20 (More) Questions about Iceland

[Photo by Marc Lanteigne]

by Mingming Shi

How well do you know Iceland? Here is another chance to test your knowledge of the country! Answers are posted here!

1) What does “vatn” mean in the word “Vatnajökull”, the name of Iceland’s largest glacier?

a) “Power”
b) “God”
c) “Water”
d) “Ice”

2) In which of the following countries has Iceland not established an embassy?

a) Australia
b) China
c) Japan
d) United States

3) In which year did electricity become available in Iceland?

a) 1891
b) 1903
c) 1921
d) 1936

[Photo by Mingming Shi]

4) Where is this famous puffin statue (pictured above) located?

a) Akureyri 
b) Egilsstaðir
c) Mývatn
d) Heimaey

5) Who was the first president of Iceland?

a) Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson
b) Sveinn Björnsson
c) Friðrik Sophusson
d) Davið Oddsson

6) Please identify which letter is not used in the Icelandic language.

a) þ 
b) á 
c) ö 
d) ø

7) Iceland was a founding member of which one of these international organisations?

a) United Nations
b) League of Nations
c) North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)
d) European Union

8) Which of the following international brands does not have a brick and mortar store in Iceland?

a) H&M
b) Uniqlo
c) Ikea
d) Costco

9) What is the Icelandic name for the country’s famous “Blue Lagoon”?

a) Bláa lónið
b) Bláfjöll
c) Bláskógabyggð
d) Bláklukka

10) How many cities are there in Iceland?

a) 1
b) 7
c) 11
d) 15

[Photo by Marc Lanteigne]

11) Which of the following activities cannot be done in the Reykjavík’s main shopping street, Laugavegur? 

a) Find a stuffed polar bear toy
b) Enjoy Vietnamese cuisine
c) Try local spirits
d) Go swimming at the Laugardalslaug pool 

12) Which location in Iceland was not used for locational filming of the series ‘Game of Thrones’?

a) Þingvellir national park
b) Hallormsstaðaskógur national forest
c) Þórsmörk mountain ridge
d) Grjótagjá hot springs

13) What is the name of the first female Prime Minister of Iceland?

a) Mette Frederiksen
b) Mingming Shi
c) Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir
d) Katrín Jakobsdóttir

1 króna coin [Photo by Marc Lanteigne]

14) What is the marine animal pictured on the Iceland one króna coin? 

a) salmon
b) cod
c) halibut
d) lumpfish

15) What is the English translation of Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavík?

a) “Windstorm”
b) “Northern Lights”
c) “Bay of Smoke”
d) “High Waves”

16) Which character in “The Simpsons” was raised in Iceland?

a) Jeff
b) Carl
c) Lenny
d) Moe

17) In which Icelandic town does the United States maintain its military presence?

a) Keflavík
b) Selfoss
c) Höfn
d) Húsavík

18) Which of the following activities does Jólakötturinn (the Icelandic Christmas Cat) do at Christmas, according to Icelandic legend?

a) Brings gifts to the poor and homeless
b) Eats people without new clothes
c) Rescues lost puffins on glaciers
d) Flies (to catch falcons) and swims (to catch fish)

19) Which following statements about Iceland’s Surtsey Island is incorrect?

a) It appeared from an undersea volcano eruption in the 1960s
b) It is open for tourism
c) It is the second largest island of the Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands) archipelago
d) It is a World Heritage Site, recognised by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)

Where am I? [Photo by Mingming Shi]

20) Which street does Reykjavík’s famous Hallgrímskirkja Church face?

a) Skólavörðustígur
b) Hallgrímstorg
c) Eiríksgata
d) Bergþórugata

Good luck!

Radical Arctic Warming: Rain, Rain, Here to Stay? 

[Photo by Marc Lanteigne]

by Marc Lanteigne

Evidence of climate change in the Arctic has been growing for the past few years, including in the form of broken temperature recordspermafrost loss, and wildfires. Last month, another indicator of how the weather patterns in the far north have shifted appeared in the form of a report which has detailed a trend towards greater instances of rainfall in the Arctic, often replacing snowfall even in the most northerly latitudes. 

As the open access piece in the journal Nature Communications explained, the hydrological cycle, (aka the ‘water cycle’, meaning the process by which water is transferred from land and sea to the atmosphere and back again in the form of evaporation and precipitation), is escalating in the Arctic, due to growing areas of open water and local warming processes which have prompted the shift from snow to rain in many northern latitudes. 

