Glacial Outburst Flood Has Begun in Skaftá River

A glacial outburst flood has begun in Skaftá river in South Iceland, the Icelandic Met Office reports. The water level and flow rate in the river began to increase last night and increased electrical conductivity was also measured. Rangers in Hólaskjól also reported smelling sulphur in the area. The National Police Commissioner and Department of Civil Protection have issued an uncertainty phase due to the event.

The last glacial outburst flood in Skaftá occurred two years ago, in September 2021. Floods in Skaftá are sourced from two ice cauldrons beneath Vatnajökull glacier which usually burst one at a time, but it is possible that this flood is sourced by both the western and eastern cauldrons, according to the Met Office. The 2021 glacial outburst flood was sourced by both cauldrons.

Risk of floods and gas poisoning

There are several hazards associated with such natural events. Firstly, flood conditions are expected in Skaftá river over the next two to three days and some flooding of roads near the river is possible. Secondly, hydrogen sulphide is released from the floodwater as it drains from the Vatnajökull ice cap. The gas is particularly potent at the ice margin, where it can reach poisonous levels of concentration. Travellers are advised to stay away from the edges of Skaftárjökull, Tungnaárjökull, and Síðujökull, where floodwater could burst through the surface. Lastly, travellers on Vatnajökull should stay away from the region, as crevasses will develop rapidly around the ice cauldron.

The cauldrons that source the glacial outburst floods in Skaftá drain every two years on average, producing floods of up to 1,500 cubic metres per second.

Most Fishing Permits for Summer Sold Out

salmon fishing iceland

Fishing permits for the majority of Iceland’s salmon rivers have already been sold out, according to Jón Helgi Björnsson, chairperson of the Federation of Icelandic River Owners (Landsamband Veiðifélaga).

In a statement to RÚV, Jón Helgi said that despite a difficult economic situation domestically and abroad, it’s been a very good year for fishing permits, with many of the best rivers already being sold out.

However, Jón Helgi noted that despite healthy sales of fishing permits in the last years, the popular outdoor sport has seen a slight decline recently. “The best fishing is probably in East Iceland,” Jón Helgi stated, “but there were a lot of small salmon there last year. I think we can expect a small improvement from last year, which was a slow year.”

Jón Helgi also noted that increasingly, people practice fishing for the outdoor experience and the socializing, and less so for the fish. Because of changing trends in fishing, large portions of the annual catch are released back into Icelandic rivers: “This practice is also necessary because these stocks are under a lot of pressure from the environment. It is necessary to treat these stocks responsibly, and in recent years, we have seen some results from our effots.”

It is possible to buy a fishing permit (Veiðikortið) for access to lake fishing in some 36 lakes throughout Iceland. For rivers that run through private land, most notably including Iceland’s salmon rivers, separate permits are required. The first salmon of the year are expected to begin appearing around May 20, with salmon fishing season then starting at the beginning of June.

Ice Jam in Ölfusá River Causes Concern for Local Utility Company

Ósabotnar

An ice jam has caused the Ölfusá river to spill over onto the road near Ósabotnar, where the boreholes of the Selfossveitur utility company are located, RÚV reports. The surface of the river has risen by more than a metre in the area above the jam, and the situation is being closely monitored.

Rescue teams at the ready, if needed

The water in the river Ölfusá is spilling over onto the road near Ósabotnar, making it impossible for the Selfossveitur utility company to access boreholes in the area, RÚV reports. The overflow is traced to an ice jam that has formed in the river near Efri-Laugardælaeyja; the surface of the river has risen by more than a metre.

The ice jam was probably formed by frazils – small pieces of ice that form in water moving turbulently enough to prevent the formation of a sheet of ice – which extend from the bottom of the river to the surface.

Sigurður Þór Haraldsson, Utilities Director of Selfossveitur, told RÚV that the overflow does not affect the operation of the utilities at present; the borehole structures are elevated above the water and are, therefore, not at risk of flooding. Rescue teams are at the ready if it becomes necessary to access the boreholes. The outlook at the moment, however, is not bad.

