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  • Weather

    Several parts of Ring Road in North and North East Iceland closed due to severe weather

    By Staff

    Öxnadalsheiði heath Conditions in low lying areas can be deceptive and deteriorate quickly as you reach higher elevation. Photo/Vilhelm

    Due to strong winds, heavy snowfall and dangerous driving conditions the Icelandic Road and Coastal Authority has closed several mountain passes and heaths on the Ring Road in North and North East Iceland. Members of three different ICE-SAR companies spent the night assisting travellers who had gotten stuck on heaths.

    Difficult travel conditions in the N and NE
    The parts of the Ring Road which have been closed are Öxnadalsheiði, the heath between Skagafjörður and Eyjafjörður fjords, Víkurskarð, a mountain pass between Eyjafjörður fjord and NE Iceland as well as Mývatns- og Möðrudalsöræfi, the stretch of the Ring Road across the Central Highlands in NE Iceland. In addition Vopnafjarðarheiði heath, which connects the Ring Road and the town of Vopnafjörður in NE Iceland, has been closed. 

    According to the ICRA driving conditions in North and North East Iceland are difficult. Roads in the north are all icy or covered in snow. Heavy snowfall in East Iceland also reduces visibility. 

    Take weather warnings seriously!
    During the winter months travellers should always pay close attention to weather and travel alerts. See the website of the Icelandic Meteorological Office for the weather forecast and any weather alerts, and the website for travel alerts issued by ICE-SAR. Travellers heading out on the road should also check road conditions on the website of the Icelandic Road and Coastal AuthorityIRCA webcams can be useful when it comes to getting a feel for road conditions.

    Remember that conditions on mountain roads or on heaths can be very different from conditions closer to the coast. 

  • Geology

    When the residents of Vestmannaeyjar woke up to discover a volcano erupting on the outskirts of town

    By Staff

    An eruption on the outskirts of town The residents of Vestmannaeyjar woke up to an uncomfortable intruder on January 23 1973. Photo/Sigurjón Einarsson, Vísir.

    On January 23 1975 one of the most dramatic eruptions in recent Icelandic history began when a long lava spewing fissure opened up along the eastern shore of Heimaey island. Not only did the eruption take place inside an urban area, one of the most important fishing towns in Iceland, it took Icelanders by complete surprise.

    The entire population of the island was evacuated during the eruption, and today, 45 years later, the population of Vestmannaeyjar has yet to recover from the eruption. Meanwhile the lava added 2.2 km2 (0.85 sq mi) to the island, growing it from 11.2 km2 (4.3 sq mi) to 13.14 km2 (5.2 sq mi).

    Active volcano and important fishing harbour

    capture.pngVestmannaeyjar location
    Vestmannaeyjar A small volcanic archipelago off the south coast of Iceland. Photo/Loftmyndir

    Vestmannaeyjar islands are an archipelago of 15 islands and some 30 skerries and volcanic stacks just off the south coast of Iceland. The islands are part of an active volcanic system. They have been formed in 70-80 different eruptions during the past 15,000 years. The most recent eruption prior to the Heimaey eruption took place in 1963. This eruption created the southernmost island off the coast of Iceland, Surtsey. 

    Heimaey island, the largest of the Vestmannaeyjar islands, has long been home to a prosperous fishing industry. In the early 20th century the town became one of the centers of the trawling industry. 8.5% of the total fish catch of Iceland was landed in Vestmannaeyjar on the eve of the 1973 eruption.

    No advance warning

    Heimaey eruption
    A terrifying presence The eruption threatened to swallow the town. Photo/Valdís Óskarsdóttir, Reykjavík Museum of Photography

    The inhabitants of Vestmannaeyjar were all sound asleep when the eruption began shortly after two in the morning of January 23 1975. The eruption came as a surprise, as scientists had failed to notice any warning signs. Þorsteinn Vilhjálmsson, professor emeritus in geophysics at the University of Iceland argues that modern day monitoring of volcanic activity should provide warnings several days in advance. 

    Eye witnesses who saw the eruption begin first thought all houses in the eastern part of town had caught fire, but then realized that they were witnessing the earth opening and lava spewed dozens of meters up into the air. People who lived in houses closest to the fissure described a slowly rising noise prior to the eruption. The noise then turned into a thundering din, resembling a jet engine. 

    The police was alerted immediately and emergency sirens were sounded to alert the population. Within minutes all 5,273 inhabitants were awake.

    A wall of fire

    Eldfell, Heimaey eruption
    Heimaey island The north-south fissure ran along the east coast of the island. Photo/Wikipedia under Creative Commons license, Cmglee

    The eruption took place along a 1.6 km (1 mi) long North-South fissure with 30-40 different craters, which extended along the eastern coast of Heimaey island. The northern edge of the fissure extended right up to the harbour of Vestmannaeyjar town, runing south along the edge of the town.   

