The Icelandic Met Office has issued a travel advisory for Southern Iceland, where the Skaftá river is expected to experience a glacial outburst flood (jökulhlaup) over the next few days. According to the announcement, “GPS measurements from the eastern Skaftá cauldron on Vatnajökull show that the ice-shelf above the lake is lowering. This is an early sign of the onset of an outburst flood (jökulhlaup), which will affect the river Skaftá in southern Iceland. The jökulhlaup is expected to reach the edge of Vatnajökull late on Friday 3 August, with the peak of the flood possible during the early hours of Sunday 5 August.”
Travellers are strongly advised to avoid travel near the Skaftá river during the coming days. The advisory also notes that “in addition to flooding along Skaftá, gas pollution from the floodwater could affect the region, particularly at the edge of Skaftárjökull.”
A glacial outburst flood is a subglacial outburst of water usually triggered by geothermal heating and occasionally by eruptions.
According to Hulda Rós Helgadóttir, a natural disaster expert working for the Met Office who spoke to RÚV about the event, the flooding, which began around 1:00 PM local time on Friday, started much earlier than scientists anticipated. Based on measurements and data from the last glacial outburst flood, which took place in 2015, it’s currently expected that the flood waters will take 10 – 12 hours to reach the Ring Road (Route 1).