Friday, June 29, 2012

Let our planet speak!

This week we welcomed Páll Ásgeir Daviðsson from Vox Naturae to hear about a wonderful project VN is working on. The organization wants to “ .. inspire a global movement pushing for action concerning the impact of climate change on water and substantially increase awareness of the issues at stake.’’ They want to accomplish this by illuminating an Icelandic glacier with green energy and use that image as the vehicle through which the glacier tells us that it is disappearing and focusing our minds on the calamitous consequences. This is an extremely creative project which I have no doubt this Icelandic organization will pull off. We look forward to working with them in the coming months.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

U.S. educated interns make a splash in Iceland

During a recent visit to Carbon Recycling International (CRI), I had a chance to listen to a group of U.S. educated interns who are in Iceland for the summer. They are participating in a highly competitive program at CRI—Iceland’s pioneering firm and the first in the world to produce methanol from carbon emissions. While most of the students were from the U.S., others are from Canada, Indonesia, India, Swaziland, Germany, Hong Kong, and Iceland. They were energetic, asked some very good questions about what Embassies do, and are enjoying Iceland. If all students are like this group, our future will be in good hands.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Við Djúpið – where future virtuosos meet

The U.S. Embassy is very proud of sponsoring the Við Djúpið Music Festival, which takes place everyyear in Isafjörður. The event is a gem that brings together some of the best young musicians in the world and where young Icelandic music students have the opportunity to receive master classes from them. Mary and I had the opportunity to hear the world premiere of pieces by young American, Icelandic, and Hungarian composers performed by The Declassified – a group of talented musicians from some of the best American musical institutions: the Julliard Academy and the Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Katonah Museum and the Scandinavian American Foundation directors visit Iceland

We had the pleasure of welcoming a delegation from the Katonah Museum in New York and several members of the Scandinavian American Foundation. The group, which has longstanding artistic ties with Iceland, visited Reykjavik and other parts of the country to look at some of the latest pieces of Icelandic art. Both groups are striving to strengthen ties between Iceland and the United States through art. Among our guests, we had two wonderful and accomplished Icelandic artists: Steinunn þórarinsdóttir and þórdís Alda Sigurdardóttir.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Grímsey on summer solstice and the Willard Fiske connection

We had a unique opportunity to visit Grímsey, located right on the Arctic circle, on 21 June. The island's inhabitants reflect the Icelandic pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit. They rely on fisheries to make their living in an environment that can be at once stunningly beautiful and harsh. I learned of a special connection between Grímsey and Willard Fiske, one of Iceland's earliest American friends. Fiske bequeathed Grimsey several chess sets and the school house because he learned of the island's passion for chess. Fiske, who is known as a friend and benefactor of Iceland, was a linguist and scholar who met and befriended Jón Sigurðsson in Denmark while studying there. He was keenly interested in Iceland and learned its language. Those of us who have struggled with Icelandic know it has as many variations as even the most complex chess game.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

U.S. National Science Foundation supports Mývatn research for 17 years

I wanted to have a look at the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) funded project that is attempting to explain, among many other things, the role of the famous Mývatn fly on human settlement in the Mývatn area. This has been a 17-year collaborative effort between American and Icelandic scientists and anthropologists. I met Dr. Adolf Friðriksson, Director of the Icelandic Archeological Center, who took Mary and I on a fascinating journey beginning with the first settlements in the 9th century. NSF has several collaborative research projects involving Iceland which amount to over $140 million. In fact, the NSF has awarded over $700 million to research involving Iceland since 1980.

Flies are quite abundant in the area as readers can tell by looking at my granddaughter's protective gear and the photo above. We were lucky to be there before they begin to bite. It was an interesting experience; I would do it again.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Skagaströnd - a nice blend of science, history, the arts and community

During a visit to the community of Skagaströnd, I found a vibrant and open community with a bright future. The town's leaders understand that their community must rely on a blend of the traditional (fisheries), science (the BioPol marine biotechnology company) and culture and the arts (the Nes Art Residency Program), while remembering Iceland's roots (the University of Iceland Research Center). Here's why:

 Want to have Omega 3 fatty acids without the fishy taste?

BioPol has isolated and produced Omega 3 fatty acids directly from the source: microalgae. The company envisions developing a product that is pure and can be blended with other ingredients to provide this important and healthy food component.

Want to learn and research Icelandic culture?

The University of Iceland established a cultural research center in Skagaströnd where scholars and students can use an impressive library of rare books with a focus on the humanities.

Want an art residency?

The Nes Art Residency Program offers unique opportunities for writers, sculptors, painters, dancers, photographers and multi-media specialists in a stunning and inspiring setting.

Want to have a taste of Country and Western music?

