Bárðarbunga eruption just hours away?

Posted on 18. Aug, 2014 by in Icelandic customs, Uncategorized


Eyjafjallajökull eruption: photo by Adam Rifkin at Flickr.com.

Bárðarbunga volcano woke up on the night of the 16th August and by six in the afternoon it had had over 300 earthquakes. Today there’s been more than 1200 of them, the strongest one that happened last night being strong enough to be felt all the way to Akureyri. Icelanders are keeping a careful eye on the area just in case there’s going to be an eruption, which no one really wants. Bárðarbunga, you see, is one of Iceland’s most dangerous and destructive volcanoes.

…for Icelanders, that is, even if things go via the worst case scenario it’s most likely only Iceland that’ll suffer for it. Bárðarbunga (= Bárður’s bump) is a sub-glacial volcano just like Eyjafjallajökull, which does mean ash in case the eruption pierces the ice layer, but just like with Grímsfjall’s eruption it doesn’t necessarily touch the aerial traffic outside of Iceland. Grímsfjall had heavy type of ash, Eyjafjallajökull’s ash was light and therefore spread easily over the sea. Bárðarbunga erupts every 250-600 years so there’s very little documentation on its ash type, but Grímsfjall belongs to the same volcanic system so we may assume the ash type could be the same. At the moment it’s not even certain whether the eruption will even happen, or if it does will it actually pierce the ice layer so it’s best to not panic.

Ash is poisonous to animals but humans can get by with face masks if things get really grainy, taping the windows and washing the cars asap after the fall. It’s nothing new for Icelanders and therefore not even among the first worries. Worse is that Bárðarbunga is huge, and lies under a glacier. Let’s look at the possible scenarios that Eldgos (link) listed:


(= What could happen next; Icelandic uses the verb “geta” to mean “could”, which can be a bit confusing since the verb “can” is “kunna“. However, “kunna” means only one type of “can” – being knowledgeable enough to do something or to know something. The “being able to” -meaning of “can” is “geta“.)

1.  Virknin stöðvast.  Þetta segja sumir jarðvísindamenn að sé líklegast í stöðunni.

(= Activity comes to a halt. This, say some geologists, may be the likeliest to happen.)

2.  Gos norðaustur af Bárðarbungu, við mörk jökulsins.  Besta mögulega niðurstaða ef gos verður á annað borð er að fá það á íslausu svæði norðan við jökulinn.

(= Eruption northeast of Bárðarbunga, on the edge outside of the glacier. Best possible outcome if an eruption is to happen is to have it happen on the iceless area on the north of the glacier.)

3.  Gos austan til í kerfinu undir þykkum jökli.  Þar hefðum við sprengigos undir jökli með tilheyrandi öskufalli og jökulhlaupi að öllum líkindum á vatnasviði Jökulsár á Fjöllum.  Mjög stórt gos á þessu svæði mundi valda hamfaraflóði.

(= Eruption on the east side of the system under thick layer of ice. There we’d have an explosive eruption under the glacier with notable ash fall and most likely glacier floods in the water system of Jökulsár. A large eruption in this area could cause catastrophic floods.)

4. Kvikuhlaup til suðvesturs og gos í sprungusveimi Veiðivatna.   “Worst case scenario”  …og sem betur fer afar ólíklegt i stöðunni núna því engin virkni er sjáanleg í suðvesturhluta öskjunnar og reininni sem liggur til Veiðivatna.

(= A flood towards southwest and an eruption in the Veiðivatn fissure area. “Worst case scenario” …and thankfully very unlikely to occur now because no activity can be seen on the southeast side of Askja and route that leads to Veiðivatn.

So before you believe the media telling you Iceland’s trying to end the world again take a deep breath and have a look at these sites that are closely following the activity and can give you a more realistic idea of what the volcanic system really is capable of.

Hjörtur Smárason at Raving Ravens (link). English.

Haraldur Sigurðsson (link). Icelandic.


UPDATE: just as I was about to post this things changed a little. The status of the volcano went from yellow to orange and if the eruption will begin it will most likely do so suddenly. Veðurstofan is a great place for earthquake-watching (link) and I will also add information here if something interesting happens!

18.45: a web cam has been set to monitor Bárðarbunga. You can watch it here.

20.19: no sign of the shaking calming down though there’s as of yet no sign of an eruption breaking through the glacier either. The highland roads above Vatnajökull have been closed for all traffic including pedestrians, the areas can be seen here. The river Jökulsá has reportedly more water in it than would be usual for this time of the year. Want to see the earthquakes’ locations in 3D? Go here!

