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Warning to Travelers near Skaftá River

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Warning to Travelers near Skaftá River

Skaftá glacial outburst flood 2010.

Skaftá glacial outburst flood, 2010.Photo: Jórunn Harðardóttir.

A stage of uncertainty has been declared by the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police because of the glacial outburst flood in Skaftá river, South Iceland. Travelers are advised to stay a good distance away from the rivers Skaftá and Hverfisfljót.

On its Facebook page, the Icelandic Met Office has issued a warning to travelers in the area. Roads near Skaftá river could be flooded, and hydrogen sulfide, carried by the floodwater, can reach a strength high enough to damage mucous membrane of the eyes and respiratory system. Travelers are advised to stay far away from the edges of the glaciers Skaftárjökull, Tungnárjökull and Síðujökull.

The ice sheet over the Eastern Skaftá river cauldron has subsided almost seven meters in the past 48 hours, RÚV reports. A flood in Skaftá is expected this evening or after midnight. Glaciologist Tómas Jóhannesson says glacial water will begin to flow from the edge of the glacier once the ice sheet has subsided about 30 meters. The rate of subsidence is almost the same as before. “It doubles every six hours. The total subsidence is almost seven meters. That’s not much, we expect it to speed up considerably the next 24 hours, and we’ve seen total subsidence of around and over 100 meters, so this is just the beginning,” Tómas tells RÚV.

“Floods from the eastern cauldron are larger than from the western one, so this could be a substantially larger flood than in June.”

“What makes this flood unusual is how long it’s been since the last flood, and for that we have no explanation, except it must be because of decreased heat in the geothermal system, resulting in less ice being melted and, thus, it takes longer for water to collect in the cauldron without its flooding.”

Tómas says the size of the flood is determined mostly by the amount of water rather than time elapsed since the last flood. “We see no sign of more water than in previous floods. The subsidence is equally extensive as before, so we expect a similar flood where the maximum flow may perhaps reach one or two thousand cubic meters per second, and the flood increases rapidly, but will take somewhat longer to decrease again.”

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