Lupine Propagation Threatens Nature Preserve: ‘We want to keep our Icelandic flora’

Lupines may be beautiful, but they’re also an invasive species. RÚV reports that lupine propagation around the Krossanesborgir nature preserve near Akureyri, North Iceland, may well be having a significant—and negative—impact on indigenous plant and animal life.

‘The point of no return’

As Egill Bjarnason explained in his 2018 New York Times article about the ongoing lupine controversy in Iceland, “[t]he blue Nootka lupine are native to North America and a familiar sight in flower gardens there. They have spread wildly in Iceland since their introduction in the late 1970s to halt soil erosion.”

But while the plant does have positive attributes (it’s a free ‘fertilizer factory,’ as Egill explains), and while tourists and even many Icelanders love the plant for its characteristic violet-blue blossoms, it spreads much more easily than originally anticipated and, among other places, has made significant inroads in Iceland’s central highlands, where originally, it was thought it wouldn’t be able to survive.

Locals used to be encouraged to spread the seeds—some villages would even distribute free scoopfuls of seeds at gas stations. But in spring 2018, the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland stopped its seed distribution program after 42 years, with director Arni Bragason remarking of the plant and its impact on the local environment, “We’re at the point of no return.”

Timing is everything

Krossanesborgir was designated a nature preserve in 2004 in order to protect its diverse plant and bird life. But with the encroachment of lupine in the area, this this ecosystem is now endangered, says Jón Ingi Cæsarsson, the former chair of the Akureyri organizational committee.

“All of the undergrowth and moor vegetation is going to vanish and instead, we’ll have these tall, beautiful plants. But that’s not something we want—we want to keep our Icelandic flora, especially in these nature preserves,” he said.

Local officials are aware of the lupine situation and the plant is cut back on a regular basis, including in Krossanesborgir, says Rút Jónsdóttir, Akureyri divisional manager.

“We usually begin [cutting back lupines] around June 15-20,” she explained. Working out the right time to start the mowing is difficult, she continued: too early, and birds will still be nesting in the area; too late, and the lupines will already bloomed. (Timing is everything when it comes to lupine eradication, explains Egill. “Killing the plant is a three- to five-year process that involves cutting them back at the peak of the bloom, when the plant is putting its energies into the flowers and the roots are correspondingly weakest. Mowing down the plants has proved more effective than herbicides.”)

‘It will take off if we don’t rein it in’

The lupine has not yet made significant inroads within Krossanesborgir, but Jón Ingi is nevertheless concerned that it may only be a matter of time. Roughly 30 species of birds nest in the area, he explained, making the area particularly important from a preservation standpoint.

“The lupine is here and is lying in wait and will take off if we rein it in. We’ve seen what happened on Hrísey [a small island in Eyjafjörður, north of Akyreyri, known for its bird life]. The number of breeding birds will most definitely decrease [in Krossanesborgir], just like happened there.”

Scientists Document Glacier Melt in Real Time: ‘We Have to Make a Conscious, Informed Decision About Which Future We Choose’

New footage and photography compiled by a team of scientists at the University of Iceland shows three decades of glacial melt in just over three minutes. CNN reports that the team superimposes archival aerial photos on top of contemporary drone footage to show the dramatic effect that warming climates have had on glaciers in Southeast Iceland. Some of these glaciers are retreating at a rate of 150 metres [492 ft] a year. Since 2000, it’s estimated that Iceland’s glaciers have decreased by some 800 km2 [309 mi2].

The team is led by Þorvarður (Thorri) Árnason, director at the Hornafjörður Research Centre. “About 14 years ago, I started to do repeat photography at one of the glaciers here, Hoffellsjökull,” Þorvarður told CNN. “I went once a month for eight years. It’s like visiting an old friend, there’s a sense of familiarity.”

Iceland has twenty outlet glaciers that extend from the Vatnajökull ice cap. All of them, Þorvarður says, have receded in the time he has been observing them. Some experts say that if global warming conditions continue apace, Iceland’s glaciers are at risk of disappearing completely.

See Also: Snæfellsjökull Could Be Gone in Thirty Years

“We need to tell people what the reality is,” says Þorvarður. “On the other hand, we don’t want to frighten people, to immobilize them through anxiety.”

Having documented the present situation, Þorvarður and his team are now turning their attention toward the future. “We want to pre-visualize what our fastest retreating glacier, Breiðamerkurjökull, will look like 100 years from now. Based on worse-case, business as usual, and best case. There is always a range of potential futures that is open to us. There is still a chance for the wounds to heal and for the glaciers to recover, at least to some extent. We have to make a conscious, informed decision about which future we choose.”

See the full documentary short, in English, on CNN, here.

A ‘Stab in the Back’: Arctic Trucks Vehicle Sinks in Inuit Hunting Grounds

Transglobal Car Expedition, an Arctic expedition crewed by team members from Iceland, Ukraine, Russia, Canada, and the US, has issued an apology to Inuit communities in Taloyoak, Nunavut, Canada’s northernmost territory which is independently governed by Inuit peoples. The apology comes after one of the teams modified Ford F150s, provided by Icelandic company Arctic Trucks, sank through the ice while crossing the Tasmania Islands at the end of March. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reports that indigenous hunters and trappers in the area are concerned that the truck, which contained 40-litres of fuel, as well as other fluid and a back-up generator, is going to leak and contaminate an ecosystem that the local communities depend on for their sustenance and livelihood.

