Super-Jeeping: Immersive Learning or Disturbing Nature?

Icelandic glaciers and volcanic landscapes have long been considered important ecotourism and educational locales. As these landscapes change dramatically with the melting of glaciers, seeing what is left of the glaciers becomes increasingly urgent.

I experienced a super jeep adventure in South Iceland during a spring break study program in March 2014. This activity was offered as part of the program for experiential learning in the field of energy and sustainability and I was able to see nature and be a part of it by visiting some of the retreating glaciers and experiencing the region around the active volcano of Eyjafjallajökull.

Super Jeeps are designed to drive through glacier river waters [Photo: Sigudur, SiAdv]
 It can be difficult to explore the large, majestic glaciers, but “super jeeps,” specially adapted cars, allow tourists to explore the scenery. These super jeeps are not regular jeeps, but rather ones with strong traction for driving on the many different glacial terrains. They are tall and wide with thick tires, and can seat about seven to eight people. This experience, in addition to being educational, is thrilling, adventurous and enjoyable.

Night tour in a Super Jeep with Northern Lights view (Photo: www.natureexplorer.is)

A number of companies in the country, such as Icelandic Mountain Guides, Discover Iceland and Glacier Jeeps, offer super jeep tours as part of day and night packages. These companies use ecotourism to attract more tourists and strive to maintain Iceland’s pristine landscapes.

Crossing glacier rivers, reaching sites for northern lights viewing,  driving along the coasts of the black sand beaches and traversing rugged terrain of volcanoes such as Eyjafjallajökull are made convenient and exciting through these tours.

"Adventure in mountains" An advertisement oriented to local users. (Source: Huijbens and Benediktsson)
“Adventure in mountains” A 1980s advertisement of a super jeep, oriented to local users. (Source: Huijbens and Benediktsson)

A study on auto-mobility in Iceland suggests that Iceland’s jeep culture has been around for a very long time. The first automobiles arrived in Iceland in the early years of the twentieth century, but there were virtually no jeeps or other four-wheel drive vehicles until the British and American military occupation of Iceland during World War II. Jeep ownership in the years after the war was limited largely to farmers and a few urban hobbyists, who used them as a means of transport around the island’s rough terrain.  In the 1980s, some technological changes led to the rise of the superjeep. The extra-wide tires, inflated only to a low pressure, were initially used for agricultural purposes such as spreading manure, but proved to work well for driving on snow. Imports of jeeps and specialized tires increased in the late 1980s and even more in the 1990s.  In order to reach the toughest, most challenging regions within their country they included modern technologies such as GPS, ultra-wide tires and electronics converting regular jeeps into super jeeps.

 

This 15 sec video shows how glacier river crossing is done in a super jeep

 

It was the most exciting adventure sport for me, as an environmental science student. But it is not always considered the most environmentally friendly sport. Most super jeeps are fuelled by imported petroleum or regular diesel – fossil fuels which contribute to the cause of melting glaciers. Experts from the adventure and travel agency South Iceland Adventure, founded in 2010, say the fuel efficiency with “regular diesel fuel is about 20-30L/100Km,” or about 9.5 miles per gallon.

Diesel combustion produces black carbon, which is a highly polluting form of particulate matter. Black carbon darkens the surface of glaciers and sea ice when it settles on them, leading to greater absorption of heat and more rapid melting. A study by Yale University researchers found that jeepneys – modified jeeps which are similar to super jeeps — in the Philippines release these black carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

One company, the Mountain Taxi, says its jeeps cause minimal to no environmental impact. The company’s website states, “All our super jeeps run on DIESEL fuel, not regular petrol = less pollution…Off road driving in Iceland is forbidden by law. You are only allowed to drive off road in the winter ON SNOW and frozen ground. So in fact the super jeep is not touching the ground at all = causing NO damage to the environment.” This company claims to promote sustainability by using local Icelandic products.

Rapeseed oil used as Biodiesel in Super Jeeps [Photo: Neha Ganesh]
Iceland is a “green” nation that gets almost 100% of its electricity and heat from domestic renewable energy sources such as geothermal and hydropower. The environmentally conscious country makes strong efforts to keep its greenhouse gas emissions to a minimum. Given the harmful effects of diesel combustion, there are concerted efforts to make super jeeps more environmentally friendly by using alternatives to regular diesel fuel such as rapeseed biodiesel, in Iceland.

