Goose Flies from UK to Iceland in 7 Hours

barnacle goose

It’s springtime in Iceland and geese are returning to the island’s shores in droves. GPS tracking has given researchers fascinating insight into their journeys, which are surprisingly quick though not always direct, RÚV reports. One barnacle goose had the best recorded time, crossing some 900 km [560 mi] from the UK to Iceland in just seven hours.

“It was in a strong northerly wind. It flew well over 100 km [62 mi] per hour,” says Arnór Þórir Sigfússon, a wildlife ecologist at Verkís, about the aforementioned record-holder. Arnór is monitoring some 20 geese equipped with a GPS tracker. Eight of them have already arrived in Iceland, while one is believed to be outside the service area or possibly dead.

The GPS trackers are lightweight and operate with the help of solar-powered batteries. The goose journeys they track are not always direct, with a few geese appearing to turn southward before reaching Iceland, then correcting course. One goose flew westward around Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest glacier, to reach its nesting ground in North Iceland, rather than flying directly across the icy peaks.

In 2019, a greylag goose and namesake of Arnór’s completed the journey from Scotland to Iceland in 20 hours, a distance of 1,115 km [693 mi].

Barrier Construction Temporarily Halted Due to Poor Weather

Reykjanes peninsula

Construction of protective barriers in the Reykjanes peninsula has been temporarily halted due to the Icelandic Meteorological Office’s difficulty in monitoring air quality amid poor weather. The project, involving over 50 workers alternating between 12-hour shifts, aims to protect the Svartsengi Geothermal Power Plant in the event of an eruption.

12-hour shifts

About 165 earthquakes have been recorded near the town of Grindavík on the Reykjanes peninsula since midnight. All of them were below magnitude two and were detected along the magma conduit. According to the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO), this number is somewhat fewer than in recent days, when about 1,500 to 1,800 earthquakes were measured per day.

Due to the IMO’s challenges in monitoring air quality in the area due to poor weather conditions, construction of the protective barriers near the Svartsengi Power Plant was temporarily suspended last night and today. (Svartsengi provides hot water, cold water, and electricity to residents on the Reykjanes peninsula.) In an interview with today, Arnar Smári Þorvarðarson, a construction engineer at Verkís, stated that the team would reassess the situation before potentially resuming work later today, just before the next night shift begins.

Arnar Smári noted that the first phase of the project, which includes building barriers three metres high, is nearing completion. This progress is particularly evident in the area stretching from east of Grindavíkurvegur to Sýlingarfell, where a relatively tall barrier has been erected. The construction initially started at the northern end of Sýlingarfell and has been progressing westward.

Involving over 50 workers, the project operates continuously with 12-hour shifts. Arnar Smári observed that the determination of the barriers’ height follows the guidance of volcanologists and predictions about lava flows, targeting at least three metres but potentially higher in some regions to adapt to the landscape.

The well-being of the workers is emphasised, with supervisors urging them to voice any discomfort and offering reassignments when necessary. According to reports, the team is managing well in these challenging conditions.

Preemptive Lava Barriers Proposed in Grindavík Town Hall

Proposals to erect protective lava barriers on the Reykjanes peninsula were introduced at a town hall meeting in Grindavík yesterday. A geophysicist with the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management expressed scepticism that the barriers would be situated on the “right side” of a possible eruption.

A familiar pattern

Despite the Icelandic MET Office reporting that no uplift had occurred over the past three to four days in the Svartsengi area on the Reykjanes peninsula, the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management held a town hall meeting in Grindavík yesterday.

As of late May, the land around Svartsengi had risen almost five centimetres – likely owing to magma intrusion 4-5km below the surface – and an earthquake swarm had been ongoing, despite no signs of volcanic unrest. These geological events are reminiscent of similar disturbances in the area before the eruption near Fagradalsfjall in 2021. While the Fagradalsfjall eruption did not threaten infrastructure in the area, the current magma intrusion is located underneath a geothermal power plant, and an uncertainty phase is still in effect in the area.

Proposals on protective lava barriers introduced

In addition to professors in geology, the town hall meeting in Grindavík was also attended by police officers and search-and-rescue workers on the Reykjanes peninsula, along with representatives from the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, from neighbouring municipalities, and from companies that operate important infrastructure in the area.

There were also a few engineers present, among them Ari Guðmundsson from Verkís, who introduced the proposals of a task force, established in March of last year, entrusted with protecting important infrastructure in the event of an eruption.

Although the task force’s proposals will not be made available to the media prior to review by public administrators, Ari Guðmundsson told RÚV that, among other things, the task force had proposed the erection of preemptive protective barriers.

“That’s what we’ve proposed: the partial erection of protective lava barriers. But these proposals are subject to further review, in regard to environmental impact, e.g., and in regard to just how complete these barriers will be.”

Commenting on this proposal, Björn Oddsson, a geophysicist with the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, offered the following caveat: “Given that we have an open area with long fissures, it’s uncertain whether a protective barrier that’s erected prior to an eruption will be situated on the right side of the eruption – or the wrong side.”

“The proposals will be reviewed by the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management,” Ari Explained, “and they’ll decide on the next steps. We also proposed a review of a more extensive area on Reykjanes, stretching as far as Bláfjöll and Hengill, but that’s a much more extensive project.”

“It’s the beginning of a much more comprehensive project that must be undertaken,” Björn agreed.

A “temporary hiatus”

Despite no signs of volcanic unrest, Þorvaldur Þórðarson, professor of geology and volcanology at the University of Iceland, stated that the relative stillness on the peninsula over the past few days should be taken as a “temporary hiatus” as opposed to a sign that geological activity had ceased.

“Obviously, magma is no longer intruding at the former depth, and so there’s no uplift, which means that the immediate threat of an eruption has decreased; there won’t be an eruption any time soon,” Þorvaldur stated.

“Not this summer?” RÚV reporter Hólmfríður Dagný Friðjónsdóttir inquired.

“I wouldn’t think so. I certainly don’t hope so.”