Earthquakes Near Grímsey: Uncertainty Phase Declared

The National Commissioner of Police and the Chief of Police in Northeast Iceland declared an Uncertainty Phase on Friday due to ongoing seismic activity around the island of Grímsey. RÚV reports that an earthquake measuring 4.9 was detected around the island at 4 AM on Thursday morning; since then, there have been roughly 2,600 earthquakes. At 1:20 PM on Friday, there was another large quake of 4.1 and several over a magnitude of 3.0 occurred after that.

Per the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, an Uncertainty Phase is “is characterized by an event which has already started and could lead to a threat to people, properties, communities or the environment. At this stage the collaboration and coordination between the Civil Protection Authorities and stakeholders begins. Monitoring, assessment, research and evaluation of the situation is increased. The event is defined and a hazard assessment is conducted regularly.”

People who live in known earthquake areas in Northeast Iceland are advised to take appropriate measures to prepare for ongoing seismic activity. These include securing household items, such as flatscreen TVs and breakable décor, taking down paintings or photos that can fall on people while sleeping, moving beds away from windows, and familiarizing oneself with the Duck – Cover – Hold procedure. More information on natural disaster preparedness can be found on the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management’s website, in English, here.

Seismic activity is common in Northeast Iceland, and according to a natural disaster expert at the Met Office, there is currently no indication of a pending volcanic eruption.

Biggest Residential Construction Boom Outside of the Capital Since Crash

architecture Gardabær buildings crane urban planning

There are more apartments under construction outside the capital area than there have been since 2008. Vísir reports that there are currently 2,672 apartments being built outside of Reykjavík, the largest share of which—1,100 units—are located in South Iceland.

These figures come via the latest economic outlook report published by Landsbankinn’s economic department. The report also states that based on figures from Statistics Iceland, it appears that apartment prices both in- and outside of the capital are developing in a similar way, although apartment prices outside of the capital are actually rising faster.

Sales have gone up and prices have risen

There’s been a great deal of demand for housing over the last few years and the economic outlook report says that post-pandemic, low interest rates and changing consumption habits have boosted demand considerably. Sales have gone up and prices have risen.

Since last July, the residential market price index has gone up 22% for single-family homes in the capital area, while multi-family units have gone up by 24%. But the index outside the capital over the last twelve months has gone up even more: 29%.

Taking a broader snapshot of housing price increases across the board: compared to pre-pandemic, in February 2020, the residential market price index has gone up between 45 – 47%, regardless of whether it’s single- or multi-family homes in question, within the capital, or outside of it.

Most new builds in South Iceland, fewest in the East, Northwest, and Westfjords

Construction outside the capital is split pretty evenly between multi-unit and single-family residences. So far this year, there’s been a 12% increase in the number of apartments under construction, as compared to an over 33% increase between the end of 2020 and the early months of 2021. Before that, between 2009 and 2016, very few new apartments entered the real estate market, although there were many under construction.

The greatest proportion of new residential builds outside the capital area are, as mentioned, in South Iceland. The housing stock in the region has gone up by 4% in the last year, amounting to almost 500 new apartments. In the first seven months of this year, the stock increased by 1.7%, or just over 200 new apartments.

The housing stock on the Suðurnes peninsula alone has gone up by 2.5% since the start of the year; in 2021, it went up by almost 2% in the course of the year. This is on par with the increase of housing stock throughout all of North Iceland combined, where 260 new apartments were completed last year.

There are currently 500 apartments under construction on Suðurnes and in West Iceland, around 350 in Northeast Iceland, and fewer than 100 in East Iceland, Northwest Iceland, and the Westfjords.

Dissatisfied with Quota System, Fishermen Change Residence to Adapt

fishing in Iceland

Coastal fishing quotas have left many fishermen in the Northeast of Iceland dissatisfied with their share of the catch. Now, many of them find themselves changing their legal residence to skirt what they see as an unfair system.

The fishing quota system in Iceland allocates a TAC (Total Allowable Catch) for each species of fish with separate regulations for large-scale commercial fishing, and small boat fishers, who are limited to the use of handlines. The Icelandic fishing quota is distributed on a regional basis, ideally ensuring that no one region is exhausted of its fisheries.

However, many small boat fishermen are saying that this is not the case, and that by the time the fish make it to the Northeast, the stock is exhausted.

Guðmundur Baldursson, a fisherman from the Northeast of Iceland, said in an interview with RÚV that Northeastern fishermen are increasingly reliant on the months of July and August, needing to make the majority of their catch then. While fishermen in other regions are catching large fish early in the season, they must make do with a smaller, less profitable catch.

According to Guðmundur, increasing numbers of fishermen from the Northeast are now simply forced to move to more productive fisheries because of the quota system, such as Breiðafjörður.