Researchers Huijbens and Benediktsson argue in their study that super jeeping in Iceland brings up the issue of sustainability on one hand and environmental hazard on the other.  As Arneson et al. argued in a recent article, Icelanders initially saw super jeeping not for its potential in tourism or business, but as an expression  of pride in their rich culture and natural environment. The shift to tourism picked up in the late 1990s, but super jeeping remains an important form of adventure leisure for Icelanders as well as a source of income through tourist enterprises.

Through my own experience on a super jeep tour in Iceland, I learned that super jeeps can have an important role in educating people about the environment. It can permit them to experience nature without disturbing it. Even though the super jeeps are moving towards greater fuel efficiency and shifting towards renewable fuels, the ecological conflict continues. More efforts are needed to assure that this wonderful experience can become more genuinely sustainable.

GlacierHub has also published posts about the impacts of glacier tourism in Peru and Nepal.

 

Photo Friday: Iceland’s Black Sand Beaches

When a volcano erupts from underneath a glacier, pulses of meltwater deposit materials in outwash plains. The 1918 subglacial Katla volcano eruption in southern Iceland formed the Mýrdalssandur glacial outwash plain. This plain, which covers hundreds of square kilometers, includes a number of striking  black sand beaches, including a particularly well-known one in the town of Vík í Mýrdal.

Here is a selection of photos of Iceland’s black sand beaches with large ice fragments and sand dunes,  set against the backdrop of glacial ice caps. Photos are courtesy of Neha Ganesh and Flickr users James West, Ade Russell and Oliver Rich.

For more information about Iceland’s volcanoes and glaciers, look here and here.

 

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Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at glacierhub@gmail.com

 

Round-Up: Melt Music, An Artist’s View, and Eruptions

 Salvatore Vitale’s Glacier Art 

(Photo: Salvator Vitale)
(Photo: Salvator Vitale)

“This is the beginning of a project that aims to explore the powerful nature of a living creature in constant evolution. I want to show how such a powerful creature can be so fragile. In those pictures you can see their magnificence, but at the same time all their fragility.”

See the images at Salvatore Vitale’s website

 

Glacial Melt Sounds Pave the Way for New Research

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“Researchers in Poland and the UK used underwater microphones to record the sound of ice calving away from a glacier in Norway.”

Have a listen with BBC News

 

Study Finds Increased Volcanic Activity Due to Changes in Glaciers

 

“Melting ice is causing the land to rise up in Iceland – and perhaps elsewhere. The result, judging by new findings on the floor of the Southern Ocean, could be a dramatic surge in volcanic eruptions.”

Read more at New Scientist

 

An Icy Art Installation Clear As Crystal

“Thinning Ice”, an installation commissioned by Swarovski for its ninth year at Design Miami (December 3 – 7, 2014), links melting glaciers and climate change through a three-dimensional experience. Architect Jeanne Gang collaborated with James Balog, a National Geographic filmmaker/photographer, to create the installation, which includes a kind of glacier sculpture and a series of photographs, as well as video.

Swarovski Crystal's headquarters in Wattens, Austria. (Photo: HellasX/Wikimedia Commons)
Swarovski Crystal’s headquarters in Wattens, Austria. (Photo: HellasX/Wikimedia Commons)

The installation was inspired by Balog’s photographs of the shrinking Stubai Glacier in the Austrian Alps, where Swarovski is headquartered, over a three-year period. The Stubai photographs are part of Balog’s ongoing “Extreme Ice Survey,” an innovative, long-term photography project founded in 2007. The project consists of 28 cameras at 13 glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, the Nepalese Himalayas, Alaska and the Rocky Mountains of the United States, which have been recording the rapidly depleting glaciers every thirty minutes over the past several years.

In an effort to bring Balog’s photographs to life, Gang displayed a fluid-formed luminous block, which represents a melting glacier, in the center of the room. This structure, which resembles a kind of table, is pocked with asymmetric holes embedded with a diverse selection of Swarovski crystals, from unprocessed fragments and shards to finely finished pieces. The holes are meant to resemble cryoconite holes, tiny perforations found on glaciers that are created by wind-blown dust made of rock particles, soot and microbes.

