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Ecosystem approach for natural hazard mitigation of volcanic tephra in Iceland: building resilience and sustainability

Authors:

Abstract

Living in Iceland, a highly volcanically active island with a historical eruption frequency of 20–25 events per 100 years, involves risks from lava, pyroclastic flows, tephra-fall, and floods from glacier/snow-covered volcanoes. Volcanic eruptions can have detrimental effects on human health, societies, and ecosystems. Eruptions in 2010–2011 proved the value of pre-event planning for some natural hazards. An additional focus is needed on pre-disaster mitigation responses for the effects of tephra-fall on vegetation: As outlined under the UNISDR Hyogo/Sendai Framework for Action, healthy ecosystems and environmental management are key actions in disaster risk reduction (DRR). Iceland's most serious environmental problem is the degraded state of common rangeland in the highlands, where tephra-fall has been catastrophic. Tephra (airborne volcanic material) affects hydrology, air quality, and ecosystems by direct burial or post-eruptive transport, extending its influence far beyond the initial eruption area. Resilience to tephra-related disturbances depends on an ecosystem's overall health. Tall, vigorous vegetation has greater endurance; its initial survival is more likely, while sheltering minimizes secondary transport and hastens recovery. Areas that are sparsely vegetated and already stressed are more vulnerable; there, tephra remains unstable and can cause further damage. Reclaiming vulnerable land and building healthy ecosystems, as represented by the Hekluskógar project, improve the ability of these areas to endure tephra-fall, increasing their resilience and reducing the associated costs to society. Successful DRR for tephra-fall, through the revegetation of degraded land, will require effective governance, multi-sector coordination, and the alignment of policies on land use, agriculture, natural resource management, and climate change mitigation.
ORIGINAL PAPER
Ecosystem approach for natural hazard mitigation
of volcanic tephra in Iceland: building resilience
and sustainability
Anna Marı
´aA
´gu
´stsdo
´ttir
1
Received: 19 June 2014 / Accepted: 6 May 2015
ÓThe Author(s) 2015. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com
Abstract Living in Iceland, a highly volcanically active island with a historical eruption
frequency of 20–25 events per 100 years, involves risks from lava, pyroclastic flows,
tephra-fall, and floods from glacier/snow-covered volcanoes. Volcanic eruptions can have
detrimental effects on human health, societies, and ecosystems. Eruptions in 2010–2011
proved the value of pre-event planning for some natural hazards. An additional focus is
needed on pre-disaster mitigation responses for the effects of tephra-fall on vegetation: As
outlined under the UNISDR Hyogo/Sendai Framework for Action, healthy ecosystems and
environmental management are key actions in disaster risk reduction (DRR). Iceland’s
most serious environmental problem is the degraded state of common rangeland in the
highlands, where tephra-fall has been catastrophic. Tephra (airborne volcanic material)
affects hydrology, air quality, and ecosystems by direct burial or post-eruptive transport,
extending its influence far beyond the initial eruption area. Resilience to tephra-related
disturbances depends on an ecosystem’s overall health. Tall, vigorous vegetation has
greater endurance; its initial survival is more likely, while sheltering minimizes secondary
transport and hastens recovery. Areas that are sparsely vegetated and already stressed are
more vulnerable; there, tephra remains unstable and can cause further damage. Reclaiming
vulnerable land and building healthy ecosystems, as represented by the Heklusko
´gar
project, improve the ability of these areas to endure tephra-fall, increasing their resilience
and reducing the associated costs to society. Successful DRR for tephra-fall, through the
revegetation of degraded land, will require effective governance, multi-sector coordination,
and the alignment of policies on land use, agriculture, natural resource management, and
climate change mitigation.