22.20: last update for tonight before I’m off to bed about how Iceland is informing the rest of the world – Reykjavik Grapevine gathers all the important parts of info into one tight package (in English) here, and MBL has also began to give out occasional English reports on the matter, here.

Tue 19. Aug

07.13: the morning shows nothing new and the volcano has now been shaking without a pause since Saturday. There are now more articles in English available about the earthquakes here and the possibility of the volcano erupting here. Another interesting 3D map of the eruptions (complete with possibility of seeing just how many have happened within f.ex. the last hour) can be found here.

11.00: situation is still the same. Currently measures are being taken to avoid losing the bridges near Vatnajökull in case of a glacier flood (last time this area flooded the water swept away 17km of the most important road of Iceland, Ring Road 1). 200 people are still reported to be in the area now closed (link).

13.50: new web cam added, this time one that you don’t have to keep refreshing (link)! Another useful place is the FB page of Almannavaradeild here. Currently traveling here or planning to? Safetravel (link) is keeping up with all of the info that’s important for travelers. Situation at Bárðarbunga has not changed during the day, it’s still level orange.

20.20: danger phase declared at Bárðarbunga. The area is being evacuated (link).

21.17: learn to pronounce Bárðarbunga here. :D

Wed 20 Aug.

08.35: the area above Vatnajökull has been successfully evacuated. There are now earthquakes every minute in the area (link).

08.48: TF-SIF, a plane of the Coast Guard, flew over the glacier last night on its way back home from Sicily. You can see the material they managed to collect here.

22.29: no new news today, the situation is still very much the same. The earthquakes have not even slowed down and are moving in a straight line towards the northwest as can be seen here.

Thu 21 Aug

08.43: still no change, Bárðarbunga as shaky as before. We’ll just have to wait and see whether this volcanic activity will at some point melt its way through the glacier as happened with Grímsfjall in 2011, or eventually calm down underneath like happened with Katla, also in 2011. Here‘s again a compact info of where we presently are, in English. Icelanders are meanwhile getting steadily more amused by the foreign reactions and naturally tourists are being asked to pronounce Bárðarbunga (link).

14.27: hahahaha look what I found (link)! :D Er eldgos = is there a volcanic eruption.

Fri 22 Aug

08.41: something unusual happened last night – the largest earthquake yet, of 4,7 Richter (link). Since last night there have been a few strong ones again but overall nothing’s changed. Bárðarbunga is as lively as ever and shows no signs of either slowing down OR an imminent eruption.

Sat 23 Aug

09.19: for once the pattern of the earthquakes has slightly changed. They’re now a bit less in amount but there’s more of the larger ones, you can see here that they’re all happening on the same location (the larger earthquakes are marked with a star).

23.29: the volcano has been set to red alert meaning imminent or ongoing eruption. Regardless it’s not entirely certain yet whether or not an eruption is happening, or will happen – we’re told that the situation will be re-assessed tomorrow morning.

Sun 24 Aug

09.23: although yesterday the eruption was assumed to have begun no sign of it is yet to be seen. If you’re following the web cams of the area and saw a lot of what seemed to be smoke, alas, that was just a sandstorm (link). The red alert is still in effect and there’s no reason to lower it at the moment – here you can see the size of the no-flying area. No actual trouble o aerial traffic is expected at the moment. Most interestingly though, last night saw the largest earthquakes on the area yet, according to the Veðurstofa map two over 5 Richter (link)!

10.10: Míla has added a second camera for Bárðarbunga (link)!

10.33: correcting myself a little – the suspected eruption site is no longer at Bárðarbunga but Dyngjujökull, where ice is much thinner.

17.39: the red alert has been brought back to orange as no sign of eruption is yet seen. The earthquakes have grown in both size and frequency though. Grapevine has made an excellent post about volcanic activity in Iceland and its history and why you shouldn’t worry (link), bonus points for comparing the fame of Bárðarbunga to that of Justin Bieber. :D

19.26: as you may know many Icelanders believe that some people are capable of seeing the future. One such person, Klara Tryggvadóttir (link), actually predicted earlier this week that the eruption would begin today either at seven in the morning or eleven at night. As we can tell from the Vedurstofan earthquake list the other one of the over 5 Richter earthquakes happened a little before six a.m. and now we’re waiting to see how well she could predict the intentions of the volcano!

21.45: while we wait to see if Klara was right, why not watch 15 years of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in 4 minutes? (link) :)

Mon 25 Aug

09.25: no eruption yet in sight, although because of the glacier on top if and when it happens it’ll first have to melt its way through the ice. This will be seen first as huge dents, sigkatlar, in the ice as it collapses downward. You can see how they look like here. On a bit more worrisome news tourists are quite set to going as near the volcano as possible regardless of the danger. Thankfully the roads that lead to it are few and can be guarded, but apparently the guards now have to work in shifts to make sure no one sneaks past them (link).