The installation’s floor is set with curving illuminated cracks, also filled with small bits of Swarovski crystal, which resemble the crevasses one might find in a receding glacier. Gang finished the installation room with an 11.5-foot tall and a 70-foot long media wall, which presented a running slideshow of epic photographs and video footage of the world’s glaciers.

(Source: Super Architects/Facebook)
Details from the “Thinning Ice Installation” (Source: Super Architects/Facebook)

 

“‘Thinning Ice’ is a work which captures the haunting beauty of the Earth’s threatened glaciers in a powerful, almost elegiac way,” said Nadja Swarovski, a member of the Swarovski Executive Board, in a statement. The immersive nature of the work is meant to inspire visitors to contemplate the implications of and solutions to the melting of the world’s glaciers.

Swarovski chose to showcase glaciers in Florida to highlight its commitment to sustainability. For 14 years, the company has funded its Swarovski Waterschool Program, which educates children around the world in the principles of sustainable water management. Swarovski also sources materials from suppliers that comply with the United Nations Global Compact’s human rights and environmental standards.

GlacierHub has posted other stories recently about artists from the United States, Italy, and Peru whose work centers on glaciers.

GlacierHub’s Top Ten Posts in 2014

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  1. Will An Icelandic Volcano Erupt Under A Glacier In 2015?
  2. Craters Have Appeared On Two Glaciers In Iceland
  3. Glacier Archaeology Comes Of Age
  4. Artists Stage Glacier Worship In Peru For Climate Change
  5. The Risk Of An Exploding Glacier is Heating Up In Iceland
  6. Bhutan’s Glaciers and Yak Herds Are Shrinking
  7. If A Glacier Melts On A Mountain, Does Anyone Hear It?
  8. As Glacier Melt, Bodies Resurface
  9. Flooded With Memories In Nepal
  10. A Walk To A Place Where The “Mountains Are Weeping

Late December brings an opportunity for those of us at GlacierHub to look back over 2014. We launched the site on 7 July, and have published 140 posts since then.

Three of the ten top stories of the year have featured Barðarbunga, the volcano in Iceland that erupted in late August and has continued to issue lava ever since. There were several moments when it appeared that lava might emerge under Vatnajökull, the country’s largest glacier, which would lead to vast clouds of steam and ash, and create a risk of outburst floods as well. Though such an event has not taken place, it remains within the realm of possibility. Barðarbunga was the topic of the story in seventh place for the number of pageviews, the mid-August announcement that an eruption was likely. The second-place story, in September, reported on craters that appeared on glaciers, the result of subsidence as magma flowed out from under them to other places on the surface. And the story with the largest number of pageviews was published the day before Christmas. It discussed the announcement by a Danish bank that a major eruption of Barðarbunga is one of the serious, underrated threats to the world economy in 2015, since the release of ash could threaten crop yields and food supplies in many regions.

Lava at Bardarbunga and volcanic gasses (Photo: Ragnar Axelsson/ Morgnebladid)
Lava at Bardarbunga and volcanic gasses (Photo: Ragnar Axelsson/ Morgnebladid)

Also in the top 10 are two stories on science and two on art. The science posts are closely related topically. Both of them examine the study of things that have emerged from retreating glaciers. One discusses human remains—some thousands of years old, others only decades old—that had been preserved in ice and have recently appeared. Another, the third highest-ranked story in 2014, gives an overview of the field of glacier archaeology and the new journal that discusses research in this area.

Arrows with shell points recovered from the Løpesfonna snow patch. (a) T25172; (b) T25684. Photo by Åge Hojem:NTNU-Museum of Natural History and Archaeol- ogy. Layout Martin Callanan. Callanan et al, 2014, Journal of Glacier Archaeology, Vol. 1. Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
Arrows with shell points recovered from the Løpesfonna snow patch. (a) T25172; (b) T25684. Photo by Åge Hojem:NTNU-Museum of Natural History and Archaeol- ogy. Layout Martin Callanan. Callanan et al, 2014, Journal of Glacier Archaeology, Vol. 1. Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

The art posts, by contrast, are related spatially, since they are both set in the Peruvian Andes. One story from August reports on a trip made by a musician and an anthropologist to record the sounds made by ice and water at different points on a glacier. Another story, from October, details the installations and performance pieces produced by a group of two dozen artists and a dozen indigenous herders who camped for ten days near a glacier.

