Glacial Outburst Flood Has Begun in Grímsvötn

Vatnajökull Grímsfjall Grímsvötn Bárðarbunga Kverkfjöll Jöklar Jökull Vísindi

A glacial outburst flood has begun in Grímsvötn beneath Vatnajökull glacier, experts have confirmed. An M4.3 earthquake at Grímsfjall this morning alerted experts to increased activity at the site. While such floods are known to increase the likelihood of volcanic eruptions, there are no indications an eruption is imminent at the site.

In an interview with RÚV, Professor of Geophysics Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson confirmed the glacial outburst flood began several days ago in the highland region. Elevated water levels have already reached inhabited areas further south, but they are not significant. “There is more water in Gígjukvísl river,” Magnús Tumi stated. “However, this is not a big event, it just looks like the summer water levels. It’s not a lot and it’s equivalent to a small or medium-sized glacial outburst flood in Skaftá river.”

Strongest earthquake in a long time

The M4.3 earthquake that occurred just before 7:00 AM this morning is “noteworthy,” according to Magnús Tumi. He says it’s “the biggest one we know of there for a very long time.” The earthquake hasn’t been followed by others of a similar magnitude, however, and appears to be a one-off event.

What is a glacial outburst flood?

Grímsvötn is an active volcano located beneath Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest glacier. It has the highest eruption frequency of all the volcanoes in Iceland, but is located far from any inhabited areas. The geothermal and volcanic activity at Grímsvötn causes regular glacial outburst floods, known as jökulhlaup. Such outbursts are triggered by geothermal heating beneath the glacier which causes ice to melt, and eventually be abruptly released from beneath the glacier, into the surrounding water systems.

Magnús Tumi says Grímsvötn is now in a period of increased activity, which typically lasts between 60-80 years. It last erupted in 2011.

Drinking Water Pipe to Westman Islands Damaged Beyond Repair

Heimaey, Westman Islands

The pipe that transports drinking water to the Westman Islands has been damaged beyond repair. While the pipe is still fully functional, it could break at any moment, leaving Heimaey island’s 4,523 inhabitants without water. The pipe was damaged ten days ago when the trawler Huginn VE unintentionally dropped an anchor on it, which then got stuck on the pipe.

Pipe must be replaced

A notice from the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management states that the damage to the pipe stretches across a 300-metre [980-foot] section. Underwater pictures taken to assess the damage show that the pipe has shifted significantly from its former location. “This situation makes the possibility of a temporary repair difficult,” the notice reads. “The only permanent solution is a new pipe.”

The National Police Commissioner and the Chief Superintendent of the Westman Islands have jointly declared a “danger phase” in effect for the Westman Islands due to the situation. Íris Róbertsdóttir, the local mayor, told RÚV that a response plan is in the works to lay down new piping, which she insists will need to be done by next summer at the latest.

Town will not be evacuated

For the time being, there is no need for Westman Islands residents to save or store water. The town’s water tanks store 5,000 tonnes of drinking water, which could last anywhere from several days to over a week if the water pipe does break fully. The local heating is also dependent on the water supply. Westman Islands’ Chief Superintendent Karl Gauti Hjaltason stated that if the damaged water pipe does break, the town would be able to continue heating homes and buildings for up to two weeks with its stored water.

If additional water is necessary, the current plan is to transport it to the Westman islands rather than evacuate residents. The town authorities are, however, reviewing evacuation plans.

Drinking Water Contaminated in Borgarfjörður Eystri

Residents of Borgarfjörður Eystri, Northeast Iceland, have had to boil their drinking water for two weeks due to the discovery of coliform bacteria in both of their water sources, RÚV reports. The water supply has been drained and chlorinated.

East Iceland’s Public Health Authority discovered bacterial contamination in the supply during routine sampling in late September. The results came in on October 2 and residents were immediately told to boil all drinking water.

Soil subsidence a likely cause

The cause of the contamination is likely a pipe that was pulled out of a well in the spring above Brekkubær, providing a way for pollution to enter the water. “This has probably come about because of soil subsidence [sinking ground] in the wet land in that area,” stated Glúmur Björnsson, a geologist at utilities contractor HEF Veitur. Glúmur stated that staff has since chlorinated the wells and water tank and rinsed the system. “And we hope that will be enough for us to solve this.”

No illnesses reported

However, contamination was also detected in other wells, which means the dislocated pipe may not be the only cause. Authorities may install a UV water purifier in the system to kill germs. For the time being, residents must continue to boil drinking water. No illnesses have been reported in connection to the contaminated water.

Read More: A Wealth of Water

About 95% of Iceland’s drinking water is groundwater, most of it untreated. This groundwater is extracted from springs, wells, or boreholes. While Iceland’s drinking water is generally safe, waterborne disease outbreaks do occur. During the two decades between 1998 and 2017, there were 15 registered waterborne outbreaks in Iceland affecting 8,000 people and leading to over 500 registered illnesses. All of them occurred in small water supplies.

A Wealth of Water

natural resource iceland

Close your eyes and picture Iceland. What comes to mind? A powerful waterfall streaming down a cliffside? Bluish icebergs floating in a glacier lagoon? A hulking jeep fording a highland river? Or maybe a steaming hot spring or a neighbourhood swimming pool? Whichever image is most evocative of Iceland for you, there’s one thing they […]

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Much of Downtown Reykjavík Without Hot Water During Scheduled Maintenance

veitur maintenance water

According to a bulletin posted on Veitur’s website, Iceland’s national utility company, much of central Reykjavík was without hot water last night and will continue to be so through the morning.

Repair work began at 9:00PM last night, and is expected to continue until at least 9:00AM today.

Areas affected include downtown Reykjavík west of Kringlumyrarbraut to Grandi and parts of Vesturbær.

A map of the affected area can be accessed here at Veitur’s website.

Residents are advised to turn off hot water taps during the scheduled maintenance in order to prevent damage when the hot water returns. Those affected are also advised to take steps to conserve heat during the temporary outage, such as keeping windows and doors shut.


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.

Residents of South Iceland Urged to Save Water

Dry soil in Kjósarhreppur

Several weeks of dry, sunny weather have put pressure on water supply systems in South Iceland, Vísir reports. Several municipalities in South Iceland have asked residents to avoid excessive use of water.

“We are encouraging people, especially in areas that are sparsely populated, to use water sparingly,” says Ágúst Sigurðsson, local council director of the municipality of Rangarþing ytra. Ágúst points out that the Pentecost long weekend brought a few thousand temporary residents to summer houses in the region, putting added pressure on its water systems. “When we add a few thousand new residents for a weekend, then we can’t answer the demand.”

When asked how residents can save water, Ágúst suggests avoiding making waterslides for kids or excessive watering of lawns. “It’s first and foremost about people not using water unnecessarily in this delicate time.”

Grass and soil dried out

In the Southwest Iceland municipality of Kjósarhreppur, it’s been more than three weeks without a drop of rain. In some areas, the soil has dried out so much that deep cracks have formed. “I’ve never seen this before. There are crevasses in the soil everywhere and it’s burned on top,” farmer Atil Snær Guðmundsson told RÚV. “The only thing saving us is the humidity that comes at night because of the temperature difference.”

Although it has been a month since fertiliser was spread over Atli’s fields, the grains still sit on the surface of the soil, waiting for the rain to dissolve them. Atli says many farmers in the area are considering mowing prematurely, before the grass dries out completely. The cows on the farm also require special attention in the heat, Atil explains. “That means sunscreen and plenty of it.”

Overall, though, he’s not too concerned about the weather’s effects. “It’ll rain in the end. It always does.”