22.10: today we had another one of those big, over 5 Richter earthquakes (link) but aside of that nothing else seems to be going on at the moment. This does follow Krafla, another volcano’s eruption pattern though, and the general consensus seems to be that the eruption is only a matter of time now. It’s important to stress though that there’s no way of telling what a volcano is planning to do, so we’ll just wait on our shaky little island for now. :)

Tue 26 Aug

09.31: the largest earthquake yet happened last night – 5,7 Richter! (link, link and link)

Wed 27 Aug

08.46: the earthquakes are again growing in both amount and force (link). No one currently alive has witnessed anything like this before according to the article here so naturally the local scientists are having some very interesting times – well, we all are to be honest. The earthquakes that originally began at Bárðarbunga seem to be moving towards mountain Askja in the north (link).

23.40: remember the dents and fractures in ice caused by earthquakes and/or the glacier melting from below, sigkatlar? They’re currently forming into the glacier – you can see a photo of one of them here!

Thu 28 Aug

08.13: the first signs of a possible eruption have arrived, those dents and cracks in the glacier. There’s still uncertainty about the state of things but here‘s what we know now, they’re currently 10-15m deep and form a 6-8 km long line in the ice. There’s also a heightened possibility of a glacier flood either north in Jökulsá or south over Skeiðarársand where it would damage the Ring Road 1. TF-SIF got this picture yesterday and is scheduled to fly over the area today at 9.00 a.m. so if anything new is found out I’ll let you know.

11.46: TF-SIF has returned – here‘s the report so far. A more detailed one will be released after the noon.

19.53: a very thorough look at the volcanic activity in the area though the times here. Meanwhile the aviation colour code map is getting, well, colourful! (link)


News articles about the situation:

Óvissustig vegna Bárðarbungu (= on uncertainty level because of Bárðarbunga). (link)

Eitt öflugasta og hættulegasta eldfjall Íslands (= one of the most powerful and dangerous volcanoes of Iceland). (link)

Bárðabunga geti valdið hamförum við Dettifoss (= Bárðarbunga could cause a disaster at Dettifoss). (link)

Vegum lokad á hálendinu af ótta við eldgos (= roads on the highlands closed for fear of eruption). (link)

Stærsti jarðskjálftinn til þessa (= the strongest earthquake thus far). (link)

Nokkurra klukkustunda fyrirvari yrði á eldgosi (=eruption may give only a few hours warning). (link)

Possible volcanic eruption in Iceland (link). This one’s in English.

Reykjavík Pride 2014!

Posted on 13. Aug, 2014 by in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs


Hulda reporting in from the annual Hinsegin dagar, Pride Week, and especially the parade! For once we had amazing weather luck and apparently one quarter of Icelanders showed up to celebrate the day. I can admit I’ve personally never seen this many Icelanders in one place together before in all the years I’ve lived here, although the parade is always a huge party and widely attended. To the pictures – and some related vocabulary.

rp023Traditions of the parade dictate that it’s always headed by the local Dykes on Bikes.

Hinsegin = otherwise, different. When used for people it translates close to “those people”, something you would say when you want to exclude a group or define that the people in it are somehow (negatively) not like everyone else. I’m not entirely certain but I’m ready to wager that the term is derogatory at its origin but has since been reclaimed by the people it was used to target against.

Yet this is Iceland and Icelandic attitudes are nowadays quite relaxed on the matter. Hinsegin dagar is a week meant for celebrating differences, no matter the gender, sexuality, ethnicity or for example dress preferences, as the official statement goes (link).

rp075Ó stolti skáti = Oh Proud Scout. I’ve a feeling this might be a pun on Ó stælti skáti (= Oh Mighty Scout), a scout song… well, it is the Reykjavík Pride parade after all. :D

Signs behind the yellow one say “Vertu ekki í hnút, komdu frekar út” (= Don’t be “tied in a knot” – just come out), Gay Gang Gúlli Gúlli which seems to be another campfire song pun of Ging Gang Goolie. I can’t make guesses to the pink sign because there’s so little of it to be seen but the purple in the back says Það geta allir verið skátar (= Anyone can be a scout). This may again be a song pun on Páll Óskar’s Það geta ekki allir verið gordjöss (= Not everyone can be gorgeous) or it may be a reminder of how homosexuality may even get you thrown out of your scout team in some countries. Possibly it’s meant to be both.

rp040“The ambassador of Canada and his husband are proud participants in the parade.”