The development of a ‘rain-dominated precipitation regime’ is thus expected to accelerate between now and the end of the century, contributing to an Arctic amplification effect, including sea level rises which would be experienced around the world. As detailed in a January 2021 study published in The Cryosphere, since the 1990s a staggering 28 trillion tonnes of ice, including 7.6 trillion tonnes in the Arctic Ocean and another 3.8 trillion from the Greenland Ice Sheet, has been lost due to shifting temperatures. Moreover, the future normalization of increased rainfall patterns in the Arctic could take place ten to twenty years earlier than previous predictions. 

This research was undertaken by a team overseen by the Centre for Earth Observation Science in the Clayton H. Riddell Faculty of Environment, Earth, and Resources at the University of Manitoba, and led by postdoctoral fellow Michelle McCrystall. 

This new data underscored the urgency of ensuring that global warming remains under the 1.5ºC threshold, which has been called for by numerous actors, including during the recently concluded United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow. That event ended with an admission that many governments were failing to do enough to curb carbon emissions since the watershed 2015 Paris climate summit. There was also much consternation over an eleventh hour adjustment to the COP26 pledges, spearheaded by the government of India, that coal usage would be ‘phased down’ rather than ‘phased out’. A delay in abandoning coal as a fuel source would complicate unified efforts to maintain the 1.5-degree ceiling. 

Summit Station in Greenland [Photo by Peter West/NFS via Wikipedia]

In addition to further affecting weather patterns in the Arctic and beyond, a surfeit of rain in the far north will also have detrimental effects on local fauna, including foraging animals such as caribou, muskox, and reindeer, which would find food sources more difficult to reach due to ice layers caused by frozen rain. These challenges include the ‘rain-on-snow’ (RoS) effects, which result on ice layers on top of snow cover which makes access to the soil underneath by animals and people more challenging.

Frequent freezing rain events not only pose challenges for mobility and transportation, but also increase the risks of avalanches and ‘quick clay’ events in the Arctic. As well, emerging shifts in rain and ice patterns stand to affect livelihoods of Arctic peoples who rely on hunting and herding, including Sámi peoples in the Nordic Arctic and Nenet populations in Russia. 

There is also the question of whether larger Arctic rainfall volumes would mitigate the jet stream, which would also effect climate well south of the Arctic Circle. One such pattern, the Gulf Stream, which extends into the far northern Atlantic, has already been identified as being at risk of slowing down or even fading due to climate change pressures. Among other benefits, the Gulf Stream is responsible for keeping winter temperatures in the coastal Nordic regions relatively mild considering their latitudes, (however, since late last month the Nordic Arctic has experienced especially frigid weather of late).

Meanwhile, to the west in Greenland, the island has been experiencing an unusual amount of rainfall this year, and late this November it was confirmed that rain had fallen at Summit Station, the highest elevation of the Greenland Ice Sheet, at about 3.2 kilometres above sea level. Rainfall and temperatures above freezing had already been recorded at the station during August of this year. Specifically, a temperature of 0.48ºC had been observed on 14 August this year, only marking the fourth time that a figure of over zero had been recorded at that locale, (the first such above-freezing measurement was verified in 1995). 

Last week, the Arctic Council’s Senior Arctic Officials (SAO) meeting took place in Salekhard (Салехард), northern Russia, the first such gathering since the country assumed the chair position earlier this year. Representatives from Moscow had confirmed their commitment to addressing climate change issues as a priority during its chair of the organisation. In May of this year, one of the Working Groups within the Council, the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) released a report [pdf] on prominent trends in Arctic climate which included warnings about the region experiencing a greater frequency of extreme events, many of which were having a negative impact on northern communities and ecosystems. This latest information about how local weather in the Arctic is undergoing such fundamental transformation underscores the amount of work governments and organisations still have ahead of them. 

Arctic News Roundup: 22-8 November

[Photo by Marc Lanteigne]

by Mingming Shi

1) The Atlantic published a photo essay featuring wintertime views of Churchill, a town in Manitoba, Northern Canada. The pictures were taken by Carlos Osorio, a photographer with Reuters, covering subjects ranging from polar bears to snowy countryside vignettes.

2) Norway’s high prices for groceries were the subject of a story by TheLocal.no, which noted the practice of high import fees to protect local producers, a lack of competition caused by the domination of a small group of national brands, and high taxes and wages as all contributing to food costs being the second-highest in Europe.

3) As RÚV reported, after a long period of negotiations the new coalition government for Iceland has been announced. As with the previous administration, the incoming coalition is composed of three political parties, namely Left Greens (Vinstri Græn), the centre-right Independence Party (Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn) and the Progressive Party (Framsóknarflokkurinn). Katrín Jakobsdóttir retains her position as the Prime Minister, while Bjarni Bene­dikts­son, the head of the Independence Party, remains as Minister of Finance, while Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir was named as the next Minister of Foreign Affairs.

