Iceland Mag

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Iceland Mag

Northern lights

Icelandic tourism industry doesn't fear effects of falling Aurora activity in coming years

By Staff

  • The Aurora over Kerið crater Spectacular displays, like the one in this picture, will be less common by the winter of 2020-21 when the Aurora cycle will hit its minimum. Photo/NASA, Sigurður William Brynjarsson.

One of the many reasons foreign visitors come to Iceland during winter is the opportunity to glimpse nature's greatest show, the Northern Lights. Which is why some are worried that the tourism industry might be facing a new difficult challenge: A foreseeable decrease in Aurora activity, beginning next year. Others, however, believe that the tourism industry will not be significantly affected. 

Decreasing Aurora activity since winter of 2013-14

Sunspot activity

The Sunspot cycle We are currently seeing reduced activity Photo/NASA

The Aurora activity follows the solar cycle, a 10-12 year cycle of high and low sunspot activity. With more sunspots and greater number of solar flares more charged particles are released from the sun, and since it is these particles which generate the Aurora when they are caught in the Earth's magnetic field, the solar cycle also corresponds to periods of high and low Aurora activity.

This cycle last peaked in 2012-14, when Aurora activity was unusually high. The activity has decreased slightly since peaking in late 2013 or early 2014, but has still remains high. We have already had several nights of amazing Aurora since fall. However, the Aurora activity has been slowing down and will continue to decrease until it hits its next minimum in 2020-21. It is difficult to predict the cycle with accuracy, but the next maximum can be expected sometime in 2025-26.

Aurora will still be visible
The falling numbers of sunspots in the coming years might mean that Aurora hunters might want to hurry before the minimum, or alternatively to postpone their trip until we can expect more Aurora activity. However, astronomers assure us that the Northern Lights will still be visible during 2020-21, despite less activity. 

Read more: Learn all about the Aurora on this new interactive website

We might get fewer examples of the kind of dramatic shows we have been enjoying in the past few years. Instead of vibrant colorful bands of Aurora dancing across the entire sky the dominant form of Aurora will be the less spectacular, but more ghostly, faint green hues spread across the northern sky.

Will less vibrant Aurora have a negative impact on tourism?
The decrease in Aurora activity has some observers of the Icelandic tourism industry worried, as it comes at the same time as a stronger Icelandic currency has made visits to Iceland more expensive. Growth in the number of visitors has already slowed down markedly since last year. 

People in the tourism industry who spoke to the local newspaper Morgunblaðið rejected such pessimism. The chairman of Gray Line, one of the companies which has marketed Northern Lights tours in Iceland, said he did not expect it to have a dramatic effect on the interest of foreign visitors to come to Iceland: "I don't think it will have a decisive impact on people's decisions to come to Iceland to view the Northern Lights", he told Morgunblaðið.

Aurora watchers in Iceland expect this winter will be excellent and that the winter of 2018-19 should also produce some great Aurora. Based on past experience the sunspot minimum should only have a significant effect on the Aurora visibility in 2020-21.


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