Gleðiganga = Pride parade, lit. transl. “happiness walk”. If you want to talk about parades in general the correct word is skrúðganga.

rp068Some floats have a more serious message despite the joyous feel of the parade in general. It’s not unusual to see people from other countries partake in the Rvík Pride.

Samkynhneigður = homosexual, lit. transl. “same gender disposition”. For women you use samkynhneigð, for men you add the masculine -ur ending.

rp064Wow, super cute! Pink sign says “Hey! Geðveikur kjóll sem þú ert í Siggi” (= Hey! Awesome dress you’re wearing Siggi). Siggi is a nickname for a Sigurður, which is a male name. Funnily geðveikur would translate literally as “crazy” but in spoken Icelandic it’s typically used to mean something brilliant, or occasionally surprising. It can also be used to mean simply “totally” or “very” when in combination with another adjective.

I can’t really read the yellow sign but I’ll hazard a guess: “Hey þú! Þú ert (…) sexí!” (= Hey you! You’re … sexy!). I can’t read that tiny word but it’s most likely something that stresses the “sexí“, f.ex. geggjað sexí (= crazy/totally sexy)

rp084Íþróttafélagið Styrmir, fyrirmyndir ekki staðalímyndir (= Sports association Styrmir, role models not stereotypes).

rp050Styðjum börnin okkar. Sýnileikinn er mikilvægur! (= Let’s support/we support our children. Visibility is important!)

My personal favourite of this year’s parade signs was “aldrei nóg homo“. It’s quite a witty pun on English and Icelandic, something that the Icelanders absolutely love to do: technically speaking it translates as “never enough gay”… except that nóg homo is pronounced exactly the same as “no homo”, in which sense it could also mean “never no homo”. :D


rp097Ahem. Another tradition seems to be that the last float of the parade belongs to Páll Óskar and that year after year he does his best to overdo the previous year’s one. His float is always the big surprise everyone’s waiting for, glittery, huge, full of surprises and needs a whole team of volunteers of its own who walk beside it through the parade to make sure no one gets so excited they’d try to run under its wheels. When you see this float you know a few things: number one is that the parade is ending. Number two is that glitter cannons are a staple of his floats so close your mouth when you see one of those being prepared or risk eating confetti. The third and the most important point is that it’s time to follow him downtown because the party’s only starting!

rp091See you in the next year’s parade perhaps?

More vocabulary

Hommi = homo. Can be used in both a derogatory and harmless way, but it’s usually obvious which meaning it is.

Lesbía = lesbian.

Mannréttindabarátta = human rights battle.

Tvíkynhneigður = bisexual.

Gagnkynhneigður = heterosexual.

Pankynhneigður = pansexual.

Transfólk/sísfólk = transpeople/cispeople.

Intersex fólk = intersex people. Some terms are so new that there isn’t yet an official Icelandic word, or if there is it’s not in use. A good example is “asexual” – despite my best efforts I haven’t yet found a proper Icelandic term for it. Not to say there aren’t words for people who don’t like sex but most of them aren’t that nice.

YouTube Preview Image

Pictures and sounds from the parade. I’m not used to this much sunshine, I burned my nose! :D


News with lots more photos

Over One Fourth of Iceland Attend Reykjavík Pride. (link)

Gleði í miðbænum (= happiness downtown). (link)

“Bærinn iðar af lífi” (=the town is brimming with life). (link)

Myndasyrpa frá gleðigöngunni (= Pride parade in photos). (link)

“Ég verð alltaf klökk á einhverjum tímapunkti” (= I always become emotional at some point). (link)

Gríðarlegur fjöldi í gleðigöngunni (= Huge attendance at the Reykjavík Pride). (link)


Green Iceland, icy Greenland

Posted on 06. Aug, 2014 by in Icelandic history

Image by Max Naylor on Wikimedia Commons. The three routes of the earliest founders of Iceland.

By now I’m sure you’ve all seen that one meme that in all its simple beauty compares together a picture of Iceland and Greenland and their seemingly illogical names. It’s still somewhat understandable why someone would want to call Iceland icy, after all on the winter part of the year its whiteness can easily rival that of Greenland’s, but who on their right mind would ever call Greenland with its massive glacier top green?

Eiríkur hinn rauði Þorvaldsson (Erik the Red, Þorvaldur’s son) would. But going straight to him and the reasons why he decided to settle Greenland and name it thus would be a huge historical leap so let’s start with the name that was there first, Iceland or Ísland as this country is called in Icelandic.


