised) volcanologist Evgenia Ilyinskaya identifies Katla as a “a globally important source of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).” Although some have concluded from this discovery that Katla is signaling an imminent eruption, however, Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson, a professor in geophysics at the University of Iceland, says that the only conclusion that can be drawn is that more research is needed in order to know what the carbon emissions actually signify.

There is no way to know if Katla’s significant CO2 emissions indicate that it’s about to erupt because there’s no existing data to show whether those emission levels are normal for the volcano, Magnús wrote in a post on Facebook, and nor is it known how long they’ve been going on. “Even more unclear is whether these massive emissions are directly connected to an underground magma chamber, or what [Katla’s] connection to the magma chamber in the volcano is. It’s possible that Katla works as a kind of vent or exhaust channel for gasses that are emitted from magma deep under the southern part of the volcano belt.”

It bears noting that the original article itself makes no claims that Katla is about to erupt. Rather, “Globally significant CO2 emissions from Katla, a subglacial volcano in Iceland,” which was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters last week, states that although researchers understand volcanoes to be “a key natural source of atmospheric CO2,” the current “estimates of the total global amount of CO2 that volcanoes emit are based on only a small number of active volcanoes.” As such, Evgenia and her colleagues conducted “high‐precision airborne measurements and atmospheric dispersion modelling” and were thus able to show that “Katla, a highly hazardous subglacial volcano which last erupted 100 years ago, is one of the largest volcanic sources of CO2 on Earth, releasing up to 5% of total global volcanic emissions.”

The “remarkable measurements” in the article “show that there’s still a lot we don’t know about volcanic activity and the characteristics of specific volcanoes,” wrote Magnús. “As the authors of the article point out, the conclusions call for more thorough measurements. It is, for instance, important to know whether the emissions are constant, or connected to a particular time of year. It’s possible that more measurements will shed new light on Katla’s behavior and could in this way help us further improve monitoring and risk assessment. More measurements are the only way to make a reliable assessment of the volcano’s total emissions.”

Once those measurements are in hand, says Magnús, scientists will need to reassess “what the numbers tell us about the magma under Katla and what lessons can be learned from them.”

The original article—and a “plain language summary” of its findings—is available (in English) here.