Collapse of Midge Population Impacts Mývatn Birdlife

The ubiquitous midge is almost completely absent from Mývatn, the pointedly named ‘Midge Lake,’ this year. But while many people might celebrate the scarcity of the thick clouds of blackflies that generally characterize the region, RÚV reports that the population collapse, which happens on a cycle of six to nine years, will have a long-lasting impact on local birdlife.

In a normal season, there are as many as 100,000 hatchlings around Mývatn, says Árni Einarsson, director of the Mývatn Research Station. But this year, there are just under 1,000.

Mývatn, photographed by Bernello, CC 3.0

Midges are a vital food source for birds around the lake, but there are almost none now, Árni reports. As a direct result, “we’re not seeing any chicks on the lake,” he explained. “There are 20,000 pairs of ducks, but very few are raising any young. They’ve largely neglected their nests and stopped laying. Have abandoned their eggs, left them behind in the nests. And so those chicks that do hatch only live a few days.”

Árni estimates that the midge population has decreased by ten thousandfold this year. The drastic drop in midges can be attributed to fluctuations in Mývatn wherein midges devour all their food sources at the bottom of the lake. “The food on the lake bed runs out and then the midge population collapses and then the fish come and finish off whatever remains of them […] and there are no midges left.”

Árni says this happens every seven to nine years—it’s now been about eight since the last time the midge population collapsed. As a result, the bird population will be much smaller for the next two to three years. “This makes a dent in the stock,” he concluded. “It doesn’t renew itself.”

Coldest Night This Winter and Frosty Conditions Ahead

The coldest temperature of the winter thus far, -21°C [-5.8°F], was measured near Mývatn lake in North Iceland on Friday night, RÚV reports, and meteorologists say that the cold snap will continue, with temperatures between -2 and -15°C [28-5°F] on Saturday.

Temperatures will continue to be coldest in inland areas in the Northeast of the country, although otherwise, weather conditions are expected to be mild and good for outdoor activities.

The window for winter fun will be brief, however, as in much of the rest of the country, there is a yellow alert in effect for wind on Sunday. Gale or severe gale-force winds of up to 15-23 m/s [49-75 f/s] in the capital area and similar conditions are expected in South Iceland, Southwest Iceland, Northwest Iceland, the Westfjords, Northwest Iceland, and the (uninhabited) central highlands. Sleet or rain is expected in low-lying areas on Sunday afternoon.

Roads are open throughout the country, but ice can be expected in most places, as can occasional snow cover on roadways.

 

Closures Extended at Three Popular Sites Near Mývatn

The Minister for the Environment has approved a request issued by the Environment Agency of Iceland to extend closures at three popular natural attractions in the Mývatn region in North Iceland, Vísir reports. Access to Hverir geothermal area, Leirhnjúkur mountain, and Stóra-Víti crater will remain restricted until November.

The Environment Agency restricted foot traffic to these three sites on August 2 while their condition was assessed. During the initial closure, the Environment Agency also began work on elevated foot paths to facilitate future access to these areas without causing more damage to them. Two weeks since the initial closure, however, all three areas are still extremely wet and muddy, making it necessary to extend foot traffic restrictions while the ground recovers.

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The restriction of foot traffic to natural areas of interest is permitted under law 60/2013 on nature conservation, which allows for traffic to be limited or prevented entirely when an area is at risk of damage.

“If there is a significant risk of damage due to heavy traffic or because of the particularly sensitive condition of a natural area, the Environment Agency of Iceland may limit traffic or temporarily close the area in question to travelers on the recommendation of stake-holding municipalities, the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland, landowners, or on its own initiative,” reads the law. Closure or traffic restriction decisions are made in consultation with representatives of the tourism industry, as well as the aforementioned stakeholders, and can be extended with the approval of the Minister for the Environment.

Medieval and Viking Era Artefacts Discovered in North Iceland

Archaeological remains Hofstaðir Mývatnssveit

Archaeological remains of three buildings have been discovered at Hofstaðir in North Iceland. Archaeologists were not previously aware of the buildings’ existence, RÚV reports. The site, located in the Mývatn area, contains both Medieval and Viking Age artefacts.

Hofstaðir is the most-researched archaeological site in Iceland, and according to Professor of Archaeology Orri Vésteinsson of the University of Iceland, that’s for good reason. Orri says the research material in the area is endless, although experts’ knowledge of the site is still “quite incomplete.” Researchers are only now carrying out detailed mapping of the area for the first time.

Banquet hall and cemetery

A banquet hall and a cemetery had been previously found at the site. A new farmstead with a large longhouse was uncovered in 2016, leading to the decision to map the area in more detail. That mapping helped lead to the newest discovery of the three buildings. Orri says further on-site research is needed to determine the function of the buildings, which will first and foremost require funding and careful planning.

Political and social place

There are various hypotheses as to how work and life were organised at the rediscovered settlement, though evidence points to the site hosting both political and social activities. Interestingly, the area contained both a lodge that hosted pagan ceremonies and a Christian church, which stood side by side for several decades. “This gives an indication that the conversion may have taken longer and been more complex than we had imagined,” Orri observed.

Close Cave Due to Tourist Behaviour

Landowners in Mývatnssveit, North Iceland have closed off access to the popular Grjótagjá cave, containing a natural hot spring, Morgunblaðið reports. Ólöf Hallgrímsdóttir, one of the landowners, says the decision is due to tourist treatment of the spring.

“The lack of respect is total. The signs are not at all followed. People are relieving themselves there, washing their shoes, washing dishes, brushing their teeth, and some have even slept there,” Ólöf states.

Ólöf says information signs have not been sufficient in dissuading the spring’s visitors from harmful and at times dangerous behaviour. The closure is a temporary solution while landowners wait for permission to improve infrastructure in the area.