Emil Grimsson, the founder of Arctic Trucks and one of the Icelandic members of the team, says that they are “very sorry” for what’s happened, and that it’s “very likely” that the sunken truck will be recovered, but that nothing will be done to retrieve it until the end of May, after doing a risk, cost and permit assessment.

The incident feels like “a stab in the back” says Jimmy Oleekatalik, manager of the Spence Bay Hunters and Trappers Association, as the area where the truck currently rests on the ocean floor is a major migration route for beluga whales, narwhals, seals, walruses, and Arctic char.

“We live off the land,” Oleekatalik continued. “We’re not farmers. We’re hunters and gatherers, and we need our game to be clean. We want [the wreckage] cleaned out as quickly as possible.”

‘No way for us to expect for it to change that much’

The expedition has claimed to be the “first-ever overland wheeled journey from the continental shelf of North America to the High Arctic,” and was staging a month-long ‘pre-run’ from Yellowknife, in Canada’s Northwest Territories, to Resolute Bay in Nunavut, prior to the full expedition that was set to take place next year and would travel from the southern tip of South America to the North Pole and then down through Greenland, mainland Europe, Asia, and Africa.

The team made it to Resolute with their modified F150s and amphibious vehicles, and then some members turned back around with the goal of returning the F150s to Yellowknife. They did not, however, bring their ice thickness scanner, but chose instead to rely on data they’d gathered days before, which showed that the ice they’d be driving over was 50 cm [20 in] thick. In reality, however, it was only 15 cm [6 in] thick.

One of the trucks stopped mid-journey and began to sink through the ice. Icelandic team member Torfi Johansson had just enough time to warn the other truck over radio before he and his fellow passenger, a hunter hired to protect the group from polar bears, piled out a side door. Torfi had time to pull bags containing clothes and shelter from the truck before it fully submerged and then he and his three companions huddled in the remaining vehicle until daylight, ready to leap out should their second truck also begin to sink. They were eventually rescued by helicopter.

“We were [there] just five days ago,” Torfi was quoted as saying. “No way for us to expect for it to change that much, in that amount of time.”

‘We could have advised them’

Aside from understandable concerns about pollution from the sunken truck, one of the local community’s main points of dismay is precisely that there was, in fact, a way for the team to have known about the danger that the ice thickness would change that quickly. The incident would have been entirely avoidable, they say, if only the Transglobal Car team had consulted them.

The Tasmania Islands are incredibly dangerous at this time of year, Oleekatalik explained to CBC, because the water current below the ice flows really fast. “We could have at least advised them of areas where there’s fast water and open polynyas or places where it’s dangerous to travel,” said Spence Bay Hunters and Trappers Association chairperson Joe Ashevak. “[We] could at least tell them that some areas of [the] ocean is unsafe for heavy vehicles to travel on.”

“They should have consulted with us,” continued Oleekatalik, who said that the local community would have even provided a guide. “This is our hunting ground. This is our livelihood. This is what we know.”

Environmental concerns ‘a bit overestimated’

Even prior to the sinking of the truck in Nunavut, the Transglobal Car Expedition had made headlines for questionable choices made in the trip’s execution from the get-go. The crew flew into Yellowknife on a Russian charter flight at the start of March. This was a violation of airspace regulations in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Transport Canada fined a Russian team member responsible for chartering the plane, as well as its two pilots and the aircraft operator.

Emil Grimsson said that unexpected challenges had distracted the team from better planning and research while in Yellowknife. “We could have done better,” he said. “The thing we need to do is learn, we need to know who to talk to.”

He also maintained that the indigenous community’s concerns about contamination from fuel leakage were perhaps “a bit overestimated” and said he believed that the vehicle could be expected to leak “less than a litre” of fuel over the course of several years.

“[The truck] is at a depth of six to eight metres [20-26 ft] and it looks as good right now as you could hope for,” Emil explained to RÚV. “We learned a lot from this and want to have a good collaboration with the hunting association in every way. Today, there’s a 99% chance that this will be resolved without their concerns becoming a reality.”

Nothing will be done with the vehicle for now, however: “We’re not going to do anything until the ice is gone.”

In Focus: Oil Spill in Suðureyri

eider duck Iceland

“I still smell like diesel oil”Over 9,000 litres of diesel oil spilt into Suðureyri harbour in the Westfjords on Thursday, March 3. The leak, which originated from a reserve tank* owned by the power company Orkubú Vestfjarða, was discovered by residents the following morning.They could smell it.“I still smell like diesel oil, despite having showered […]

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Columnar Basalt Damaged in Viewing Platform Construction

Some of the basalt columns in Stuðlagil Canyon in East Iceland have been damaged during construction of a viewing platform RÚV reports.