Keywords Disaster risk reduction Resilience Volcanic tephra Governance Policy
Sustainability analysis Threshold Volcanic ash Restoration ecology Recovery
Hazard Communities Wind erosion Air quality Human health Ash storm
&Anna Marı
´aA
´gu
´stsdo
´ttir
annamaria@land.is
1
Soil Conservation Service of Iceland, Gunnarsholt, 851 Hella, Iceland
123
Nat Hazards
DOI 10.1007/s11069-015-1795-6
Agriculture Ecosystem services Environmental degradation Ecosystem resilience for
mitigation of natural disasters Ecosystem restoration Hyogo framework of action
Sendai framework for disaster risk reduction Ecosystem stressors Mitigation
1 Introduction
Ecosystems in Iceland are at risk both from natural hazards and from unsustainable human
activities. In terms of natural hazards, Icelanders have, since 1967 (Act nr. 30/1967),
developed responses to volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, oceanic floods, snow avalanches,
weather, wildfires, and glacier outburst floods (jo
¨kulhlaups) (NCIP-DCPEM 2005a). Risk
management in Iceland is currently based on the ‘‘Hyogo Framework for Action, Building
the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters’’ of the UN International Strategy
for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) (2013); this framework incorporates assessment,
prevention, mitigation, monitoring, early warning, and preparedness. In 2005, the Civil
Protection and Emergency Management team of the Icelandic National Commissioner of
Police completed hazard assessment, risk analysis, and response plans regarding volcanic
eruptions and associated glacier outburst floods in South Iceland (NCIP-DCPEM 2005b);
these plans were followed, in 2006, by a public awareness campaign incorporating
evacuation drills for all the inhabitants of potentially threatened areas. During the next
eruption (Eyjafjallajo
¨kull 2010), the response plan was successful, with respect to
evacuations and all other planned mitigation measures. However, responses to the dispersal
of volcanic ash, or of tephra in general, had not been included in the plan, and Iceland,
along with all of Europe, was unprepared for the resulting extensive closure of airspace and
the associated global economic effects. The local, regional, and global effects of tephra,
defined as airborne volcanic material of any size, proved to be an important aspect of
volcanic hazards left out of the otherwise successful pre-event risk management plan.
During a disaster, attention is understandably focused on direct impacts, relief, and
recovery operations. Major events like the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajo
¨kull, however, can
potentially act as thresholds, changing dominant ways of thinking and acting by placing
tradition—in this case, traditional land-use patterns—under critical review (Birkmann et al.
2008). In Iceland, the 2010 tephra-fall event may create a paradigm shift toward embracing
concepts of sustainability. By exploring the consequences of decisions that affect human
and ecosystem integrity (Sidle et al. 2013), the potential for an ecosystem role in disaster
risk reduction (DRR) for tephra-fall is revealed.
While ecosystem management is not a new concept, research is needed to maximize its
benefits for DRR and to ease its uptake by communities, disaster management practi-
tioners, policy makers, and decision makers (PEDRR 2010). Ecosystem-based DRR has
been suggested for various hazards, such as landslides, flooding, avalanches, storm surges,
wildfires, drought, and climate change (ProAct Network 2008; Sudmeier-Rieux and Ash
2009; World Bank 2010). With regard to volcanic eruptions, however, DRR measures have
focused primarily on direct impacts, such as land-use planning in at-risk areas or effective
emergency plans for the evacuation of people (EEA 2010). To reduce the indirect impacts,
for example, on ecosystems, human health, or global temperature, requires measures at a
supranational level. This is a more challenging issue because, as yet, there have been no
quantitative evaluations of these indirect effects (EEA 2010). There exists a knowledge gap
regarding ecosystem-based approaches of DRR for volcanic hazards. This article helps
Nat Hazards
123
close that gap by presenting for the first time a unique approach to reducing the effects of
remobilized tephra, increasing the initial survival of vegetation, and improving both social
and ecosystem resilience to future tephra-fall events.
