“We in Iceland have a lot to answer for,” said geologist and volcano specialist, Kristinn Guðjónsson, during a two-week North American tour sponsored by the Icelandic National League of North America International Visits Program.
Kristinn explained that one of the results of the eruption of the Laki volcano was the French Revolution. The volcano was active from June 8, 1783 to February 7, 1784, though most of the damage was done in the first five months.
It was known as “sand summer” because of the fallout. “It drastically affected the climate year. There were crop failures and famine. Two million people died. And that was one of the causes of the French Revolution,” Kristinn said. Between September 30 and October 23, Kristinn travelled from Keflavík to Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Arborg, Mountain, Minneapolis, Vatnabyggð, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Blaine, Seattle, and back to Keflavík.
During his tour, he met families whose ancestors had to leave Iceland because of volcanic action in 1875. It was the explosion of the Askja volcano on March 29, 1875 that led directly to the movement of Icelanders to North America, he said. “The ash fall poisoned the land and killed all the livestock. The people were starving.”Between April 15 and 21, 2010, when Eyjafallajökull became active and all European flights were cancelled, 10 million passengers were stranded, 313 airports closed, $1.7 billion lost by the airlines and $5 billion lost by related industries. An unusual wind pattern blew heavy clouds of ash across Europe and, said Kristinn, volcanic ash is composed of small glass shards.
“If it is sucked into jet engines, into the air intakes, the engine dies. It’s not a good thing.” Airlines, Kristinn said, took a “zero tolerance” approach. “We don’t know the safety limits. There is now safety limit testing because, next time it happens, they want to know.”In Iceland, 400 local people were evacuated as were animals. Glacial floods damaged roads and fields. Ash covered large areas.
“Ash storms will cause problems for years. Mud floods, which will continue for the next two years, are a constant threat.” said Kristinn who has videotaped moonscape images of an area covered by a mud flood. The final cost for Iceland, he said, will be billions of krónur.The IVP tour was a model for ingenuity, effective partnerships, volunteerism and co-operation. The International Visits Program selected Kristinn, worked with him to develop a manageable schedule, and provided support, including gas money, for participating clubs.
The clubs worked together to ensure that Kristinn’s travel was as smooth as possible. Venues ranged from community halls to churches, universities, and cultural centres.The Toronto event was held at Innis Town Hall, co-sponsored by the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto and and Andy Orchare, Provost of University of Toronto’s Trinity College. Ottawa was organized by Friends of Iceland, the INL of NA club in Ottawa, and hosted at the Embassy of Iceland Residence by Ambassador Sigríður Anna Þordardóttir and her husband Jon Þorsteinsson.
The Winnipeg venue was the Scandinavian Culture Centre. The Arborg talk, held at the Ardal-Geysir Lutheran Church, attracted people from Gimli and Riverton, as well as a number of non-members and was enhanced by a short article in the local paper. Kristinn was relayed from Winnipeg to Minneapolis – Garry Oddleifson to the Canada/USA border, Consul Loretta Bernhoft to Mountain and the next day to Fargo, and Lyle Hillman to Minnesota.
The ICA (Icelandic Communities Association) and the INL of NA jointly hosted the lecture at the Icelandic State Park in the Northeast North Dakota Heritage Center at Cavalier, ND. One Minneapolis presentation became part of the Leif Eiriksson celebration dinner on October 9.
The second was held at the Bell Museum of Natural History, U of M Campus. Christie Dalman did the driving to and from Saskatoon for the Vatnabyggð talk which was held in Wynyard’s local heritage site, the Unitarian church, also known as The Icelandic Church.Kristinn was the first guest presenter for the Leif Eiriksson Icelandic Club’s Speaker Series.
The venue was the Calgary Scandinavian Centre. Following a tour of the Rockies with Ron and Helene Goodman, Kristinn spoke in Edmonton at the Nordic Room, Dutch Canadian Centre. In Vancouver, where Oli Leifson and Kristjana Helgason handled the driving, the presentation was at the Scandinavian Community Centre. Seattle’s venue was the University of Washington where Kristinn was taken to lunch by students and later met with some of the professors.