A video showing the damage was posted to social media and forwarded to the East Iceland Nature Conservation Association, which has issued a rebuke of the landowner’s association that owns and manages the canyon, one of the most popular natural attractions in Upper Jökuldalur and the whole region.

In the video, a crane digger is shown tipping three large boulders off the top edge of the canyon, sending them careening over the edge, breaking off large pieces of the basalt columns as they fall to the canyon floor.

“I have to express my astonishment that this extraordinary nature pearl has been treated in the rough manner seen [in the video],” Andrés Skúlason, the chair of the East Iceland Nature Conservation Association, told RÚV.

Screenshot, RÚV

Speaking for the landowner’s association, Stefanía Katrín Karlsdóttir said that the boulders were pushed over the canyon edge for safety reasons. The boulders were “detached and we’d never want to go down the path of having an unsafe work area for employees, not to mention it being hazardous for guests who come here to have detached boulders [on the cliff edge]. So these boulders went over the edge and down into the river and I can safely say that [this canyon] has a rather lot of boulders and stones and sand.”

Asked if the boulders might have been moved to a safer location rather than dumped into the canyon, Stefanía Katrín replied that “[i]t would have undoubtedly been possible to move them a little but there weren’t a lot of them. A few of them went down here and I can’t see that it matters that much for there to be a few more [boulders in the canyon]. All you have to do is to look in the river to see how things are.”

RÚV pressed Stefanía Katrín further, pointing out that the issue was that the boulders had broken pieces off the basalt columns, which is clearly visible in the video that Andrés provided the news outlet with (see here). “I disagree completely that anything was broken off the columns. They just dropped down onto the next ledge, which is usually submerged in the river. Just not now that the spring thaw is over.”

Asked if the landowners planned to tip any more boulders into the canyon, Stefanía said no. “This was only to get rid of the ones that were in the way to ensure people’s safety.”

Stricter Regulations on Marine Fuel Proposed

overfishing iceland

The Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources has published an amended draft to the current regulations on the Sulphur content of liquid fuels. RÚV reports that if these amendments are adopted, the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO) would be prohibited within Icelandic territorial waters starting at the beginning of next year.

Heavy Fuel Oil is “the generic term [that] describes fuels used to generate motion and/or fuels to generate heat that have a particularly high viscosity and density.” HFOs “are mainly used as marine fuel, and HFO is the most widely used marine fuel at this time; virtually all medium and low-speed marine diesel engines are designed for heavy fuel oil.”

About 22% of the marine fuel sold in Iceland in 2016 was HFO; it is used by some Icelandic fishing vessels. There has been a great deal of discussion regarding the pollution from cruise ships, which run on HFO, and according to current Icelandic law, the use of such fuel is prohibited when a cruise ship is docked at an Icelandic port.

The current law, which went into effect in 2015, allows for the Sulphur content in marine fuel used within Icelandic territorial waters to be up to 3.5%. If the amendments go into effect, this percentage would go down to .1%. This is lower than the updated Sulphur pollution regulations that are outlined in the revised International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships agreement, or MARPOL Annex VI. Per the revised regulations, which go into effect on January 1, 2020, cosignatories to the agreement, including Iceland, will not be allowed to use marine fuel that has a Sulphur content that is higher than .5%.

If Iceland puts a stricter Sulphur content limit in place, ships using a higher percentage fuel would need to employ approved methods of reducing their Sulphur Dioxide emissions while within Icelandic territorial waters. A .1% Sulphur limit would, however, be in accordance with restrictions already in place in the so-called ECA areas in the Baltic and North Seas.

Fjaðrárgljúfur to Remain Closed Until June

Fjaðrárgljúfur walking path

The Environmental Agency of Iceland is extending its closure of Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon in South Iceland, RÚV reports. It will now be closed until June 1.

The closure of the popular nature site was originally only intended to last two weeks in order to allow trails and vegetation to recover from damage from high pedestrian foot traffic and thawing weather conditions.

This is the second time this year the canyon is closed to visitors due to environmental damage caused by increased visitors. Fjaðrárgljúfur was also closed last spring for the same reason.

The number of tourists visiting the canyon nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017, in part due to Justin Bieber’s music video for “I’ll Show You,” filmed at the location. The video, released in late 2015, has over 400 million views on YouTube.

The Environment Agency says that the canyon may be reopened earlier than June 1, but only if conditions allow.

Fined 400 000 For Off-Road Driving

French tourists driving two jeeps were fined ISK 200 000 ($1 900/€1 600) each for off-road driving near Kerlingarfjöll mountain range in the Highlands of Iceland. RÚV reported first.

The travellers called for help when they got their cars stuck in mud near the mountain Loðmundur. The area has been closed to vehicles due to wet conditions.

The individuals’ driving damaged vegetation and soil in the area. The two individuals were questioned at the police station in Selfoss, South Iceland, where they paid the fine.

Off-road driving is illegal in Iceland due to the fragility of the subarctic environment. All travellers are encouraged to inform themselves of weather and road conditions as well as local laws before setting out.