Samherji Journalist Wins Appeal Against Northeast Iceland Police

The Northeast Iceland District Court has ruled on Stundin journalist Aðalsteinn Kjartansson’s appeal to determine the legality of a police investigation into his and other journalists’ alleged distribution of sexual material from the stolen phone of a Samherji ship captain. The judge concluded that Northeast Iceland Police chief Páley Borgþórsdóttir was wrong to give official defendant status to Aðalsteinn on those grounds, Vísir reports.

As previously reported, four journalists are under investigation by Northeast Iceland Police. While it initially appeared the investigation was into the journalists’ reporting on leaked communications between several Samherji employees calling themselves the company’s “guerrilla division.” However, they were instead accused of violating Articles 228 and 229 of the Penal Code — legislation implemented to protect victims of digital sexual violence. They were given the legal status of defendants in the case.

A law isn’t broken by a journalist receiving data

As per news site Stundin, the Northeast Iceland District Court determined the journalists were not considered to have breached the law simply for receiving and viewing sensitive personal data since it is part of a journalist’s job to receive data and tips and determine if it is in the public interest to pursue them.

The ruling notes that, in general, the mere act of receiving and opening data sent without the recipient’s consent is not a criminal offence.

A case built on sand?

The district court’s verdict also states that it cannot be concluded from police documents that ship captain Páll Steingrímsson contacted the police because of the personal videos on his phone, which the police claimed to be the reason for Aðalsteinn being named as a defendant.

Gunnar Ingi Jóhannsson, Aðalsteinn’s lawyer, told Stundin the ruling confirms his argument that “the police’s case against the journalists is built on sand.”

Further Twists in Police Investigation of Samherji Journalists

Þórður Snær Júlíusson

A court case is revealing more twists in the high-profile police investigation of four journalists in Iceland, Vísir reports. The prosecutor argues the journalists are guilty of distributing sexual material from a stolen phone, while the journalists’ lawyer says he has not seen the material and the police theory most resembles a conspiracy theory. Northeast Iceland Police called in the journalists for questioning earlier this month in relation to their reporting on seafood company Samherji, the centre of a bribery and tax evasion scandal that first broke in 2019. The questioning was later postponed when one of the four journalists appealed to the Northeast Iceland District Court to determine its legality.

Read More: Police Investigate Journalists for Samherji Scandal Reporting

At first, it appeared the police investigation was centred on the journalists’ reporting from May 2021 into leaked communications between several Samherji employees who referred to themselves as the company’s “guerrilla division.” A report from Northeast Iceland Police, however, states that police are investigating sexual offences against Páll Steingrímsson, the owner of the phone that was the source of the leaked communications. The journalist’s lawyer argued that police had no evidence the sexual material on Páll’s phone had been distributed among the journalists and that the entire case was an attempt to silence media and “teach the journalists a lesson.”

The case against the four journalists is built on legislation implemented last year to protect victims of digital sexual violence.

Winter Heat Wave on Anniversary of Coldest Day Ever

On Friday, the remote seaside village of Bakkagerði in Borgarfjörður eystri experienced temperatures that would be notable in the summer months in Northeast Iceland, let alone the winter. A high of 17.6°C [63.7°F] was recorded in the village just after midnight on Friday, reports. Only sixteen hours before, around 8:00 am on Thursday, temperatures along the fjord had hovered just below 0°C [32°F].

Temperatures also reached off-putting highs elsewhere in the East Fjords. Seyðisfjörður had the second highest temperature in the country on Friday morning: 17.3°C [63.14°F]. The heatwave only lasted briefly. For about six hours, temperatures of around 15°C [59°F] were measured in the region before falling to under 10°C [50°F] in the afternoon.

See Also: Looking Back: The Fateful Year of 1918

Friday also marked 104 years since the coldest temperatures ever recorded in Iceland. The winter of 1917-18 is known in Iceland as Frostaveturinn mikla, the Great Frost Winter. During this terrible winter, temperatures plummeted and sea ice formed around Iceland, closing off vital shipping routes and exacerbating existing shortages of vital goods. The month of January 1918 was particularly devastating, and on January 21, temperatures plummeted lower than they ever had or have done since: -24.5°C [-12.1°F] in Reykjavík, and, in Northeast Iceland, -36°C [-32.8°F] at Grímsstaðir and -38°C [-36.4°F] at Möðrudalur.

The Caves of Þeistareykjahraun To Be Declared a Natural Monument

The Environment agency of Iceland and the municipality of Þingeyjarsveit have announced plans to declare the caves of Þeistareykjahraun a natural monument. If the proposal is accepted, the caves will be legally protected against disruptive actions.

There are at least fifteen caves in the Þeistareykjahraun lava field, which is situated around 25 kilometres [15.5 mi] from Húsavík in the northeastern region of Iceland. The area, which is classified as a high temperature geothermal area, is home to numerous caves, some of which have not been fully explored yet.