While In Blaine, Kristinn spoke at the University of Western Washington in Bellingham, where he was met by a group from the Blaine Icelandic Society. Rob Olafson, Henry Bjornsson and Anna Hauksdottir handled the Washington state driving. In Vancouver, when Kristjana took Kristinn touring in her Mustang with the top down, he was able to photograph the Vancouver skyline right from the car.
In North Dakota, Pam Olafson Furstenau and her husband, Jeff, provided an opportunity for a 4-wheeling trip through the woods on their farm. Kristinn also shared a beer in the Thingvalla cemetery with Kristján Níels Jónsson Júlíus (1859-1936), known as K.N., a satirical poet born in Akureyri, who immigrated to North America in 1878, spending his first few years in Canada before he moved to North Dakota.
His drinking songs and poems may have contributed to his reputation as a heavy drinker. He dug many of the graves in Thingvalla cemetery.“I thoroughly enjoyed the trip,” said Kristinn during a post-tour phone interview. “It was exciting to tell people about the eruption. And I lived for seven years in Canada. I was able to see places I had wanted to visit. I was fascinated by the contrasts – it was like riding a rollercoaster at times, from the prairies to the Rockies.
There were many highlights on many different levels – being able to see the geology of the Rockies, getting to know the history of Icelanders in so many different places. There were also personal meetings with old friends I knew from Toronto.” Kristinn had lived in the same town in Iceland as his Vancouver driver, Oli, and had worked with Oli’s wife, Maggí, at the weather stations in Keflavík. In Calgary, Kristinn met Esther Wheatley, a club member and a cousin of his wife, Helga.After earning his B.Sc. in Iceland, Kristinn obtained his Masters degree at the University of Toronto, Mississauga campus. His thesis won him an award from the Canadian Association of Geographers, as the best geography thesis
in Canada for that year.
Kristinn then remained at University of Toronto, working on his doctorate. While living in Mississauga, Kristinn and Helga became active members of the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto. Kristinn was the editor of the club’s newsletter, Falkinn, and is credited with bringing a professional format to the newsletter.
Helga was also involved with the club, his daughter Rosa once performed a trumpet solo at club event, and their son, Guðjon, was born in Mississauga.Back in Iceland, Kristinn is Head of the Natural Science Dept. at Borgarholtskóla, an upper level secondary school. He teaches geology, geography, and physics.
In addition, he instructs and leads field work courses at the University of Iceland as well as the University of Bodö in Spitsbergen, Norway. Kristinn has also worked as a field guide for researchers and study groups including the National Geographic Society and the Smithsonian Institute.
He told his North American audiences that, historically, volcanic eruptions have occurred in Iceland on the average of every four years. In millions of years Iceland could become the largest continent in the world, he said, then admitted that would not happen because the margins would sink. He enhanced his talk with his own videos – vivid closeup shots of the recent eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, the ash plume and the flooding by glacial melting.Attendance for his talks, said Kristinn, was very positive. He noticed that the largest crowds were at the university settings where most of the audience was professors and students. “There were also people whom I had guided who heard about the talk and came out. They have no connection to Iceland,” he said.
Reactions to Kristinn as a choice as an IVP visitor were uniformly enthusiastic. “Kristinn was absolutely fantastic. As I was told, it was not to be missed.” “All the efforts of the INLs of Iceland and North America are worth it as all of the participants in the IVP have been outstanding.” “He updated me on what is going on in Iceland. He was the perfect guest.” “The auditorium was packed.
The audience was very appreciative. Kristinn is funny and entertaining.” “Although the subject matter was serious, Kristinn enlivened it by moments of humour.” “The technical aspects of volcanic action in Iceland were professionally presented with easy-to-follow diagrams and text, using a computer generated model.” “The Chapter congratulates the International Visits Program which allowed us to attend, listen and learn together. Thanks to Icelandair for their sponsorship of airline tickets from Iceland and return.”