Tomás Tello recording sounds of dripping water at Quelccaya glacier. Photo: Gustavo Valdivia)
Tomás Tello recording sounds of dripping water at Quelccaya glacier. (Photo: Gustavo Valdivia)

The remaining three stories also form a group. They consist of personal narratives by anthropologists of travels from lower areas up towards glaciers. They all discuss the experiences of the individual writer and of the people whom they meet along the way. Each of them links glaciers with memories, telling of how people saw glaciers in earlier times and how glaciers serve as records of change. Pasang Yangjee Sherpa, who grew up in Kathmandu, traveled to the remote high villages where her parents were born. As she spoke with local residents, she came to understand their reticence in speaking of these disasters. Gísli Pálsson trekked up to a glacier in a distant part of his native Iceland with his wife and two friends; though they anticipated nothing more than a day-long outing, their walk brought surprises—meeting foreign tourists as well as locals, facing difficulties on the trail, recalling earlier periods of Icelandic history, encountering unexpected sights and sounds. And I wrote one about a hike in Bhutan last October, where I met a yak-herder who told me of the changes he has seen in decades of visiting glaciers, and whose observations prepared me when I came upon yak-herder camps on high ridges.

Trail in Pharak. (Pasang Sherpa)
Trail in Pharak. (Pasang Sherpa)

These four sets of stories might seem very disparate, since they cover a natural hazard, science, art and personal experiences and memories. But they show how glaciers can command human attention and emotion, whether anxiety about a possible disaster, the curiosity of scientists, the esthetic concerns of artists, or the personal experiences and memories of people who inhabit mountain regions. One lesson, perhaps, is that glaciers serve so well to convey the importance of climate change because they address not only the material side of life but the imaginative side as well.

This appeal of glaciers ranges not only over topics but over places as well. GlacierHub received visits from 175 countries. People came to the site from every country in the world, with only a handful of exceptions—a contiguous set of African countries centered in the Sahel with the two outliers of Botswana and Somalia; Afghanistan and Turkmenistan; and North Korea. The United States and Britain were, unsurprisingly, the two countries with the largest number of visitors, but the top 25 included some smaller countries with glaciers, both within western and central Europe (Switzerland, Norway, Austria, Iceland) and elsewhere (Bhutan, Nepal, Peru, Chile, Georgia).

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We look forward to an active year in 2015. Science, art and personal experience are likely to continue as themes. Unexpected events may also capture our attention. And issues of politics and policy—well-represented in our posts though not in the top 10—may grow in importance as well. We welcome our readers to send us suggestions for topics, and to contribute posts of their own as well.

Will An Icelandic Volcano Erupt Under A Glacier In 2015?

Lava at Bardarbunga and volcanic gasses (Photo: Ragnar Axelsson/ Morgnebladid)
Lava at Bardarbunga and volcanic gasses (Photo: Ragnar Axelsson/ Morgnebladid)

A group of well-placed observers have warned the world about the possibility of a major volcanic eruption in Iceland in 2015. Steen Jakobsen, the chief economist of the Danish trading and investment firm Saxo Bank, and the bank’s strategy team have issued their “Outrageous Predictions” for the coming year.

They state that these predictions are “independent calls on events that can upset global markets or politics. They are strategic in nature rather than an exercise in getting everything right, while our aim is to encourage alternative thinking.” An eruption of the Barðarbunga volcano could send a cloud of ash and noxious gasses that would threaten to block incoming solar radiation and cause crop failures across Europe, leading to rising food prices and political unrest.

A Land Rover crossing the lava field. (Photo: Arni Saeberg/Morgenbladid)
A Land Rover crossing the lava field. (Photo: Arni Saeberg/Morgenbladid)

Even if the ultimate consequences of the eruption were not so severe, the fear of poor harvests could drive food prices skyward and create severe economic and political disruptions. Saxo Bank mentioned other possible threats in 2015, including a housing market crash in the UK, Japanese inflation reaching 5 percent, a spike in cacao prices that would make chocolate much more expensive, and the resignation of Mario Draghi, the current head of the European Central Bank.

