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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

[slideshow_deploy id=’1210′]

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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.

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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)
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Lava, and alerts, are seeing red

Our colleague Gísli Pálsson wrote this morning from Iceland, “The show is on; this time a considerable eruption.”

At the Holuhraun lava field, lava has been erupting since Sunday morning. These lava fountains reach more than 50 meters high. Though they are dramatic, they do not release ash that would interfere with aviation. This activity is about five kilometers from  Dyngjujökull Glacier. If the fissure opens under the glacier, floods might result.

These lava fountains are just part of the activity along the fissure that stretches to the northeast from Bárðarbunga.  As the attached map shows, there have been a large number of earthquakes in recent days associated with this fissure, though there is earthquake activity nearby as well, linked to other fissures and faults. This map comes from a source tweeted out by Dave McGarvie, a remarkably well-informed volcanologist who is currently in Iceland. For more information, you can follow an animation of the earthquake activity, also tweeted by McGarvie.

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At the northeast end of the fissure, directly at Bárðarbunga, the risk of a subglacial eruption  has increased.  The earthquake activity continues to be strong, with one earthquake today registering 5.1. A flight over the glacier on Friday noted new crevasses, a sign of melting at the  base of the glacier.   As a result, the risk to aviation has been raised again to red, for the third time. A small portion of the airspace north of the area has been closed to aviation, but no airports or commercial flights have yet been affected. The evacuation orders continue in effect.

(source: Morningbladet)
(source: Morningbladet)

Further reconnaissance will have to wait a day or two. The remnants of Hurricane Cristobal are approaching Iceland, bringing winds of 40 to 50 miles per hour and rains. The heaviest rains are expected in the southeast of the country, around the area of the eruption. The storm will pass, but the future of the eruptions remains uncertain.

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Storm over Iceland on August 31, 2014. (source: earth.nullschool.net)
Storm over Iceland on August 31, 2014. (source: earth.nullschool.net)

 

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The eruption has begun (We mean it this time)

The Icelandic Met Office announced that an eruption began at midnight, local time, at Holuhraun, north of Dyngjujökull. Lava is emerging on the surface, rather than beneath a glacier, so it is directly visible.

Iceland's volcanic eruption as seen from the air. (source: RUV.is)
Iceland’s volcanic eruption as seen from the air. (source: RUV.is)

http://www.ruv.is/frett/video-of-the-holuhraun-eruption

The lava is being emitted from a fissure about 900 meters long, with what the Civil Protection Authority calls “low lava fountains with thin flowing lava.” The lack of ash means that the risk to aviation at present is small. Had the eruption occurred under the ice, there would have been a much larger risk of an ash cloud like the one in 2010 that halted air traffic for six days.

The Icelandic Met Service had briefly raised the warning level at Bárðarbunga to red, but after a few hours brought it back to orange. There is a small area restricted to aviation, but it does not extend even to the regional airport at Akureyri in the north.

(source: ISAVIA)
(source: ISAVIA)

A webcam from the area at Bárðarbunga does not show much activity, though last night the eruption from Dyngjujökull could be seen in the distance.

Iceland's Dyngjujokull erupts (source: RUV.is)
Iceland’s Dyngjujokull erupts (source: RUV.is)

Authorities are continuing to order an evacuation area north of the glacier. The possibility of an outburst flood cannot entirely be ruled out, even though the magma has moved north of the country’s major glaciers to areas of bare rock.

(source: Morgenbladid Reykjavik)
(source: Morgenbladid Reykjavik)

Though we don’t have many dramatic photos to show at this point, we would like to share a cartoon that appeared yesterday, just before the eruption started.  It comes from a producer of children’s music, who lives on a new volcanic island near the main island of Iceland. You can follow her on twitter at @islandofelska.

(source: Elska/Twitter)
(source: Elska/Twitter)

And we would like to send our thanks to Gísli Pálsson, who sent us an email this morning from Reykjavik to alert us about the eruption. You can read his account of a recent visit to a glacier in a non-volcanic part of Iceland here.

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Crevasses have formed on Iceland glaciers

View from reconnaissance flight. (Morgenbladid Reykjavik)
View from reconnaissance flight. (Morgenbladid Reykjavik)

In the last two days, there have been significant changes in the glaciers and volcanoes in Iceland. There has not yet been an eruption, but the melting of ice indicates that additional heat is reaching the surface. The pattern of earthquakes has also shifted.

Scientists from the Icelandic Meteorological Office and the Institute of Earth Sciences, together with representatives of the Civil Protection in Iceland, met today to discuss the on-going unrest at the Bárðarbunga volcano. A flight over Bárðarbunga revealed large crevasses, totaling about 5 kilometers in length. These crevasses are probably the result of melting at the bottom of the glacier, about 500 meters below the surface. And that melting, in turn, stemmed from heating at the base as magma rose, or even came into direct contact with the ice. It is possible that the extensive earthquake activity also contributed to the crevasses. Instruments reveal that a lake located beneath Grímsvötn Glacier has risen about 5-10 meters, another sign of melting. Future events will help clarify the role of these different processes.

Glacier crevasses (Tobias Duerig/University of Iceland)
Glacier crevasses (Tobias Duerig/University of Iceland)

The pattern of earthquakes reveal that magma has been moving to the northeast from Bárðarbunga, pushing ahead through a dike (an underground fissure). Seismic activity is increasing around the Askja volcano, and GPS measurements show that the surface is being pushed upward there. Aksja is located in the rainshadow of other mountains. Since it receives less snow, it does not have a glacier on its summit.

lake at summit caldera in Askja  source  Iceland Review
Lake at summit caldera in Askja. (Iceland Review)

The earthquake map shows a line of activity stretching Bárðarbunga from to the northeast. The green stars are the quakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater; the group to the upper right in the set are close to Askja. The most recent quakes—indicated in red—are also in that section.

recent quakes

As a result, the aviation warning code for Askja has been elevated from green to yellow, so there are now warnings for two volcanoes in the area. The Department of Civil Protection has notified nearby residents of the increased risk of flood, and organized community meetings to discuss possible responses.

current volcano warnings

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