“And there’s a dike along there too, of course, which protects the boreholes from ice,” Sigurður stated. In the event of a system failure, however, the boreholes would be difficult to access. “Naturally, we are in touch with the rescue teams constantly. They’re always on hand and ready to sort us out if this happens.”

Warmer weather could bring increased flooding

Current forecasts predict warmer weather during the latter part of the week – and with it, in all likelihood, some rain. This could cause a greater overflow. Any changes that may occur are being closely monitored.

Oddur Árnason, Chief of Police in Selfoss, told RÚV yesterday that drones are being used to monitor the Ölfusá river, along with select locations along the rivers Hvítá and Stóra-Laxá.

“Our people have also examined the conditions at the Skálm river in Mýrdalssandur today as well, to monitor whether there is any risk of ice jams forming in these rivers.”

Oddur added that there was no reason to be overly concerned about the jam in Ölfusá at the moment as drone footage doesn’t indicate that there is much pressure accumulating: “The surface of the river is frozen, and it would be nice if there wasn’t a sudden thaw.”

Flooding in Selfoss an unlikely eventuality

The main concern for the authorities is an ice jam forming below the Ölfusárbrú bridge, which could cause the river to spill into the streets, low-lying houses, or basements in Selfoss. In such cases, the river returns to its old channel within a few hours. Oddur told RÚV, however, that there is no reason to be concerned about the possibility at the moment; such eventualities rarely materialise.

“But we want to tread carefully. We don’t know if it will rain next weekend. As far as the general public is concerned, however – irrespective of the flooding of rivers and lakes – it’s advisable to clean drains and even step onto the street and open the drains. Just to clear any blockages.”

If people aren’t sure where gutters are located in the street, they can  visit www.ja.is and access the 360-degree images on the website. “If all of us do this, it will prevent any unnecessary overflow,” Oddur concluded.

Dig Through Landslide to Redirect Salmon River

A fishing association will dig up 350,000 square metres (3.8 million sq ft) of soil in order to redirect Hítará river, which was diverted by a landslide two years ago. RÚV reports the project will likely cost more than ISK 100 million ($730,000/€660,000), but the Hítará Fishing Association says the investment is worth it, as the river is one of the most lucrative salmon fishing rivers in the country.

In the summer of 2018, unusually wet weather caused an enormous landslide on Fagraskógarfjall mountain that completely blocked Hítará river. Roughly one kilometre (0.6mi) wide and 1.5km (0.9mi) long, the landslide is thought to be the largest that has ever occurred in Iceland. Hítará eventually carved a new trajectory, but an important former salmon spawning area in its old path is now either dry or underneath the landslide.

Ólafur Sigvaldsson, chairman of Hítará Fishing Association, says the now-dry area represents about 20% of the former Hítará. By digging a ditch through the landslide six metres deep and 18 metres wide (20ft x 60ft), the group aims to return the river to its old path. The association has applied for ISK 60 million ($440,000/€400,000) for the project from the Fish Farming Fund (Fiskræktarsjóður) but expects to pay the rest of the cost itself. Ólafur says compared to the financial loss to the association that the decline in salmon represents, the investment is worth it.

Flooding Across Iceland

flood south iceland

Rain and warm temperatures have caused flooding across Iceland, RÚV reports. Farms in Árnessýsla, South Iceland, as well as in parts of North Iceland are surrounded by water. Flooding has also damaged a portion of the Ring Road in South Iceland and nearby regional roads. Water levels seem to be on the way down after reaching a peak last night.

Auðsholt farm in South Iceland became surrounded by water yesterday when the river Litla Laxá got clogged with slush. Resident Ásdís Bjarnadóttir says the only way of reaching the farm now is by jeep. “It was at its worst around dinnertime yesterday, there was the most flooding then. My daughters work in tourism and they had to pick up guests with a tractor yesterday evening.”

Ring Road very damaged in South Iceland

Route 1 in South Iceland and neighbouring roads have sustained significant damage due to the flooding. Ágúst Freyr Bjarmarsson, head supervisor at the Road and Coastal Administration, says most of the damage lies between Vík and Hvolsvöllur. “While the runoff is sinking into the soil and there’s ice underneath, mud comes between them and holes are formed in the surface coating. There are dozens of holes and they can become deep. This can cause severe damage, blow tires or damage rims.” Ágúst says that Route 221 to Sólheimajökull glacier is also damaged, though repairs are underway and it should reopen again this afternoon. No road damage is reported from other parts of the country.

