Meteorology and Natural Hazards
Iceland is an unusally dynamic country in terms of weather and tectonic forces. This means that Icelanders have to be prepared for a multitude of natural hazards: Storms, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides and avalanches. The monitoring of such hazards and an effective system of public warning and response is seen as essential for public safety and welfare.
The Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) has a key role in monitoring and forecasting weather and natural hazards. It contributes towards increased safety in Icelandic society by inter alia:
- Monitoring, analyzing, providing warnings and forecasts and, where possible, predicting natural processes and natural hazards;
- issuing public and aviation alerts about impending natural hazards, such as volcanic ash, extreme weather and flooding;
- conducting research on the physics of air, land and sea, specifically in the fields of meteorology, hydrology, glaciology, climatology, seismology and volcanology:
- undertaking risk assessments for natural hazards as requested by the government.
IMO has a long-term advisory role with the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management of the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police and issues public alerts about impending natural hazards. The institute participates in international weather and aviation alert systems, such as London Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC), and the Icelandic Aviation Oceanic Area Control Center (OACC). IMO is a State Volcano Observatory nominated by the Icelandic Transport Authority on behalf of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). An effective early warning system is important for IMO to be able to warn the authorities, stakeholders and the public about natural hazards.
After deadly avalanches in Súðavík and Flateyri in the Westfjords of Iceland, the system for avalanche warnings and protection was reorganized and strengthened. New legislation was introduced in 1997, and a funded programme for preventive measures established, guided by an assessment for risk posed by avalanches. Protective structures have been built or are being planned in over a dozen towns, where avalanche risk occurs. Houses that are not protected yet are evacuated when avalanche risk is detected. The work on risk assessment for avalanches has been a model for assessing risk posed by other natural hazards, including floods and volcanic eruptions.