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Ask A Scientist: Why Is Reykjavík So Dusty?

Ask A Scientist: Why Is Reykjavík So Dusty?

Photos by
Stefán Valsson

Published September 8, 2017

One of the unfortunate features of Reykjavík is that it tends to get pretty dusty, especially in the spring. Air quality declines, and lots of blame is thrown around; air pollution, people using their winter tires when there is no ice on the road, and so forth. But it turns out the country itself shares a big part of the blame, as Dr. Pavla Dagsson Waldhauserová of the University of Iceland and the Agricultural University of Iceland explains:

“Reykjavík is not only the Smoky bay, but also a dusty bay. It is simply because it is located downwind of three active Icelandic dust sources—Hagavatn, Landeyjasandur and Mælifellssandur. When you consider all the dust sources in Iceland, it makes Iceland not only the largest desert in Europe but also in the whole Arctic, not to mention the volcanoes. Icelandic meteorological observers have reported one of the longest records on dust events in the world. It started in 1931 and is still provided from the most important dust passage places, such as Grímsstaðir in northeast Iceland. We have about 135 dusty days per year on average in Iceland, based on the reports from 30 weather stations. This is comparable to deserts in Iran, the Gobi in Mongolia, and is much higher than the deserts in the USA. Dust hot spots in South Iceland are active all year round, so sometimes you can see snow-dust storms or black snow. One of the most extreme wind erosion events recorded on Earth occurred also in Iceland with a transport of 11 tonnes of dust over a one meter wide transecting in about 23 hours. That would be hard work even with a shovel! Reykjavík suffers, however, from anthropogenic air pollution as well, mostly from the traffic (including the nails on tires), ships emissions, airplane emissions, smelters, concrete plants, local burning of any materials, and fireworks. More details about air and dust pollution in Iceland can be found on website of the Icelandic Aerosol and Dust Association (IceDUST) where we will be happy to receive a picture of any air pollution event, or in the Facebook group Dust Storms in Iceland.”


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