    Lava spewed from this fissure as high as 600 m (1,970 ft) up into the air from these craters, and individual lava bombs were catapulted up to 2,500 m (1.6 miles) up into the air. The eruption quickly concentrated in the center of the fissure, with the two opposite ends closing up relatively quickly. The lava and tepthra from the central craters gradually piled up a new mountain, the small mount Eldfell which rises 200 m (660 ft) above sea level.

    Saving lives and rescuing the town

    Heimaey eruption
    Swallowing the town Homes were destroyed by lava, fire and the crushing weight of tepthra and ash. Photo/Vísir

    Panic gripped people who realized the eruption could easily swallow the town. People also feared for their lives, as people realized that the rapidly advancing lava was not the only threat, but also poisonous gases. The inhabitants flocked down to the harbour where fishing vessels immediately started ferrying people to the mainland. Nearly all inhabitants were evacuated in the first day. 200-300 stayed behind to try to save valuables from businesses and people's homes. Members of ICE-SAR from the mainland quickly joined the local volunteers. 

    Dozens of houses were destroyed. Many were swallowed by the lava, others were set on fire when they were hit by bombs of glowing magma. But houses which were out of reach of the magma were also in danger as thick layers of ash, tepthra and volcanic slag were deposited on the town, causing roofs to cave in. One of the most important tasks quickly became to shovel ash and slag from the roofs of houses. 

    By the end of January the tephra and ash had covered most of the island, reaching up to 5 m (16 ft) in places. Despite the best efforts of the volunteers hundreds of houses were destroyed. Out of the 1,350 houses in Vestmannaeyjar 417 were swallowed by the lava, and another 400 were damaged or destroyed by tephra and slag. 

    Fighting the volcano

    Heimaey eruption, Jan 1973
    Heimaey in Jan 1973 Thick layers of ash, up to 5 m/16 ft covered the town. Photo/Valdís Óskarsdóttir, Reykjavík Museum of Photography

    Working hard to save the town the volunteers built walls and blocked streets in an effort to divert the flow of the lava away from the town. Water was also pumped onto the lava to help solidify it and slow the advance of the lava flow. Water had previously been used to cool down and slow advancing lava flows in Hawaii and at Mt. Etna, but these had been relatively small scale. The operation in Heimaey was therefore a completely unique: The first attempt by humans to mount a full scale defense against a volcanic eruption. 

    Volunteers worked laying pipes across the active lava field pumping water down into the lava to slow down the advancing flow. The teams laying the pipes were called "The Suicide Squad": Working on top of an active lava flow as much as 130 m (430 ft) was correctly seen as suicidal! Although a few of these volunteers suffered minor burns, none sustained serious injuries and none of the volunteers died.

    These efforts were somewhat successful, but it was only after 32 high powered pumps were brought in from the US at the end of March that the advance of the lava into town was stopped. However, ultimately the greatest threat to the town was not that the lava might swallow homes and businesses, but that it would close the town's harbour: If the harbour was destroyed the fishing industry, the lifeblood of the community, would also be destroyed.

    Defending the harbour

    Heimaey eruption
    Cooling lava The thick plumes of steam rising from the lava as it cools. Photo/Will Perry, Reykjavík Museum of Photography

    On March 9 the lava flow began to push dangerously close to the harbour's mouth, threatening to close the harbour off from the sea. The rescue operations now focused on protecting the harbour as boats and ships outfitted with water cannons sprayed the lava heading towards the harbor in an attempt to stop its advance.

    These efforts proved remarkably successful, as the flow of lava toward the harbour slowed down and ultimately stopped. Rather than destroying the harbour the lava created a kind of new powerful breakwater, protecting the harbour from storms. When the pumping of water to cool the flow of lava finally stopped on July 10 it was estimated that some 8 million cubic yards of seawater had been pumped over the lava.

    Life returns to normal

    Heimaey eruption
    One of the buried homes Parts of the town which was buried in the eruption have been excavated. Photo/Eldheimar

    The eruption continued for a total of five months, coming to an end on July 3. The total volume of lava and tepthra emitted during the five months has been estimated at about 0.25 cubic kilometers (0.06 cubic miles). In addition to dumping a thick layer of tepthra over large parts of the island the eruption added 2.5 square kilometers (1 sq mi) of new land, expanding the surface of Heimaey by nearly 20%.

    People began returning to their homes in August. By mid September 1,200 people had returned to the islands. Many decided not to return, either because their homes had bee destroyed or because they had found work on the mainland. Still today the population of Vestmananeyjar has not recovered to its pre-eruption peak of 5,273. Today some 4,200 people live in the town of Vestmannaeyjar. 