Yes, you read this correctly, Skagaströnd hosts Kántrýbær, a very special place where you can hear the latest country and western hits and taste some of the best steak in a western environment. If you are lucky, you can even meet Hallbjörn Hjartarson, Iceland's very own country music legend.

Want to know what the future brings?

Stop by the Museum of Prophecies where you will learn about Þórdís the fortune teller after whom the nearby mountain was named during the time of the Icelandic sagas.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The International Appalachia Trail comes to Iceland

I had the pleasure of welcoming a multinational delegation from the International Appalachia Trail. The Group is on a quest to extend the hiking trail from its current 2,250 mile length which begins in Springer Mountain in Georgia and ends at the tip of Belle Isle, in Newfoundland and Labrador. The group wants to follow the ancient path of the Appalachian mountain range when North American and Europe were one continent. This would take the path to Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Scandinavia, the British Isles, France, Spain and Morocco. The delegation included citizens from the U.S., Canada, Iceland, Norway, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. I have no doubt their quest will find a sympathetic ear in Iceland as their quest is underpinned by a desire to build mutual understanding between people of different nationalities.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Icelander moves into the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence

It was only a matter of time before the charm of Icelandic culture established a live presence in the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence. Two weeks ago, we had the pleasure of welcoming Brenna into our family. Brenna is an Icelandic sheepdog born a few weeks ago near Selfoss. We met her mother around Christmas time and fell in love with the breed. She is a vivacious, naughty, friendly, and loving dog. We have our hands full.

Monday, June 11, 2012

U.S. and Iceland partner in glacier research

I visited a NASA aircraft and its crew of scientists who are in Iceland to conduct glacier research. They are mapping two glaciers and learning about the dynamics of glacier movements. The research is a partnership that involves NASA, the California Institute of Technology, and the University of Iceland. NASA’s involvement with Iceland goes back to the time when we were preparing to send the first mission to the moon and over the years it has expanded to include many areas including climate change research. The current crew is looking to return in the winter.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Kárahnjúkar - an engineering marvel

During a brief visit to Iceland's largest hydroelectric plant, I had a firsthand look at the inner workings of this impressive project. Nestled in the area from which the project adopted its name, the dam constitutes a feat of Icelandic engineering and a boon to the Icelandic economy as it provides the energy for Alcoa's state-of-the-art aluminum smelter.   The electricity generating units are powered by the force of water that drop vertically 420 meters, which is the height of the Empire State Building in New York.  The project can generate up to 690 megawatts.

Skriðuklaustur - where culture and history intersect

Just below Kárahnjúkar sits Skriðuklaustur, a site that hosts the Gunnar Gunnarsson Institute and the remains of one of Iceland's oldest catholic monasteries.  Gunnarsson is one of Iceland's best known writers. Some of his best known works include "The Good Shepherd," "The Black Cliffs," and "Ships in the Sky." Gunnarsson bequeathed  to the Icelandic nation a magnificent stone house he built in Skriðuklaustur.  The building houses a museum where one can learn about Gunnarsson's life and works and where writers from all over the world can spend weeks of contemplation and inspiration.  Nearby is the site where the monastery remains are located and where archeologists have found artifacts dating back to the 15th century.  I would highly recommend a visit there for anyone interested in Icelandic culture and history.

 Þórshöfn - Gateway to the Arctic?

During a visit to Þórshöfn, I had a chance to hear the vision of local authorities and regional organizations for the future development of the region.  They see the region’s future as linked to the establishment of a port for Arctic shipping traffic as well as a logistics base for search and rescue operations and for oil rigs in the event that ongoing oil exploration results in oil extraction from the Dreki area.  There appears to be a lot of investor interest in this area

Radar Station at Gunnólsvíkurfjall

I completed the full round of visits to Iceland's four radar stations. The last stop was Gunnólsvíkurfjall - a stunning site that offers magnificent vistas of the ocean, neighboring fjords and nearby villages.  The Icelandic Coast Guard is doing a superb job of staffing and maintaining these NATO facilities, which constitute a major Icelandic contribution to the collective security of NATO

Friday, June 1, 2012

Martin Berkofsky’s Inspirational Concert

Mary and I had the opportunity to attend an inspiring and powerful evening of music. American piano virtuoso Martin Berkofsky treated us to a beautiful concert he graciously offered in support of the Icelandic Cancer Society. He played several pieces by Franz Liszt in a setting where those of us lucky enough to be there sat in candlelit concentric circles around the piano and its master. Berkofsky is an old friend of Iceland. In addition to supporting cancer societies the world over, during his many visits to Iceland he advocated and supported efforts to build a national concert hall in Reykjavik which eventually became Harpa. During a brief encounter after the concert, Berkofsky displayed the sort of humility that is usually associated with great men. We were honored to meet him.