2 Natural systems, disruptions, and resilience
Change is a constant of natural systems. Abrupt events, such as earthquakes, severe
weather, or volcanic eruptions, whether singular or repeated, often cause the largest
damage to a natural system, as there is limited time for the system to adapt. Disruptions
often last longer than the original event itself, initiating chain reactions that lead to further
damage. This fact is well known from Iceland’s eruptive history, as secondary effects have
led to changes in climate, crop failure, and famine, either locally or on a larger scale; it is
also known from global climate history, as abrupt events have led to the socioeconomic
collapse of societies (Alley 2000; Hodell et al. 1995; Steingrı
´msson 1998; Thordarson and
Self 2003).
A natural hazard is defined by the United Nations (UNISDR 2009) as a ‘‘Natural
process or phenomenon that may cause loss of life, injury, or other health impacts, property
damage, loss of livelihoods and services, social and economic disruption, or environmental
damage.’’ A disaster is a serious disruption in the functioning of a community or a society,
causing widespread human, economic, or environmental losses that exceed the ability of
the affected community or society to cope using its own resources (UNISDR 2009).
Disaster risk reduction is important to lessen these effects through reduced exposure,
lessened vulnerability of people and property, wise management of land and the envi-
ronment, and improved preparedness for adverse events (Birkmann et al. 2013; UNISDR
2009).
The effects of a natural hazard depend not only on its magnitude, but also on the
society’s vulnerability, its culture, and its state before each event (Birkmann et al. 2013).
The society’s dependence upon land use in the affected areas, the distribution of the
population, governance, risk perception, prior experience, and even luck can all play a role.
The key to having a resilient society is the ability to absorb shocks, bounce back, learn, and
adapt. Resilience has been defined by the UNISDR (2009) as: ‘‘The ability of a system,
community, or society exposed to hazards to resist, absorb, accommodate to, and recover
from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner, including through the
preservation and restoration of its essential basic structures and functions.’
Mitigation of natural hazards is vital to meet the long-term aims and multiple objectives
of sustainability, i.e., safeguarding the environment as well as human living conditions,
while meeting the needs of both current and future generations (El-Masri and Tipple 2002).
Ecosystems contribute to reducing the risk of natural hazards in multiple ways. The extent
of buffering depends on the ecosystem’s health and on the intensity of the event (Bignami
et al. 2012; Boyd et al. 2005; Dugmore et al. 2007). Ecosystems sustain human livelihoods
and contribute to the ability of communities to withstand and recover from disasters
(Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005). Ecosystem health is thus closely linked to the
idea of sustainability, which implies the ability of the system to maintain its structure
(organization) and function (vigor) over time in the face of external stress (resilience)
(Costanza 1992,2012). The term ‘‘sustainable ecosystem’’ implies also that resource use,
or the demand for ecosystem services, does not exceed the supply for both present and
future generations (Sudmeier-Rieux and Ash 2009). The state of ecosystems and their land-
Nat Hazards
123
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123
use history contribute to their resilience to tephra-fall disturbances, as the following ex-
amples from Mexico and Iceland show. The Paricutin eruption in Mexico in 1943–1953
demonstrates the effects of prior land use: In areas affected by tephra-fall, successional
progress still differs according to the pre-eruptive ecosystem state 50 years after the
eruption ceased. In areas with prior intense land use, such as bare agricultural fields and
other barren areas, plant cover remains low (\10 %) and succession proceeds at a slower
pace than in areas that were covered by forests at the time of the eruption (Lindig-Cisneros
et al. 2006). An example of the effect of post-eruptive land use comes from Iceland
(Dugmore et al. 2007): After the tephra-fall from an eruption of Hekla in 1104 AD, the
recovery of vegetation was reduced due to continued grazing pressure, thus limiting the
natural succession of the degraded ecosystem. This geomorphic instability persisted in
some areas until 1300 AD. However, after the deposition of new tephra from an eruption of
Hekla in 1300 AD, a change in the human impact on the area (perhaps the complete
removal of grazing pressure) allowed the landscape to stabilize.
