Iceland Mag

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Iceland Mag

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  • Watch Tuesday's amazing Aurora dance above Hverfjall mountain

    By Staff

    A stunning show The Aurora dancing above Hverfjall mountain. Photo/Screenshot from video, see below

    The Mývatn region in North Iceland is considered to be one of the most beautiful areas in Iceland. When you add the Aurora dancing in the sky it is difficult to see how other places can compete!

    The video below, shot by Helgi Héðinsson, the manager of Dimmugorgir guesthouse by Mývatn lake, shows the Northern Lights dance over Hverfjall mountain, a tephra cone east of the lake. The video was shot on Tuesday night, between 22:00 and 23:00, with the entire hour compressed into ca 20 seconds. You should definitely click on HD and fullscreen.


  • Nature

    Photos: Geothermal utility achieves remarkable success reclaiming original vegetation around powerplant

    By Staff

    Hellisheiði power plant Geothermal power plants harness green renewable energy, but they nevertheless leave a significant environmental footprint: Boreholes, roads and transmission pipes all take space and destroy untouched nature. Photo/Valli

    The Geothermal power utility Orka Náttúrunnar, which operates among other things the Hellisheiði power plant has found a way to make it's power even greener. By reclaiming original vegetation around their power plant the plant ensures that the environmental impact is minimal.

    Geothermal power leaves an environmental footprint
    Even if geothermal power is green and a renewable energy source, its harnessing requires drilling boreholes, laying roads, building power plants and laying pipes to deliver the steam from the boreholes to the power plant. In the process the operation causes significant disruption and destruction to the original landscape and vegetation.

    Read more: New borehole on Reykjanes peninsula promises to revolutionize geothermal power

    In places like the lava fields of Hellisheiði heath the native vegetation and moss mats are fragile and take decades to recover, which means that harnessing the green energy potentially leaves ugly black and gray wounds.

    Orka Náttúrunnar, which is owned by Reykjavík and other metropolitan municipalities, operates this third largest geothermal power plant in the world, has been working actively to solve this problem.

    Lava boulders and vegetation is stored to be re-used

    Hellisheiðarvirkjun, Magnea Magnúsdóttir, vegetation reclamation
    Magnea Magnúsdóttir The chief of vegetation reclamation for Hellisheiðarvirkjun spreading moss-buttermilk fertilizer. Photo/Sæunn Kolbrún Þórólfsdóttir

    The first step for the utility is to remove all vegetation at construction sites. The moss mat or the topsoil, with the plants and their root systems, are removed and stored to be re-introduced to the site. The utility operates industrial freezers to store moss for longer periods, up to two years. Lava boulders are also stored so that the landscape can be reconstructed.

    Magnea Magnúsdóttir, who is in charge of vegetation reclamation for the utility, told the local newspaper Fréttablaðið that the moss has been frozen for up to two years, before being thawed and re-planted. "It has worked better than we could have hoped. The moss came out of the freezer beautiful and green."

    Read more: Nine fascinating facts about geothermal energy and Reykjavík

    This moss was then used to cover lava boulders which were returned to an area around a steam pipeline connecting boreholes to the main power plant (see photo below).

    The utility has also been working hard to reclaim original vegetation at older sites which had been disturbed and never repaired. All moss which the utility removes is therefore stored to be re-used somewhere.

    Best practices being adopted by others in Iceland
    The utility has also experimented with "sowing" moss by spreading a porridge of buttermilk and moss leaves which then take root and thus reclaim barren rocks in a couple of years rather than decades.

    Since Orka Náttúrunnar introduced its methods of reclaiming original vegetation the state power utility Landsvirkjun has adopted the same methods to reduce the environmental impact of power plants, transmission lines and roads. Now the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration has adopted similar methods, requiring subcontractors to store and then re-introduce moss they remove when new roads are constructed.

    As these pictures show the results can be dramatic! 