In January last year, a large stalagmite cave was discovered in the area. It is estimated that the cave is at least 2.500 years old. After the discovery, experts warned that the cave could be destroyed if left unprotected, particularly due to the fact that a new road in the area had enhanced public access to the caves. Because of this, access to the caves was closed in the fall of 2020 and trespassing became a criminal offence.

In yesterday’s announcement, the Environmental agency of Iceland stressed the uniqueness of the stalagmite caves in Þeistareykjahraun:

“Some of the most untouched stalagmite caves in the world have been found in Þeistareykjahraun. They possess an extraordinary number of stalactites and lava straws. The caves, which are among the most unique in the world, have a significant scientific and aesthetic value, and could serve an educational purpose as well.”

The plans have been publicly announced to allow organisations and members of the public to comment upon them.

New Path Paved Through 85-Year-Old Forest

A team of some of Iceland’s most experienced loggers is in the process of cutting a path through Vaðlaskógur, an 85-year-old forest that stands across from Akureyri, on the other side of the Eyjafjörður fjord in Northeast Iceland. RÚV reports that the felling will make way for a a 2 km [1.2 mi] walking and cycling path, as well make way for hot water pipes from the Vaðlaheiði tunnel to run water to a new bathing area in the forest. An estimated 130 tons of timber will be cut down in the process.

“You can read the history of Icelandic forestry here,” says Ingólfur Jóhannsson, managing director of the Eyjafjörður Forestry Association who is overseeing the project. “People were just experimenting in 1936, when planting started here—no one knew what [species] would thrive in the country.” Ingólfur says that at the time, pretty much anything and everything was planted in the area. “…[S]ome [trees] lived and some died, and that was the foundation for our forestry work today.”

Screenshot, Vísir

Today, several species of spruce grow in Vaðlaskógur, as do beach pines, pitch pines, mountain pines, Alpine firs, rowans, and multiple willow species. All told, Ingólfur estimates that there are some thirty species of trees growing in the forest.

The diversity of species makes this a complicated process for the loggers, who must be selective and ensure that they aren’t felling just any tree. The eleven-person team was assembled from experienced professionals hailing from Reykjavík, Skagafjörður, Akureyri, and Egilsstaðir and will spend about two weeks completing the project. The resulting timber will then be used for building materials and firewood.

Although a number of trees will need to be cleared for the project, Ingólfur spoke highly of the planned outdoor area, which will be easily accessible to visitors. “Paths are also valuable in forests.”

Giant Ice Floe Sighted Off North Coast

An enormous ice floe has been sighted off the coast of Melrakkaslétta, a peninsula in northeast Iceland, Vísir reports. It is likely that the floe, said to resemble an ‘island of ice,’ broke off the Greenland ice sheet and was carried toward Iceland with the ocean current.

A diagram from the Icelandic Met Office shows the projected location of two ice floes off the coast of Northeast Iceland

The Icelandic Met Office received reports of two ice floes in the area on Thursday, one of which appears to be moored to the seafloor and the other of which appears to be free-floating, although it’s not currently moving very much.

In a conversation with Vísir, Pedro Rodrigues, the Station Manager at the Rif Field Station in Melrakkaslétta, said that he believes the ice floe is roughly 500 meters long [1,640 ft; .3 mi; .4 km], although it’s difficult to say for certain since it’s currently so far from land.

Cloud cover in the area is currently too dense for the Met to obtain good satellite photographs, so currently, the only available image of the floe is one that was taken from land, using a 65x zoom. This clearly exaggerates its size, but also seems to indicate that it is genuinely quite big.

Wednesday May Be Hottest Day of the Year

Akureyri Iceland

Although the summer is nearing its end in Iceland, unseasonably warm weather may still be on the horizon—at least in some parts of the country. Temperatures on Wednesday could reach 28°C [82.4°F] in northwest Iceland, RÚV reports. Weather in the south of the country will, unfortunately, be much cooler.

“The position of weather systems right now is such that there’s a high-pressure zone over the UK and a low-pressure zone to the southwest of [the east Iceland village of] Hvarf,” remarked Meteorologist Teitur Arason in a lunchtime weather report on Monday. “My good colleague calls this a two-engine system because it directs a very warm airmass to us far south from the sea. But the air is also very humid, so it will be overcast and rainy in the South and West of the country.”

North and East Iceland have enjoyed sunny skies and relatively temperate weather this summer. Thus far, the highest temperature of the year was 27.5°C [81.5°F]  in Akureyri on July 20.

On the same day that temperature records may be broken up north, unusually strong winds are expected to blast Snæfellsnes in West Iceland, particularly the northern side of the peninsula. Vehicles prone to toppling in strong winds, such as buses and RVs are cautioned about traveling in the area on Wednesday.