Environment, climate and sustainability

Iceland, being situated at the boundary of air and water masses of tropical and Arctic origin, has been more strongly impacted by subtle changes in the ocean/atmospheric circulation than other North Atlantic land masses. The physical environment in Iceland is therefore an important laboratory for understanding atmospheric and oceanographic processes and for identifying past climate variability, whose nature and forcing is vital for assessment of future climate evolution.

Studies of glaciers in Iceland can contribute significantly to the field of glaciology, and provide us with valuable time series and data.

Exploration of processes of the hydrological cycle is important for understanding global climate, changes in the cryosphere, transport rates of chemicals in the hydrosphere and the biosphere. The isotopic and chemical composition of water acts as tracers of the age and flow of ground- and geothermal water, and glacier ice carries a record of past climate changes.

The scientific results of all the above research topics have direct implications for our society as they are related to the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, the cryosphere and the biosphere.


Understanding North Atlantic climate

  • Natural climate variability during the Quaternary. Anthropologically induced climate impact calls for improved understanding of natural climate variations. Possible future natural variations.
  • High resolution paleoceanographic variability around Iceland and in the Nordic Seas since the Weichsel glaciation maximum (18-20 ka BP.
  • Reconstruction of the Iceland Ice Sheet during the last glacial maximum (18-20 ka BP)
  • Climate and glacier variations in Iceland during the Holocene (<10 ka BP).
  • Sea ice in Icelandic waters (Remote sensing, monitoring of drift, ice drift modeling, forecasting, climatology, analyses of historical sources, impact on nature and society).
  • Record of marine mollusc migration
  • Analyses of Greenland ice cores
  • Fluvial sedimentation rates.
  • Paleo-ecology
  • Soil erosion

How do Icelandic glaciers respond to their environment?

  • Field measurements and satellite remote sensing of present-day glaciers in Iceland: storage, annual and long-term changes in mass balance (and overburden), runoff, jökulhlaups, erosion and sedimentation, ice flow, surge, response to subglacial geothermal and volcanic activity and meteorological observations.
  • Mass balance modeling.
  • Ice dynamic modeling
  • Ice deformation studies
  • Glacio-hydrological modeling
  • Prediction of glacier response and glacial runoff to prescribed past and future climate change.
  • Breiðamerkurjökull, a model of a rapidly retreating calving glacier in a world of rising sea level.

Atmosphere-water-soil-rock interaction

  • CO2 budget andfluxes in terrestrial eco-systems (vegetation, soil, rivers, lakes), present and past
  • CO2 fixationin basalt
  • Chemical weathering
  • Water pollution (surface water, groundwater, geothermal water)
  • The influence of major eruptions in the past on global climate

Environmental impact on the society

  • The impact of climate change on utilization of glacio-hydrological and geothermal resources, and groundwater systems supplying water for domestic and industrial use.
  • The impact of climate change on crustal uplift, vegetation, soil erosion, soil organic carbon, coastline changes and sea level rise.
  • The quality of air and water (pollution), concentration of greenhouse gasses, sediment flux to the ocean (including nutrition).
  • Geo-hazards threatening inhabited regions, damaging vegetation and soils, and disrupting the Icelandic road and aviation system.
  • Particulate matter pollution
  • Wildfires