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Ask A Scientist: What Are Iceland’s Top Sources Of Air Pollution?

Ask A Scientist: What Are Iceland’s Top Sources Of Air Pollution?

Jessica Peng
Words by
Photos by
Art Bicnick

Published January 23, 2018

When you step out of Keflavik Airport, one of the first things you notice is the fresh air. With a small population and lots of renewable energy sources, Iceland has been able to protect its air quality. However, are there any air pollutants that we should be worried about? We asked Þorsteinn Jóhannsson from The Environment Agency of Iceland.

“Emission of air pollutants in Iceland were compiled into a report that was prepared in accordance with the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP),” he says. “It was adopted in 1979 and came into force in 1983.”

“Emissions from industrial processes, especially metal production, have a higher share in Iceland than in most other countries.”

“Firstly, significant amounts of sulphur as hydrogen sulfide (H2S) are emitted from geothermal power plants,” Þorsteinn continues. “Secondly, 89% of the fuel used in the energy sector is used by mobile sources (transport, mobile machinery and fishing vessels). Thirdly, emissions from industrial processes, especially from nonferrous metal production, have a higher share in Iceland than in most other countries. This can be seen in the fact that around 75% of the electricity produced in Iceland in 2015 was used in the metal production industry.”

The emissions profile for Iceland is unusual in some respects, says Þorsteinn. “Emissions from generation of electricity and space heating are very low, due to renewable energy sources,” he says. “Almost all electricity in Iceland is produced with hydropower (approximately 70% in 2015) and geothermal power (approximately 30% in 2015), with wind power and fossil fuel-derived power accounting for less than 0.1%. Furthermore, geothermal energy sources are used for space heating (in over 90% of all homes).”

Get more science questions answered here.


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