    Hellisheiðarvirkjun, vegetation reclamation
    Before The lava field has been leveled and stripped of vegetation as a steam pipeline has been construted. Photo/Magnea Magnúsdóttir


    Hellisheiðarvirkjun, vegetation reclamation
    After A mound of lava boulders has been reconstructed and the original vegetation re-introduced. Photo/Magnea Magnúsdóttir


    Hellisheiðarvirkjun, vegetation reclamation
    Before The grounds around the  main power plant of Hellisheiðarvirkjun. Photo/Magnea Magnúsdóttir


    Hellisheiðarvirkjun, vegetation reclamation
    After The native vegetation has been re-introdeuced to the site. Photo/Magnea Magnúsdóttir


  • General

    1920 map shows how Reykjavík has grown from a small town to a small city

    By Staff

    A small town Reykjavík in 1920 didn't extend far beoynd the center of town and the western and northern slopes of Skólavörðuholt hill. 

    One of the things all visitors to Reykjavík notice is that it's a young city. Reykjavík was only is a young city.

    While the first permanent settler in Iceland, Ingólfur Arnarson, decided to set up his farm in Reykjavík, the settlement remained little more than a few farms. In the middle ages several farms were established on the Reykjavík peninsula (which is actually called Seltjarnarnes peninsula), as well as on the islands off the coast. 

    It was only in the 1700s that a small village formed in Reykjavík, clustered around Aðalstræti street in downtown Reykjavík. As Iceland industrialized around the turn of the century 1900 this small village quickly became the center of the new trawling industry, expanding beyond the narrow strip of land between the harbour and the downtown pond, toward the west, along the harbour and to the west up the slopes of Skólavörðuholt hill. Hallgrímskirkja now stands at the top of this hill.

    Read more: Watch: What did the “bleak outpost” of Reykjavík look like in WWII?

    But as the map above shows, Reykjavík was still a very small town in 1920! To help you navigate the map, the aerial photo below, allows you to identify some of the landmarks and buildings, several of which stand today. The city has changed dramatically!

    Reykjavík in 1920
    A small village by the sea Reykjavík from the air in 1920 Historic photo

    One of the things one notices immediately is the transformation of the harbour area which has been expanded dramatically with landfills. The Grandi area, on the western edge of the harbour, is nothing more than a narrow isthmus connecting the island Örfirisey to the mainland.  

    Reykjavík in 1920
    Reykjavík in 1920 The eastern edge of the town is where Hallgrímskirkja stands today Historic photo


  • Politics

    Support for center right coalition crumbles, large shift to left in latest poll

    By Staff

    Katrín Jakobsdóttir The chairwoman of the Left Green Movement has cause to celebrate. Her party received 15.9% of the vote in October 2016, but now polls at 27.3%. Photo/Frikki Þór.

    Neither of the smaller coalition partners in the three party right wing ruling coalition would get a single man elected to parliament if elections were held today, the latest public opinion poll indicates. The Left Green Movement and the Social Democratic Alliance register significant gains. The shift to the left amounts to 14.5 percentage points. 

    Support for coalition government collapses


    Poll 23.3.17
    The poll results Independence Party: 32.1%, Restoration 3.1%, Left Green Movement 27.3%, Bright Future, 3.8%, Progress Party 7%, Pirate Party 14.3%, Social Democratic Alliance 8.8%. Photo/Fréttablaðið

    The poll, which is published in today's edition of the local newspaper Fréttablaðið, shows that the centrist Bright Future and the center-right Restoration, the two junior partners in the ruling right wing coalition, enjoy the support of 3.8% and 3.1% respectively. If elections were held today neither party would be able to cross a 5% threshold in elections to get a man into parliament. Bright Future received 7.2% in the 2016 elections, while Restoration received 10.5%. 

    Some of the support for the two smaller parties has shifted to the conservative Independence Party which now enjoys the support of 32.1%, up from 29% in the 2016 elections. However, the coalition parties, which commanded nearly a 50% support in the elections now only have a combined support of 39%. 

    Large shift to the left
    The poll finds that the Left Green Movement is the second largest party, with 27.3%, up from 15.9% and the Social Democratic Alliance has also added to its support. The party now enjoys the support of 8.8%, up from 5.7%. The anti-establishment Pirate Party stands still, with the support of 14.3%. The party received 14.5% in the October elections.

    The center-right Progress party has the support of 8% of voters, down from 11.5%.