It might seem that these predictions are merely an effort of Saxo Bank to use improbable disaster scenarios to garner public attention during the news lull over the holiday season. But their track record is better than such a view would suggest. One of their predictions for 2014, “Brent crude drops to USD 80/barrel as producers fail to respond” came true, when oil prices fell below that benchmark on November 13 of that year. In 2011, three of Saxo Bank’s ten predictions proved to be correct: the yield on the U.S. 30-year Treasury bills fell below 3 percent, crude oil prices rose above $100 and then fell, and the price of gold surged past $1,800 an ounce. They did well with gold in 2013 as well, when the price of the metal, which had been rising steadily for more than a decade, tumbled and in December passed below $1,200 an ounce, as they predicted.

Moreover, volcanoes can indeed emit enough ash to block solar radiation and cause crop failures. The 1783-84 eruption of Laki in Iceland led to low yields in France and other parts of Europe and was, as Saxo Bank suggested, a contributing factor to the French Revolution in 1789. The 1815 eruption of Tambora in Indonesia caused food shortages in Europe and North America, and probably in Asia as well.

Volcanic gasses over Icelandic highlands. (Photo: Ragnar Axelsson/Morgenbladid)
Volcanic gasses over Icelandic highlands. (Photo: Ragnar Axelsson/Morgenbladid)

However, the Barðarbunga volcano and the associated Holuhraun lava field have been behaving in a fairly calm manner. Indeed, the Icelandic volcanologist Páll Einars­son has termed it a “peaceful eruption,” adding that, “it just keeps go­ing day af­ter day with lit­tle changes.” There are many signs of this orderly behavior. The movement of magma through subterranean passages shakes the earth in a steady rhythm, with several quakes reaching 5 on the Richter scale every month and many more less powerful ones. The volcanic caldera continues to subside, as magma flows away to new areas, where it can emerge. The fissures keeps on issuing significant amounts of lava. Holuhraun is reaching an area of 80 square kilometers, about the size of the island of Manhattan, and the volume of lava is more than a cubic kilometer. Fortunately, the lava has been moving to the north and east, away from the major glaciers, particularly Vatnajökull.

Current sulfur dioxide observations in Iceland (red=present, green=absent) (Source: Icelandic Environmental Agency)
Current sulfur dioxide observations in Iceland (Red = present, Green = absent) (Source: Icelandic Environmental Agency)

Scientists recognize that the future is uncertain. The eruption could taper off, or lava could emerge under glacial ice, it would create explosive bursts of steam, which would send large volume of ash high in the atmosphere and massive floods of meltwater as well. However, major problem for Iceland to date has been the massive releases of sulfur dioxide, a noxious gas that affects different parts of the country as winds shift, sometimes creating health problems, particularly for the elderly and people with respiratory conditions. For the time being, the warning level for an ash cloud is orange rather than the more serious level red. And the Institute of Earth Sciences told its followers on Facebook “We’ll keep an eye on the lava, but… Merry Christmas!” Let us hope that Saxo Bank’s prediction does not come to pass.

Extent of Bardarbunga lava field in mid-December. (Source: Icelandic Meteorological Office)
Extent of Bardarbunga lava field in mid-December. (Source: Icelandic Meteorological Office)
A Christmas greeting from the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Iceland. (Source: DES, University of Iceland/Facebook)
A Christmas greeting from the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Iceland. (Source: DES, University of Iceland/Facebook)

GlacierHub has been covering Barðarbunga extensively since the first signs of possible volcanic activity, during the first eruption, and subsequently.

For An Alien World, Look No Further Than Iceland

Iceland's Svinafellsjokull Glacier played a prominent role in Christopher Nolan's Interstellar. (Photo credit: Melinda Sue Gordon - © 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. and Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.)
Iceland’s Svinafellsjokull Glacier played a prominent role in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. (Photo credit: Melinda Sue Gordon – © 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. and Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.)

After hundreds of years, the Svinafellsjokull Glacier is ready for its close-up. The Icelandic glacier has a starring role in Interstellar, the sci-fi movie about a team of astronauts lead by Matthew McConaughey that travel to a distant planet in search of a new home for the human race as the Earth becomes uninhabitable.