3 Volcanic activity in Iceland
Volcanism is prevalent in Iceland due to the island’s location on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
Active volcanic regions cover 30 % of the island, with a historical (the last 1100 years)
eruption frequency of 20–25 events per 100 years, or 1 every 5 years, on average (Thor-
darson and Larsen 2007). Risk of tephra-fall in Iceland is therefore considerable, as 78 %
of all historical eruptions were explosive, with tephra making up [95 % of the eruptive
material (Thordarson and Larsen 2007).
Large eruptions cause widespread dispersal of tephra: Icelandic tephra is found in the N
Atlantic Ocean, in the Norwegian Sea, and in Europe (Haflidason et al. 2000). NW
European lake and peat sediments of the past 1000 years show that tephra from Iceland
reached N Europe with a mean return interval of 56 ±9 years, suggesting that, for any
10-year period in the last millennium, there is a 16 % probability of a tephra event leaving
detectable deposits in N Europe (Swindles et al. 2011). The probability in Iceland is much
higher, as the effects of smaller eruptions are more localized.
Explosive eruptions are more common than effusive ones, and the frequency of ex-
plosive silicic eruptions in Iceland is high, or 1 every 200–300 years. Eruptions that emit
1–10 km
3
of tephra occur on average once every 1000 years, and larger events ([10 km
3
tephra) occur roughly once in 100,000 years (Thordarson and Larsen 2007). In terms of the
Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI), there is one VEI 5 event every 100–200 years and one
VEI 6 event every 500–1000 years (Gudmundsson et al. 2008). These large events are
likely to deposit tephra over most of Iceland, with the greatest damage to vegetation
expected within the 20-cm isopach or 70–80 km from the volcano; severe damage could
also occur at tephra thicknesses of less than 20 cm. The probability of a tephra-fall event
with a thickness of [20 cm has been estimated as being highest in S Iceland, in the areas
bFig. 1 Potential mitigation in S and SE Iceland in areas most likely to experience tephra events, based on
location of most active volcanoes, frequency of tephra layers in soil (Larsen and Gı
´slason 2013), and
prevailing wind patterns (Jo
´nsson 1990,2010). Circles indicate frequency of tephra layers in soil (Larsen
and Gı
´slason 2013); aland elevation, main roads, and structures (Map Viewer 2013), bsoil erosion (Arnalds
et al. 2001), cvegetation (Agricultural University of Iceland 2013)
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123
near Vı
´
´My
´rdal (1/50), Landeyjar (1/200), Vestmannaeyjar (1/250), and Hornafjo
¨rður (1/
1000) (Viðlagatrygging I
´slands 2011).
The most active volcanic centers in Iceland are Grı
´msvo
¨tn, Hekla, and Katla (Fig. 1).
Grı
´msvo
¨tn leads with 70 historical eruptions; the tephra volume per event is 0.01 to
[0.5 km
3
(Thordarson and Larsen 2007). The 1783–1784 Laki (or Laki-Grı
´msvo
¨tn)
eruption caused significant environmental and climatic effects, when 14.7 km
3
of lava
covered 565 km
2
of land and 0.4 km
3
of tephra covered 7,200 km
2
within the 0.5 cm
isopach; fine ash affected the entire island, over 100,000 km
2
(Thordarson and Self 1993,
2003). Sulfur release (120 Tg of SO
2
) to the atmosphere caused vegetation damage across
Iceland and the death of 60 % of the grazing livestock, mainly due to chronic fluorosis.
Widespread famine caused the death of 25 % of the Icelandic population within 2 years
(Snævar 1993; Steingrı
´msson 1998; Thordarson and Self 1993). Laki was a catastrophic
disruption, especially for an isolated peripheral region, as Iceland was at the time. Similar,
but less severe, impacts of this eruption were observed elsewhere in the N hemisphere
(Thordarson and Self 2003). Eruptions such as Laki are low-probability, high-impact
events. If such an event were to occur today, it would constitute a major European health
hazard and likely cause an excess mortality in Europe of 29,000 in the first year and
142,000 due to long-term exposure to particles smaller than 2.5 lm in diameter (Schmidt
et al. 2011).
