From Iceland — Professor Issues Dire Warning About Ice Caves

Professor Issues Dire Warning About Ice Caves

Published February 19, 2018

Photo by
Art Bicnick
Timothee Lambrecq

When you’re told that Iceland is a dangerous country, do you actually believe it? Sure, it’s no Queensland, but even if we don’t have quasi-sci-fi lizards and venomous spiders, the surrounding countryside and the weather can still be quite treacherous. The latest addition to this death machine we call Iceland is ice caves.

According to geophysics professor Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson, in fact, people can easily die from gas poisoning in certain ice caves that are formed via geothermal heating. Seen the rising popularity of ice cave tours, Magnús has issued a report for the Vatnajökull National Park on the danger of ice caves. By working alongside a research team from the Institute of Earth Science at the University of Iceland, he hopes to help individuals and tourist agencies to make conscious choices in the future.

A hot mess

Magnús takes the new breathtaking caves discovered in Hofsjökull and Blágnípujökull, in the centre of Iceland, as perfect examples. “These caves are a hazard. They are geothermal ice caves, which means that what’s melting the ice is actually geothermal heating,” he told RÚV. “That makes them much more dangerous than caves that are created by flows of water in the summer before becoming dry during the winter.”

What makes these caves particularly dangerous is the certain chemical compounds that are constantly released in the air as the ice melts. Said compounds include hydrogen sulphide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide, which can become deadly if inhaled in large quantities.

Doing things the right way

In addition, because the ice doesn’t only thaw during the warmer season but undergoes a continuous melting process, the risk of a collapse is higher than in any other cave. “You just can’t go into these caves with big groups of people,” Tumi explains, adding that only people who know what they’re doing should set foot in there, provided they are equipped with gas masks and gas meters.

As always, we advise you to proceed with caution when travelling around the countryside, whatever the season: it often makes the difference between life and death.

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