The glacier, and Vatnajökull National Park where it resides, are stand ins for the of icy, alien world the film is meant to depict. Little set dressing was required for the mid-September 2013 shoot, only a huge model of McConaughey’s space ship was brought to the section of Iceland’s largest glacier.

“How would you recreate the biggest glacier in Europe in a studio?” said actor David Gyasi, who plays one of the astronauts, in a promotional video for the movie. “You wouldn’t.”

The glacier is getting plenty of exposure worldwide thanks to the movie. Interstellar has taken in more than $200 million at the international box office since it opened last week.

The space epic isn’t director Christopher Nolan’s first time filming at the glacier. In 2005’s Batman Begins, Nolan used Svinafellsjokull and other areas of Iceland as stand ins for the Tibetan Himalayas, a remote training ground for Bruce Wayne, where he learns how to fight prior to becoming Batman. Iceland is easier to access for film crews than the Himalayas and other mountain ranges, so the tiny North Atlantic country often plays many real and imagined locations.

Interstellar is hardly the first, or the last, movie to take advantage of Iceland's frozen landscapes. (Photo credit: Melinda Sue Gordon - © 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. and Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.)
Interstellar is hardly the first, or the last, movie to take advantage of Iceland’s frozen landscapes. (Photo credit: Melinda Sue Gordon – © 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. and Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.)

Iceland’s unique and varied landscapes have also been featured prominently in TV and film before. The country stood in for another alien landscape in Prometheus, the frozen northern region Beyond the Wall in HBO’s Game of Thrones, and the black sands of Iwo Jima in Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima.

This year has been a big one for glaciers in the movies. GlacierHub previously wrote about Austria’s Hintertux glacier appearing in Snowpiercer, a movie about the last of humanity zooming around a frozen Earth on a train. It’s worth noting that both Snowpiercer and Interstellar feature humans searching for a way out of climate problems plaguing the planet. Perhaps the most feared future in science fiction isn’t a world of warm temperatures and high seawater, but one too frozen for people to live.

 

 

 

 

Roundup: Volcano Drones, Space Glaciers and an Actor’s Fall

Close-Up Drone Video of an Erupting Volcano Melts Face off GoPro Camera in Iceland
Director of aerial imaging for drone maker DJI, Eric Cheng, and nature photographer Ragnar Th. Sigurdsson were able to fly a Quadcopter mounted GoPro camera into an active eruption in the Bardarbunga volcanic system, Iceland.

Read the full story here. For more of GlacierHub’s coverage on the recent Icelandic volcano eruption and the effect on nearby glaciers, click here and here.

 

Jackson Gallagher’s Glacier Fiasco
Actor Jackson Gallagher star of the Australian television soap opera, “Home and Away”, and three other climbers were forced to run for their lives when rocks came falling down above them on top of the Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand.

Read the full article on Stuff.co.nz here.

 

Chile’s San Quintín Glacier Viewed from Space
Melting into a lake full of glacier-churned ‘rock flour,’ Chile’s San Quintín glacier can be seen emptying into the Northern Patagonian Ice Field in a recent satellite photo.

See the satellite photos and read more here.

 

 

Visualizing Iceland’s volcanos

The first fissure that opened on Fimmvörðuháls, as seen from Austurgígar in 2010. (David Karnå/Wikimedia Commons)
The first fissure that opened on Fimmvörðuháls, as seen from Austurgígar in 2010. (David Karnå/Wikimedia Commons)

There are few sights in nature as impressive as a fiery volcanic eruption. GlacierHub has featured many photos and stories from Iceland’s recent volcanic eruptions, and another useful way of understanding some of the more intangible aspects of volcanoes is through data visualization.

Each day, the Icelandic Met Office assigns warning levels to the country's volcanos. The gif shows the Bárðarbunga volcano's warning levels since mid-August.
Each day, the Icelandic Met Office assigns warning levels to the country’s volcanos. The gif shows the Bárðarbunga volcano’s warning levels since mid-August.

