Tour Operator Calls for Increased Safety Near Askja Volcano

The owner of a tourism company in the Mývatn region in North Iceland told RÚV yesterday that he was worried about the lack of telecommunications near Askja, now that an eruption is considered likely within a year. Road maintenance to Askja is also lacking.

Great responsibility involved in bringing tourists to the area

There is little or no telephone or tetra connection near Askja – an active volcano situated in a remote part of the central highlands of Iceland. It takes about three hours to drive to Askja from the Ring Road. This is unfortunate in light of a possible and sudden eruption, the owner of a tourism company in Mývatnsveit told RÚV yesterday.

Over the summer, tour operator Gísli Rafn Jónsson takes groups of travellers on bus trips to Askja on a near daily basis. In an interview with RÚV yesterday, he stated that ensuring the safety of his passengers was a big responsibility – especially given the likelihood of an eruption. Volcanologist Þorvaldur Þórðarson recently predicted that an eruption would occur in Askja within a year.

“This accumulation of magma and the conditions that can arise, which are several and varying in severity, means that I am, naturally, very worried,” Gísli stated.

Quick escape an impossibility

From the Ring Road, a highland road approximately 100 kilometres in length, which takes about three hours to drive, leads to Askja. From there, it’s about a two-and-a-half kilometre walk to Lake Öskjuvatn and Víti, which is where most of the tourists who visit Askja go. It can, therefore, be estimated that it takes about four hours to get from Lake Öskjuvatn down to the Ring Road.

“This route is very slow, and there are sections on the route that have become very worn and need to be fixed. Other parts of the route are lava, which means that it takes a long time to drive away. Speedy evacuation is an impossibility,” Gísli observed. It would be unsuitable if there was a sudden eruption, RÚV noted.

No talk of improvements to telecommunications

In the highlands near Lake Öskjuvatn and Víti there is very little telephone and tetra connection. Gísli believes that this must be redressed. “In terms of security, we have to ask ourselves if it isn’t necessary to temporarily secure a cellphone signal.”

Magnús Hauksson, operations manager of the National Emergency Number (Neyðarlínan), told RÚV that there had been no discussion about improving telecommunications in the area or how such measures could be implemented. Furthermore, it remained unclear who was responsible for ensuring electronic communication, as no one was legally obligated to guarantee telecommunications throughout the country.

These issues were, however, taken into consideration in 2018 – but that was the extent of it. Based on the situation, Magnús believes there is reason to take action. But when and how that action will be taken remains uncertain.