  • Business

    Oil exploration in Icelandic waters comes to an end: Too expensive and too risky

    By Staff

    Dreki oil exploration area The area is part of the North Atlantic Ridge between Iceland and Jan Mayen by Stöð 2

    It looks like hopes for an Icelandic oil industry have been been put on hold after the the Chinese oil company CNOOC and the Norwegian state owned Petoro both pulled out of oil exploration in Icelandic waters. This is the latest setback for Icelandic oil exploration. 

    Read more: Report: Oil exploration stopped in part of the Icelandic shelf, but prospectors haven’t given up

    The Icelandic company Eykon Energy, which had been working with the two foreign companies on exploration in the Dreki region between NE Iceland and Jan Mayen, is determined to push forward, but the National Energy Authority has said that the exploration permit will have to be cancelled as Eykon lacks the financial or technical capacity to continue exploration on its own. The Chinese CNOOC owned a 60% stake in the project, Petoro a 25% stake and Eykon Energy 15%.

    The foundar and chairman of Eykon Energy, Heiðar Guðjónsson, told the local TV station Stöð 2 that he was disappointed in the decision. He claims that there are signs of significant oil deposits in the area and hopes that his company will be able to continue exploration.  

    Heiðar Guðjónsson
    Heiðar Guðjónsson The Chairman of the board of Eykon Energy is still hoping for an Icelandic oil-boom. Photo/Björn Siguðrsson

    Too expensive and risky
    CNOOC Iceland and Petoro Iceland relinquished their licenses for oil and gas exploration in the last remaining section of the Dreki area. The 12 year license was issued in April 2012. All data acquired during the exploration has been turned over to the National Energy Authority in accordance with the original agreement. 

    According to the Energy Authority the decision was made based on an assessment of the cost of drilling and extraction of any potential deposits, and the risks involved. The National Energy Authority has stated that Eykon Energy, which is the last remaining company to hold rights to hydrocarbon exploration in Icelandic waters, does no longer meet the requirements of its licenses.

    Heiðar Guðjónsson told Stöð 2 that he suspected the decision was "political". The Minister of the Environment, Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, of the Left Green Movement, has said that he opposes oil exploration in Icelandic waters. The permits for oil and gas exploration were originally issued by a the Social Democratic - Left Green coalition government which was in power 2009-2012. Since then the Left Greens have come out in firm opposition against any oil or gas exploration in Icelandic territorial waters.

  • Weather

    Storm in North Iceland: dozens of travellers rescued from cars stuck in snow last night

    By Staff

    ICE-SAR The all-volunteer Icelandic Search and Rescue stands ready to assist travellers in distress. Photo/Ernir

    Members of ICE-SAR companies in North Iceland assisted travellers in 30 cars which got stuck on the road between the towns of Hvammstangi and Blönduós in Skagafjörður fjord yesterday evening. A large number of the drivers were foreign travellers, some driving cars which were not equipped for winter driving.

    ICE-SAR also assisted travellers in dozens of vehicles which had gotten stuck on the Ring Road through Víkurskarð mountain pass on the east coast of Eyjafjörður fjord.

    A Yellow Weather Alert has been issued for entire North Iceland today. Travellers are warned to expect full gale and heavy snowfall.

    Read more: Heavy snowstorm in North Iceland: Expect difficult driving conditions, impassable roads

    The commander of the ICE-SAR company Húnar in the village of Hvammstangi told the local newspaper Morgunblaðið that conditions yesterday were very difficult, heavy wind, snowfall and blowing snow. He said that many of the drivers his team assisted were foreign travellers who didn't have experience driving in winter conditions, many driving cars which were not equipped for winter driving. One of the cars was a RV. 

    We at Iceland Magazine would like to urge people to pay attention to weather and travel alerts. See the website of the Icelandic Meteorological Office for the weather forecast and any weather alerts, and the website for travel alerts issued by ICE-SAR. Travellers heading out on the road should also check road conditions on the website of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Authority. IRCA webcams can be useful when it comes to getting a feel for road conditions.

    Remember that conditions on mountain roads or on heaths can be very different from conditions closer to the coast. 

  • Weather

    Heavy snowstorm in North Iceland: Expect difficult driving conditions, impassable roads

    By Staff

    Snowstorm and full gale Travellers should expect a proper winter storm in the north. Photo/Steingrímur Þórðarson.

    Heavy snow and gale in the Westfjords, North Iceland and the Eastfjords mean travllers heading for the North or East should seriously consider revising their travel plans. The Icelandic Meteorological Office has issued a Yellow Weather Warning for the Northern Westfjords, North Iceland and the Eastfjords, warning of poor visibility and difficult driving conditions.  