    Fréttablaðið calculates that if elections were held today the Independence Party would receive 23 MPs, the Left Green movement 19, the Pirate Party 10, the Social Democratic Alliance 6 and the Progress Party 5. The Left Greens could therefore form a majority coalition of 35 MPs. 

    The following graph, comparing the current poll and the 2016 election was made by Electograph

    Fréttablaðið poll
    Fréttablaðið poll The three leftist parties would gain a clear majority if elections were held today: With 29 seats in parliament the Left Greens and Pirates would only lack 2 MPs to form a narrow 2 party majority. Photo/Electograph


  • Lifestyle

    CNN argues the key to Icelandic happiness is to be found in the (hot) water

    By Staff

    The public swimming pools and geothermal water are the keys to Icelandic happiness, CNN finds. The latest UN World Happiness Report Icelanders are the third happiest people in the world.

    Read more: Icelanders are one of the happiest nations of the world, UN report finds

    According to a CNN report the reason for Icelandic happiness is to be found in the hot tubs and public pools. “When it comes to socializing, England has its pubs. Italy has its piazzas. And Iceland has its pools.”

    CNN is not the first major international media outlet to note the importance of swimming pools for Icelandic culture and their contribution to the quality of life in Iceland. Last winter the New York Times published a major feature on the swimming pools and their importance.

    Read more: NYT finds geothermal public pools key to social harmony and well-being in Iceland

    Both the CNN and the NYT argue that the place to find locals in Iceland is at the neighbourhood pool. Valdimar Hafstein, folklorist at the University of Iceland explains the importance of the pools, which are „a focus point of public life," Valdimar told the CNN:

    "If you think of health and wellness not just as a matter of physical health and being free from disease but also the mental and social aspects, I think the geothermal heat and communal pools have a lot to do with that. … We feel good here. We know our neighbors, because we meet them in the pools. It creates a good vibe, and you feel at home in there."

    We at Iceland Magazine agree. The public pools are really one of the best parts about Iceland, and certainly one of the very best places to blend in or meet with locals. We also agree with CNN’s summary of the baseline rules for pool behaviour:

    "There are some rules to observe. Don't discuss anything too personal; keep it to broader social issues. Don't shake hands; a simple nod will do. And make sure to shower thoroughly before and after getting in the pool. Icelanders take pool hygiene very seriously."

    We would perhaps add that showering thoroughly means you without your swimsuit!

    Read more: Video: Beware of the Icelandic vigilante shower wardens

  • Food & Drink

    Icelandic skyr now makes up 2% of the US yogurt market

    By Staff

    Siggi's skyr Three of the 30 different products the US based The Icelandic Milk and Skyr Corporation produces. Photo/vísir-Siggi's skyr

    The Icelandic Milk and Skyr Corporation, which was founded by the Icelandic entrepreneur Sigurður Kjartan Hilmarsson in 2006, now has a 2% market share of the US yoghurt market. Siggi’s skyr is available at 25,000 stores around the US.

    Read more: Make your own skyr!

    Sigurður Kjartan told the local newspaper Fréttablaðið that the company, which was founded in New York State in 2006 now has two dairies producing skyr. According to Nielsen data the company commands 2% of the US yogurt market, making it a small but significant player in the market, according to Sigurður.

    The story behind Siggi’s skyr

    Siggi's skyr, Sigurður Kjartan Hilmarsson
    The creator and his products Sigurður Kjartan Hilmarsson started with a family recipe from a 1963 cook book. Photo/Vísir

    Sigurður, or Siggi as he is known to friends, has lived on Manhattan since 2002 where he worked for Deloitte Consulting on Wall Street. In 2004 Sigurður got interested in making skyr at home, using an old family recipe he got from his mother.

    Experimenting with the recipe, which was from a recipe book written down by hand in 1963, Siggi managed to master the art of skyr making, and in 2006 he founded the company and left his job on Wall Street.

    Today Siggi’s employs 40 people and hundreds of contractors producing 30 different products, which are available in chains like Whole Foods and Target. The big jump came last year when the company reached an agreement with Starbucks, Sigurður tells Fréttablaðið. Now customers at seven thousand Starbucks coffee shops around the US can purchase Siggi’s skyr products.

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