South Iceland Police shared a few pictures of flooding in the region, which can be seen below.

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Ice Blockage in Hvítá River

river water

An ice blockage in Hvítá river, Southwest Iceland, is being closely monitored, RÚV reports. There has been significant rainfall in the area, which could lead to elevated water levels rising even higher, as well as the possibility of flooding once the blockage breaks. South Iceland Police were monitoring the area yesterday and are expected to return today.

A blockage in the same spot caused flooding and damage to summer homes in the area two years ago. Flooding is a particular danger if the weather warms quickly, as that could cause a sudden break in the blockage and increased conductivity and higher water levels in the river.

Experts will continue to monitor the area over the coming days.

New Sonar Technology To Be Used in River Search

Authorities hope to soon locate the car of an Icelandic man who drove into the Ölfusá river just outside of Selfoss, South Iceland at around 10 pm on Tuesday night, RÚV reports. Nearly a hundred people participated in the search for 51-year-old Páll Mar Guðjónsson but so far, no sign of Páll’s car or any clues to its whereabouts have been found.

The initial search, which was made more difficult by strong winds and heavy rains, continued until close to 3 am on the first night, with an additional 100 people joining in before the evening was out. It continued on a smaller scale the next day, during which time, authorities also held a consultation meeting with multiple diving teams. Smaller spot-searches were also conducted on Thursday and Friday by boat and a larger-scale volunteer-run search is planned to take place over the weekend.

Meanwhile, after consulting with the diving specialists, searchers have decided that they will experiment with multibeam echosounder measurements over the riverbed, which will be taken in the ravine where the car entered the water and give them a clearer picture of the river depth as well as return point measurements.

This is the first time that this technology will have been used in a search here in Iceland, but searchers need to wait for the right weather conditions before they can proceed. Current weather forecasts suggest that it will be possible to take the multibeam measurements in the middle of the coming week, when there will be warmer temperatures and less precipitation.

Sulphur Smell by Sólheimajökull Glacier

Sólheimajökull glacier

A strong sulphur smell has been noticed in the vicinity of Sólheimajökull glacier in South Iceland, the Icelandic Met Office reports. No significant changes have been observed in hydrological, gas, or seismic data in the area.

Still weather in the coming days means any gases caused by geothermal activity can accumulate in higher concentrations. Individuals in the region are encouraged not to remain in low-lying areas where gas tends to accumulate and avoid proximity to Jökulsá á Sólheimasandur river.

Farmed Salmon Caught in Icelandic Rivers

Three farmed salmon have been caught in the Westfjords this season, RÚV reports. The three fish were caught in Laugardalsá and Selá rivers which empty into Ísafjarðardjúp and Staðará river which ends at Steingrímsfjörður fjord.

Fish farming is a growing industry in Iceland. Open-net fish farms have been a topic of debate in the country due to their impact on the surrounding marine environment.

The Marine and Freshwater Research Institute issued a statement on August 31 addressing the escaped fish which had turned up on fishermen’s rods. “This amount of farmed salmon in rivers in these areas is in line with what the genetic introgression risk assessment allows, based on the current extent of open-net farming here in the country,” the statement reads. “The proportion of farmed salmon in these rivers is, considering that amount of salmon, well under the levels that would endanger the genetic composition of wild stocks.”

Leó Alexander Guðmundsson, a biologist at the Institute told Vísir that the fish could be just the tip of the iceberg. Farmed salmon have a tendency to swim up rivers later in the season than wild salmon, meaning the true number of escapees may not be apparent until the end of the fishing season.

Pétur Pétursson, who holds fishing rights in Vatnsdalsá river in Northwest Iceland, believes one fish he recently caught in the river is a farm escapee. He is taking the fish to the Institute for analysis. Pétur believes the problem of escaped salmon will spread if no measures are taken. “It will be all over the country and people have to realise that we have to stop it. We have time to stop this now, and people just have to make a decision about it,” he stated. “Farm up on land, then it will be alright.”