One of the hot spots (if you’ll excuse the pun) in Iceland is the Bárðarbunga volcano near the center of the country. Each day, the Icelandic Met Office updates the aviation warning color for all of Iceland’s volcanoes. Green means everything is normal, red means an eruption is immanent and air travel must be grounded. Bárðarbunga has been “forever orange” for weeks now, even as other eruptions have come and gone. The gif shows the daily warning progression of Bárðarbunga and you can see just how the volcano has been at “heightened or escalating unrest with increased potential of eruption.”

current volcano warnings

There are more concrete ways to visualize the eruption. We’ve posted a picture to our Twitter feed comparing the lava height to the Statue of Liberty. The University of Iceland overlayed a lava flow onto a map of the area. There are plenty of GPS data maps out there. Iceland Magazine helpfully related the lava flow to Manhattanites by showing it covers an area three times the size of Central Park.

Iceland children's singer Elska posted this drawing about the Bárðarbunga eruption. (source: @islandofelska/Twitter)
Iceland children’s singer Elska posted this drawing about the Bárðarbunga eruption. (source: @islandofelska/Twitter)

Map overlays, size comparisons and seismic graphs are all well and good, but what if you’re a budding volcanologist? Elska is an Icelandic pop singer who makes music for children and families. In late August, she posted a cartoon drawing explaining the eruption to children, which included, among other things, anthropomorphized magma moving closer to the surface and a handy pronunciation of Bárðarbunga (hint: say baur-thar-boun-ga).

We’ll post more graphical representations of the Iceland eruptions to our Twitter feed, @GlacierHub, as we find them.

Photo Friday: A Song of Ice and Fire

We’ve brought you plenty of posts and updates on the earthquakes and eruptions in Iceland over the past few weeks. The Iceland’s Institute of Earth Science recently published even more photos of researchers surveying Bárðarbunga from the air and from the ground from a variety of photographers. We’ve selected some of our favorites, but see the whole set here if you can’t get enough ice and fire.

Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at glacierhub@gmail.com.

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Icelandic Richard Branson touts pure water, but at a cost

Icelandic Glacial bottled water founder Jón Ólafsson. (credit: vb.is)
Icelandic Glacial bottled water founder Jón Ólafsson. (credit: vb.is)

Icelandic businessman Jón Ólafsson has some bottled water he wants you to try that’s as clear as can be.

In 2003, when Ólafsson owned 85 percent of all the music recorded in Iceland, he decided to call it quits from his telecom and media empire and try something new. Providing what might be one of the only links between music and bottled water, Ólafsson started Icelandic Glacial, a premium brand of mineral water that has found an audience in Hollywood and caught the eye of Christian Dior, all of which earned him the nickname the “Icelandic Richard Branson.”

Bottles of Icelandic Glacier water have found their way into TV shows like “Dexter” and the “Big Bang Theory“. In 2012, the bottled water company partnered with Christian Dior to include the water in a line of skin-lightening Diorsnow beauty products available in Asia. Earlier this year, Whole Foods announced the brand could now be found in its supermarkets.

Icelandic Glacial water doesn't come from a glacier, but the Ölfus Spring in southern Iceland. (source: icelandicglacial.com)
Icelandic Glacial water doesn’t come from a glacier, but the Ölfus Spring in southern Iceland. (source: icelandicglacial.com)

Of course, part of the challenge of selling bottled water is you are trying to get people to buy something they can get practically for free. Icelandic Glacier’s marketing revolves around its purported purity; the water comes from the Ölfus Spring in southern Iceland that is made up of snow and rainwater that, according to Ólafsson, “goes through lava and takes between 400 and 600 years to reach the river.” In other words, not from a glacier at all, though this is hardly surprising. Some bottled water companies simply use water from municipal supplies.

In an interview with Bloomberg, he said Icelandic Glacier water is “the purest, best, cleanest water there is.” These words show an understanding of different ideas about water. Though scientists can document that distilled water is purer than water from other sources, the strong association of water with nature causes water from remote settings to seem better. And what could be more natural than a glacier from an island like Iceland? The company’s website describes the country as “magical and remarkably pristine.”  Ólafsson may have had some assistance in selecting these adjectives. “Our distinguished partners at Team One captured the essence of Iceland and we’re confident it will be embraced by consumers around the globe,” he said, referring to the advertising group he worked with, a branch of the global advertising giant Saatchi and Sattchi.

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Ólafsson has said in interviews that his water contains a pH of 8.4, which helps the body balance out acidic, low pH drinks like coffee and alcohol. While the alkaline diet has been touted as a way to combat disease and promote health, there have been limited scientific studies to test the validity of these claims.

