Cryoturbation is very active in Iceland due to frequent freeze-thaw cycles in the oceanic sub-arctic climate, and most soils and land surfaces show some geomorphic surface features that result from frost activity.

Permafrost is, however, most evident as palsas in vegetated wetland areas in the highlands. Construction of hydropower reservoirs in the Icelandic highlands has been the focus of environmental debates in Iceland for some years. In 2007, a new 57 km2 reservoir will be filled in the North-East highlands. It will submerge many cryoturbation features, such as palsa areas, which have been degrading during the last decades with warming climate. The unique Thorsarver palsa area south of Hofsjokull glacier has been spared from further hydropower development for the time being. This area are studied by Thora Thorhallsdottir and her colleagues. Measurement activities continued in the Orravatnsrustir palsa area north of Hofsjokull (Náttúrustofa Norðurlands Vestra and Agricultural University of Iceland in co-operation with other partners). Three-year period data from Orravatnsrustir indicate very dynamic surface processes and permafrost thickness exceeding six meters.

The Agricultural University of Iceland (Berglind Orradottir and Olafur Arnalds) now has maintained two years of detailed monitoring of frost activity in a lowland desert ecosystem in south Iceland. Soil and surface temperatures, snow cover and climate are monitored, and the influence of frost activity on surface stability is quantified in relation to land cover and soil water content. The formation of soil ice and its characteristics is studied in relation to land cover and soil water content. The influence of the soil ice on water infiltration in the desert soils is quantified. Joint research activities were initiated in 2005 between the Agricultural University of Iceland (Rannveig Guicharnaud) and the University of Aberdeen (U.K.) aiming at assessing the influence of freezing and thawing on microbial biomass in Icelandic andosols. Iceland also participated in the ITEX Arctic research programme, under the leadership of Ingibjörg S. Jónsdóttir and coworkers.

Olafur Arnalds (oa@lbhi.is)