Image by Moyan Brenn on Flickr.com. Green Iceland is green indeed.

The man who most often gets the credit for settling Iceland was called Ingólfur Arnarson, but though he was the first permanent settler mentioned in the Norse history books, he was not the first one to find the place nor, possibly, the first one to live here. Ari fróði Þorgilsson mentions that at least one of Iceland’s islands, Papey, was already settled by Irish monks (= papar, hence the name Papars’ Island). There’s no way of telling whether this is true or false, but European history writing does know to tell of Thule, a land up north where summer nights are nightless. We cannot tell with any certainty whether Thule did mean Iceland in particular since the name has been also used for every Nordic country aside of Denmark and also for Faroe Islands, but it’s good to remember that many of those descriptions do fit Iceland well so it’s entirely possible other people had been here before the Norse came over.

Why did they come over then? Why cross the Atlantic Ocean, a dangerous and uncomfortable journey that at best could last weeks and at worst months? History books claim the settlers were men with such fierce sense of freedom that they could not bend their will under that of king Haraldur Hárfagri, Haraldur Fairhair, but alas the actual reason is far less glorious than that. Norway was simply running out of space and the men who saw no future there were naturally tempted by this promise of an unsettled large island in the west.

That’s why Ingólfur was hardly the first, he happened to be written down in history as the first permanent settler because many of the previous ones found the land inhospitable and went away. There was Naddoddur who found the island sometime around the 850’s and called the country Snæland (= Snowland) because of the snow peaked mountains he saw here. Garðar Svavarsson from Sweden was the second, and he named the country Garðarshólmi, Garðar’s island.

The next one was Flóki Vilgerðarson, also known as Hrafna-Flóki (raven Flóki). His trip turned disastrous when a long winter killed his cattle and he was forced to return to Norway, but not before he had vented his disappointment by giving the country its name – Iceland!

YouTube Preview Image

Here’s the full story including how Flóki got his nickname, why Iceland’s called Iceland and as an extra why another man received the nickname “butter” during this trip. 

This all took place sometime around the years 850-900 so now we have to move on about a hundred years. Eiríkur hinn rauði was born around the year 950 in Norway.


Image by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s photostream on Flickr.com. Iceland can be icy too!

Eiríkur was a bit of a trouble seeker just like his father before. The family had to leave Norway due to some unfortunate murdering his father got up to, and in Iceland it was Eiríkur’s turn to kill people unlawfully and be outlawed. Back then this meant the offender was free game and anyone killing them was not only legally allowed to do so, they also reaped themselves great honour in process if they were linked to the murderer’s victim/s in any way, so an outlaw would have to seek to hide or leave the country entirely for as long a time as they had been outlawed. Eiríkur did just that, leaving Iceland and sailing west.

What, just go blindly to a direction no one had been before? Aha, no, Eiríkur was not in fact the first person to find Greenland, just the first one to settle there permanently! A man called Gunnbjörn Úlf-krákuson had accidentally been blown over there by strong winds and had named the land he found Gunnbjarnarsker (= Gunnbjörn’s skerries). Later on Snæbjörn Galti attempted to settle there but the whole colony was destroyed. Eiríkur was the first settler who didn’t die in process.

Most likely taking a hint from the previous colony’s fate Eiríkur knew he needed more people in his if he were to try and live there. He therefore decided upon the name Greenland in order to fool people into believing the land was green, saying himself that “people would be attracted to go there if it had a favorable name”.


Image by Jensbn on Wikimedia Commons. Greenland scenery.

So now you know why green Iceland is called Iceland and icy Greenland is called Greenland. One was named by a short-sighted fisherman-viking in bad temper, the other’s name was a deliberate lie to con more people into coming over to settle there! :D


A few short articles on the settlement of Iceland in Icelandic can be found at Vísindavefurinn.

Ingólfur Arnason á að hafa fundið Ísland en hafði enginn komið til Íslands áður? (= Ingólfur Arnason had found Iceland but had no one come to Iceland before him?) (link)

Hvers vegna hefur Náttfara ekki verið hampað sem fyrsta landnámsmanninum? (= Why has Náttfara not been lifted/declared to be the first settler?) (link) A story of a thrall who was there before Ingólfur – but was he actually a thrall at all?

Hver gaf Íslandi það nafn? (= Who gave Iceland its name?) (link)

Hvers vegna er Ingólfur Arnason talinn fyrsti landnámsmaðurinn þegar Papar og fleiri menn fundu Ísland á undan honum? (= Why is Ingólfur Arnason considered the first settler though Papar and other men found Iceland before him?) (link)