The company’s website states “We take great pride in running a completely sustainable operation, fueled entirely by geothermal and hydroelectric power.” And it received a “CarbonNeutral” certification from the CarbonNeutral Company, a UK-based consulting group that helps businesses cut carbon emissions through the use of carbon offsets. Offsets themselves are not necessarily reductions in greenhouse gases themselves, but “credits” that can be purchased in projects that reduce such gasses. Nonetheless, the company’s operations pose direct threats to sustainability by encouraging the use of plastic bottles and by promoting long-distance shipping.

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Following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Icelandic Glacial shipped 42 tons of bottled water to aid in the relief effort. (photo: Icelandnaturally.com

Of course, Ólafsson’s company is hardly the first to use the cachet of a remote island setting to promote the claim of purity and naturalness in order to market water. Fiji Water bottles its water in the tiny South Pacific nation and ships it all over the world. Following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Icelandic Glacial water shipped 42 tons of its water to the country. Again the water’s purity and “green energy” were touted as solutions to Haiti’s humanitarian crisis. One wonders if shipping tiny plastic bottles a distance of 4000 miles to Haiti was an effective way to address the problem of providing clean water after that emergency.

You can read here about a Canadian company that does use actual glacier ice in its vodka.

Craters have appeared on two glaciers in Iceland

Glacier subsidence at Bárðar­bunga. (source: Marco Nescher/volcanoheli.is)
Glacier subsidence at Bárðar­bunga. (source: Marco Nescher/volcanoheli.is)

The recent volcano eruptions in Iceland have created enormous circular depressions in two of the country’s glaciers. These dramatic features, which differ from each other in their origins and shape, are visible from the air.

A reconnaissance flight over Bárðar­bunga, the volcano where the first earthquakes were detected last month, shows that the ice over the caldera has fallen nearly 20 meters across an area about 7 kilometers long and 5 kilometers wide. This is a change in volume of 250 million cubic meters. The scientists at the University of Iceland attribute this shift to a movement of the base of the glacier rather than to melting. Magma has drained from a chamber under the glacier as it moves to the northeast and erupts onto the surface. As the chamber has emptied, the rock above it has shifted downward, carrying the glacier ice downward as well. This is the largest subsidence that has been observed in Iceland since measurements of the surface were begun over fifty years ago. This movement does not seem to be associated with geothermal activity at Bárðar­bunga, or of a higher likelihood of an eruption there. A recent photo from a helicopter flight shows the large extent and relative shallowness of this cauldron (the technical term for these craters).

Glacier subsidence at Dyngjujokull (source: Almannavarnir)
Glacier subsidence at Dyngjujokull (source: Almannavarnir)

Another flight travelled over Dyngjujokull Glacier, to the northeast of Bárðar­bunga. It showed two separate depressions, somewhat smaller in extent, but almost twice as deep, reaching down 35 meters. These are probably associated with small eruptions of lava below the surface of the ice. Such eruptions can cause the formation of cauldrons like these, without unleashing outburst floods. There is some risk of continued eruptions, including larger ones, at this site.

Bardarbunga glacier crater (source: University of Iceland Institute of Earth Sciences)

In recent days, the lava eruptions from the main fissure have been moving in two directions. The main flow from the eruptions is traveling to the northeast. It has recently reached the Jökulsá á Fjöl­lum River, releasing large quantities of steam. As this intrusion of lava into the river continues, explosive releases of gasses could occur, or a dam could be formed by the cooled lava, creating a lake and subsequent floods. A smaller branch of the fissure has opened close to Dyngjujokull. Should another branch open up a few kilometers to the south, under the glacier itself, there might be a flood or an explosive release of large quantities of ash. For the time being, though, the threat level remains at orange.

Lava near glacier (source: Morgenbladid Reykjavik)
(source: Morgenbladid Reykjavik)

The eruption and steam have created hazy skies over the area. The Icelandic Civil Protection Authority has issued alerts to people downwind of the eruption with respiratory conditions, since there are elevated concentrations of sulfur dioxide. They continue to monitor the entire region carefully.

Hazy skies near eruption (source: Iceland Review)
Hazy skies near eruption (source: Iceland Review)