    Travellers should take extra care in mountain passes and on heaths. If the weather deteriorates parts of the Ring Road could easily become impassable and might be closed to all traffic. 


    Weather alert 23.1.18
    Weather alert January 23. 2018 Drive carefully and stay safe! Photo/IMO

    ICE-SAR travel alert for North Iceland
    ICE-SAR has also issued a travel alert for north Iceland, asking travellers to take care on between Reykjavík and the town of Borgarnes in West Iceland. 

    Strong winds and blowing snow are expected in Breiðafjörður (Hellissandur to Búðardalur) the Westfjords (Hólmavík to Patreksfjörður), in the north (Hvammstangi to Þórshöfn), in the Eastfjords and eastern coastal areas (Bakkafjörður to Djúpivogur) Jan 23. Poor visibility and difficult driving conditions are expected!

    ICE-SAR also warns of considerable danger of avalanches in mountain areas the Northern Westfjords and Eastfjords, as well as on the northern Tröllaskagi peninsula in North Iceland. 


  • Culture

    Local author helps you pronounce all those impossible Icelandic place names

    By Staff

    Eyjafjallajökull what? Some Icelandic place names can even leave the most experienced native speakers stuttering. Photo/Alda Sigmundsdóttir

    If you thought Snæfellsnes or Eyjafjallajökull were difficult, Iceland offers plenty of even more challenging places to visit! How about Snjóölduvatnskjaftur or Fornmannanaustalækur? Or Gullberaselsstaðabringur?

    Local author of guide books Alda Sigmundsdóttir recently collected 35 such fun place names to "help you understand what dyslexia feels like". The resulting photo became an immediate viral hit. Since Alda shared the photo on Facebook yesterday noon it has already been shared more than 1,500 times. 

    After the post went viral Alda decided to add a helpful pronunciation guide, in case you ever need to ask directions to such off the beaten path locations as Golbílduhjallaröðlar.

    The places, broken down into seperate components and roots to help you follow Alda:

    Barkarstaðagilslægðir (Barka-staða-gils-lækur)
    Bleikkollubólstindur (Bleik-kollu-bóls-tindur)
    Brúnkuskurðarpollur (Brúku-skurðar-pollur)
    Draugagjártangar (Drauga-gjár-tangar)
    Fimmálnaspottalækur (Fimm-álna-spottal-lækur)
    Fíflsholtssuðurhjáleiga (Fífls-holts-suður-hjá-leiga)
    Flataskerslagnaklettur (Flata-skers-lagna-klettur)
    Fornmannanaustalækur (Forn-manna-nausta-lækur)
    Fremri-Hrútaskálarhnjúkur (Fremri-Hrúta-skálar-hnjúkur)
    Gestreiðarstaðaskarð (Gest-reiðar-staða-skarð)
    Gilbílduhjallaröðlar (Gil-bíldu-hjalla-röðlar)
    Glúmsgilskeggjahryggur (Glúms-gil-skeggja-hryggur)
    Grákolluhólalækur (Grák-kollu-hóla-lækur)
    Gullberastaðaselsbringur (Gull-bera-staða-sels-bringur)
    Gýgjagjá (Gýgja-gjá)
    Hrossahjallahnjúkur (Hrossa-hjalla-hnjúkur)
    Hvalvörðugilslækur (Hval-vörðu-gils-lækur)
    Kirkjubæjarblettur (Kirkju-bæjar-blettur)
    Kjálkafjarðartungur (Kjálka-fjarðar-tungur)
    Klofalækjarkjaftur (Klofa-lækjar-kjaftur)
    Laufskálafjallgarður (Lauf-skála-fjall-garður)
    Litluspjóthólmaflögur (Litlu-spjót-hólma-flögur)
    Lyngtungufjalshjalli (Lyng-tungu-fjalls-hjalli)
    Rjúpnabrekkukvísl (Rjúpna-brekku-kvísl)
    Sandmerkisheiðarhnúkur (Sand-merkis-heiðar-hnjúkur)
    Skeiðamannafitarásar (Skeiða-manna-fitar-ásar)
    Smjóölduvatnskjaftur (Snjó-öldu-vatns-kjaftur)
    Svalbarðsstrandarhreppur (Sval-barðs-strandar-hreppur)
    Tindafjallajökulsdalur (Tinda-fjalla-jöluls-dalur)
    Úlfljótsvatnskirkja (Úlf-ljóts-vatns-kirkja)
    Vatnsleysustrandarhreppur (Vatns-leysu-strandar-hreppur)
    Ytri-Timburgatnatindur (Ytri-Timbur-gatna-tindur)
    Yxnadalsöxl (Yxna-dals-öxl)
    Þráinsskjaldarhraun (Þráins-skjalda-hraun)
    Þykkavabæjarfjara (Þykkva-bæjar-fjara)

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