Deep North Episode 68: White Sahara

kerlingarfjöll highland base

Kerlingarfjöll is one of the gems of the Icelandic highland. Even in the summer, the rugged highland roads leading out to these mountains are difficult to navigate. And in the winter, it’s nearly inaccessible. We went on an exclusive winter expedition to this amazing area to learn more about it, and pick up some cross-country skiing as well.

Read the article here.

Watch our short documentary on Kerlingarfjöll here.

Icelandic Swimming Pools May Operate at 75% Capacity

swimming pool iceland

Regulations limiting the number of people in swimming pools were relaxed yesterday, June 1, permitting Icelandic pools to operate at 75% capacity, up from the previous 50%. Swimming pools reopened on May 18 after an 8-week closure to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Swimming pools in Reykjavík reopened at 12.01am on May 18, remaining open overnight. Pool-goers showed up early, lining up outside the doors and cheering as they were finally let in.

Iceland’s two-metre social distancing rule was relaxed on May 25, becoming optional in most places that do not provide essential services. Iceland currently has just two active cases of COVID-19. If that number remains low, authorities hope to allow swimming pools to operate at full capacity before Iceland is scheduled to reopen its borders – on or before June 15.

Icelanders Rejoice as Swimming Pools Reopen

Sundhöll swimming pool Reykjavík

Reykjavík residents lined up to enter the city’s swimming pools as they officially reopened at 12.01am this morning, eight weeks after they were closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It is the first time Reykjavík pools are open overnight. Iceland currently has 6 active cases of COVID-19, and is in the first stage of loosening restrictions imposed to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Most Reykjavík pools normally close at 10.00pm, this is the first time they remain open overnight. Pool-goers showed up early to several of the city’s pools, lining up outside the doors to wait for the reopening. Patrons counted down to midnight, cheering as they filed in. Many of those in line at Laugardalslaug were teenagers who told reporters they had been waiting since 10.00pm and planned to stay in the pool as long as possible.

Steinþór Einarsson, manager of the City of Reykjavík’s Sport and Recreation Department, says both staff and patrons were elated to return to the water. “I am here in Sundhöll and it’s sold out. I was down at Laugardalslaug around 11.30pm and the line reached all the way out to the parking lot. There were definitely 200-300 people in the lineup,” he told RÚV reporters last night.

The decision to open Reykjavík pools at midnight was announced by the city’s mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson on his Facebook page on Friday. The decision to open the pools so early, Dagur explained, was made in order to ensure that pools are able to operate at half capacity, as COVID-19 precautions require, while also providing the chance to take a dip to as many people as possible.

Snæfellsjökull National Park to Be Expanded by 9%

Snæfellsjökull National Park

The Environment Agency of Iceland and the municipality of Snæfellsbær have published a plan for the expansion of Snæfellsjökull National Park in West Iceland. The proposed addition would increase the park’s land area by 9% to 182 square kilometres (70 square miles). “The extension creates even more opportunities for outdoor recreation in the area, not least for locals,” a government notice reads.

Diverse nature and historical artefacts

Snæfellsjökull National Park is located at the tip of the Snæfellsnes peninsula in West Iceland. It was established in 2001 as the first national park in the country located along the coastline. It is the only national park in Iceland that contains fishing artefacts from previous centuries. Of course, the park includes natural attractions as well, such as black and white sand beaches, bird cliffs, lava fields, and the glacier-topped Snæfellsjökull stratovolcano that towers over the park.

The proposed addition is located north of Snæfellsjökull and east of the park’s current borders.

Conservation also has economic benefits

According to Finnish researcher Jukka Siltanen’s findings, Snæfellsjökull National Park is an investment that gives fantastic returns. Siltanen found that the economic impact to cost ratio of the park is 45:1, meaning that the money spent on the park is returned 45-fold into the Icelandic economy.

Interested parties can send in comments about the proposal until June 10 by email to [email protected] or by post to Umhverfisstofnun, Suðurlandsbraut 24, 108 Reykjavík.

Geo Climate Biodome Depends on Investors

The establishment of a proposed 4,500 m2 [48,438 ft2] cluster of geodesic greenhouses on the edge of Reykjavík’s Elliðaárdalur valley will depend on private investors, RÚV reports. According to the chair of the municipal Planning and Transport Committee, the city is prepared to allocate land for the project and believes it will have a positive impact on recreation in the area, but does not have funds to offer for its development.

BioDome Reykjavík (previously known as ALDIN Biodome) is a project of the Spor í sandinn consultancy firm and, per a profile in The Polar Connection aims to not only be “the world’s first geo climate biodome,” but also the first carbon neutral one. Capitalizing on the wealth of geothermal energy available in Iceland as well as the country’s “fertile volcanic soil,” BioDome Reykjavík will “…create a lush, verdant oasis beneath a glazed dome…A place that will grow its own food, supporting indoor Mediterranean as well as tropical environments, for the health, nourishment and enjoyment of all who visit.” In addition to its rich plant life, the plans also include a plaza, specialty restaurant, and marketplace focusing on Icelandic produce.

Initial plans for the biodome were approved by the city in December 2017, after criticism from people living in the area led to a reduction of the height of the domes and the removal of proposed buildings on the west side of the site. The proposed parking lot was also scaled down. Spor í sandinn founder and CEO Hjördís Sigurðardóttir says the plans for the project have gone through five or six drafts and changed a great deal in response to a site changes as well; initially, the project was proposed to be located in the more central Laugardalur neighbourhood, but this was rejected by the city.

Having received an initial round of investment during the planning and design phase, Hjördís is currently looking to secure the next phase of financial support. In her interview with RÚV on Wednesday, she wouldn’t give a specific figure of how much the project was projected to cost but conceded that biodomes were “expensive structures.”

See project visualization photos and read more about the proposal for BioDome Reykjavík (in English) on the Spor í sandinn website, here.

Ski Season Starts Early

ski slopes

Ski season in Iceland kicked off earlier this week with the opening of the Dalvík ski slope in North Iceland, RÚV reports. Thanks to huge amounts of snowfall in a short amount of time, several other ski areas will also be able to open earlier than expected, although they will only be partially open at first.

The Dalvík ski area on Böggvisstaðafjall mountain opened on Tuesday, although employees were only able to open part of the slopes to begin with. The area is equipped with snow cannons for snowmaking, however, so they expect that the entire ski area will open in the coming days.

Likewise, a part of the ski area at Hlíðarfjall, just outside of Akureyri will open on Saturday morning. To begin with, there will be four of seven lifts open, while staff work to make extra snow to use in slope formation around the other three lifts.

The Skarðsdal slope in Siglufjörður will also open on Saturday. This area hasn’t gotten as much snow as the other two, but there is still enough there to open the slopes at this time.

Nature’s Treasure Chest

Snæfellsjökull National Park

The area surrounding Snæfellsjökull glacier is one of Iceland’s most beautiful. Snæfellsjökull National Park is dominated by the glacier, which sits at a height of 1,446 metres (4,744 feet) atop a 700,000-year-old stratovolcano. Diverse bird life, seals dozing on black sand beaches, fantastic natural rock formations along with beautiful caves hidden in lava fields – there’s no question that such a natural treasure should be protected at all costs. Luckily, there seem to be more economic benefits than costs – at least according to Finnish researcher Jukka Siltanen’s work. The natural pearl of Snæfellsjökull has proven to be a gem of sorts for the Icelandic economy.

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