4) According to KNR, Greenland has opened its representation in Beijing, China, which is its first such office in Asia. Due to the pandemic, however, the official opening of the facilities has been postponed until next year. Greenland also maintains representative offices in Copenhagen as well as in Brussels, Reykjavík and Washington DC.

5) The University of Tromsø is advertising a new three-year UiT Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Global Arctic Studies position at the Faculty of Humanities, Social Sciences and Education. The program is supervised by UiT Professor Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen. Please refer to this link for further information.

Arctic News Roundup: 15-21 November

[Photo by Mingming Shi]

by Mingming Shi

1) The Arctic Yearbook 2021: Defining and Mapping the Arctic has been published. This online work is composed of six sections, along with several shorter notes, covering issues ranging from regional security and sovereignty, Arctic economic development, discussions on Indigenous culture and art and media, and other high north-relevant subjects.

2) The Russian energy firm Rosneft confirmed that construction had begun on oil extraction facilities at the Yenisey Gulf (Енисейский залив) region in the Taymyr Peninsula. The ambitious enterprise will include new pipelines and electrical lines, as well as housing and airstrips for workers. As explained in the Barents Observer, while the project has been touted by local authorities as environmentally responsible, critics have nonetheless pointed to risks to adjacent waters once oil drilling commences.

3) The History Channel published a story about how a Iñupiat woman from Alaska was able to survive alone on Wrangel Island in the early 1920s. In 1921, an international expedition team, made up of four men and one woman, Ada Blackjack, (who was the last member to join), and even a cat named Vic, headed to Wrangel. However, during in the journey she became ostracized and was even mistreated by her male counterparts. What she later encountered was not only severe Arctic climate and temperatures, but also the disappearance and death of the others, and threats from polar bears. Besides fighting against loneliness, Ada also managed to hunt animals and constructed boats. Finally, in August 1923, she was spotted and saved by another ship. Ada Blackjack passed away in 1983 at the age of 85.

4) A symposium on ‘Small States and Great Power Balancing, Affecting Change, and Navigating Dangers – Small State Perspectives in the Arctic and Asiatakes place on Monday, 22 November in Oslo, Norway. The event is hosted by the Peace Research Institute – Oslo (PRIO) and the Nansen Professorship at the University of Akureyri in northern Iceland.

5) As CBC News reported, this week a group of young students, (as well as some of their parents), in Iqaliut, Nunavut, protested against insufficient suicide prevention measures. According to the participants, this march was organized to call for further awareness and support for mental health from territorial authorities.

6) The Reykjavík-based West Nordic Council (Vestnordisk Råd) is advertising the position of General Secretary (Director) for the organisation. Please refer to this link for further information.

Arctic News Roundup: 8-14 November

[Photo by Marc Lanteigne]

by Mingming Shi

1) Al-Jazeera featured an introductory video about how Iceland has become an example of sustainable food production, (including greenhouse-grown fruits and vegetables), despite its Arctic climate, using an environmentally friendly approach, including renewable energies such as the country’s plentiful hot water supplies.

2) A video report on the Arctic fox was published by BBC Scotland. As the narrator described, the living conditions of the species are greatly affected by both human activities, such as hunting, as well as climate change. Due to warmer temperatures in the far north, the reduction of lemming populations, (the common prey of the fox), has contributed to the declining number of Arctic foxes. However, projects have begun to relocate the foxes in order to bolster their populations in northern Norway and Sweden.

3) To mark the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Iceland and Canada, as part of the celebration the two countries are organising five online seminars looking at various aspects of this lengthy and ongoing relationship, including an opening webinar on bilateral cooperation in Arctic affairs. Further information can be found via this link provided by the UArctic educational network.

4) Oxford University Press is adding The Arctic: A Very Short Introduction to its lengthy publication list. This pocket-size booked, written by two well-established regional scholars, Klaus Dodds and Jamie Woodward, was written to guide readers in developing an understanding of the major issues facing the Arctic, including its inhabitants, governance and discussions of the future of the High North. 

5) In the latest move by the government of Greenland’s Prime Minister Múte Bourup Egede to reform the mining industry in the country, his party, Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA) put forward a resolution in the Greenlandic parliament (Inatsisartut) to formally ban uranium mining on environmental grounds. The law was then passed, as reported by Reuters, but according to the Greenlandic news agency KNR there has been a push, led by the main opposition party Siumut, for a referendum on the matter. The ban is a further blow to longstanding plans to develop a rare earths and uranium mine at Kuannersuit (Kvanefjeld), near the town of Narsaq, with IA expressing strong opposition to the project.