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Iceland Mag

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Civil Protection Agency warns catastrophic mountain collapse a threat at Svínafellsjökull glacier

By Staff

  • Svínafellsjökull glacier One of the outlet glaciers of Öræfajökull glacier, the southernmost part of Vatnajökull glacier. Photo/IMO

The Icelandic Civil Protection Agency has issued a warning to travelers and tour operators to show extreme caution when visiting Svínafellsjökull glacier in South East Iceland or to stay away from the glacier completely. People are urged not to go hiking on the glacier and to limit the time they spend at the glacier lagoon. Catastrophic mountain collapse and giant rock-slides pose a serious threat to hundreds of travelers who visit the glacier and the lagoon every day.

Catastrophic mountain collapse
Geologists at the Icelandic Meteorological Office recently identified deep and extensive fractures in Svínafell mountain which borders the glacier. The fractures are believed to be part of an extensive fracture system created by the movements of a significant part of the mountain which currently towers over the glacier. The fractures are believed to have been created by the retreating of the glacier due to global climate change. As the glacier shrinks and retreats it no longer provides support to the mountains on either side, exposing steep mountainsides. Without the support of the glacier these sheer cliffs can easily collapse.

Measurements by the IMO and the Civil Protection Agency suggest that a significant part of Svínafell mountain has been slowly breaking apart. The surface area of the mountain which is believed to be on the move is 1 km2 (247 acres). The total volume of rock and earth is believed to be up to 60 million m3 (165 million cubic feet). The material could either collapse all at once, or in successive rock falls. 

Read more: Icelandic glaciers have shrunk by 500 square km since turn of the century

The Civil Protection Agency has issued a warning to travelers and tour operators to cancel any plans to hike on the glacier or in the hills of Svínafell mountain. People are also asked to limit any time spent at the lagoon or near the glacier. 

The glacier, which is one of the outlet glaciers of Öræfajökull, the southernmost tip of Vatnajökull glacier, empties into one of the most popular glacial lagoons in Iceland. Hundreds of travelers visit Svínafell glacier every day. At any given time in summer there are up to a dozen groups at the site. Svínafellsjökull glacier appears as alien landscape in the Hollywood movie Interstellar.

Svínafellsjökull, Svínafell, Catastrophic mountain collapse

Mt. Svínafell As the glacier retreats the mountain has begun to crack. Geologists fear the mountain could collapse onto the glacier. Photo/IMO

 

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