The volcano Hekla historically produced 1–2 eruptions per century until 1947 (Tho-
rarinsson 1967), with tephra volumes of 0.01–2 km
3
per event (Thordarson and Larsen
2007). The largest historical event, in 1104 AD, caused complete destruction within 70 km;
tephra blanketed half the country, with 55,000 km
2
within the 0.2-cm isopach (Gud-
mundsson et al. 2008; Thorarinsson 1979).
The historical eruption frequency of the third most active volcano in Iceland, Katla, has
been 1–3 per century, with tephra volumes of *0.01 to [1km
3
per event; all these
eruptions have been associated with major glacial outburst floods (Thorarinsson 1975). The
total volume of erupted magma is 25 km
3
, making Katla (until the eruption of Ba
´rðar-
bunga-Grı
´msvo
¨tn in 2014–2015) the most productive system in historical time (Larsen
2000; Thordarson and Larsen 2007). The largest event associated with Katla was the
Eldgja
´eruption of 934 AD, producing a minimum of 4 km
3
of basaltic tephra (Larsen
2000).
Other examples of large explosive eruptions include the 1875 event in Askja (SE
Iceland), which caused abandonment of farms within 60–70 km distance when 1.83 km
3
of
tephra erupted in 17 h (Carey et al. 2010; Thorarinsson 1944). The VEI 6-level eruption of
O
¨ræfajo
¨kull in 1362, the largest plinian event of the last millennium, deposited 10 km
3
of
tephra, causing long-term devastation of large areas in SE Iceland (Thorarinsson 1958).
Changes in volcanic activity are expected in the near future. Volcanism in Iceland has a
marked periodicity; this, combined with climatic change and the correspondingly reduced
surface pressure from melting glaciers, suggests that the cyclic behavior of volcanic ac-
tivity is about to enter its next active phase (Larsen et al. 1998; Sigmundsson et al. 2010).
There is an increased probability of activity in the E Iceland volcanic zone, where 80 % of
all historical eruptions have occurred and the four most active volcanoes are located
(Thordarson and Larsen 2007). An eruption can be expected every 2–7 years at Grı
´msvo
¨tn,
with parallel activity in nearby Ba
´rðarbunga (Larsen et al. 1998;O
´lado
´ttir et al. 2011).
Geophysical monitoring suggests the entry of magma beneath Hekla and the W Vat-
najo
¨kull area in recent years, while for the last few decades an impending Katla eruption
has been expected (IMO 2011). In 2006, the probability of a Katla eruption was estimated
to be 20 % within the next 10 years (Eliasson et al. 2006). The latest event is the
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123
2014–2015 non-explosive fissure eruption from the Ba
´rðarbunga system (Gudmundsson
et al. 2014; Sigmundsson et al. 2015). The largest effusive eruption in Iceland since the
Laki eruption in 1783–1784 AD, it produced more than 1 km
3
of lava, covering 85 km
2
area north of Vatnajo
¨kull, and released up to 11.2 Mt SO
2
into the atmosphere (IMO
2014).
4 Effects of volcanic tephra
Volcanic eruptions cause a wide range of hazards, of which tephra is by far the most
widespread. Distal impacts over large regions occur due to exposure to tephra, gases,
aerosols, and volcanically modified precipitation, and the additional impacts on climate
and weather (Lacasse 2001; Self 2006). The scale of influence on the environment and
human society can be varied and complicated, due to the nature of the hazard dispersal; the
effects are always local, but they can also be regional or even global.
Large explosive eruptions in Iceland have induced significant and long-lasting local
impacts, e.g., as shown by the multi-decadal or multi-centennial response of biological
proxies after tephra damages the vegetation cover, causing increased soil erosion, in-
creased sedimentation rates, and pronounced landscape destabilization (Larsen et al. 2011,
2012). Tephra-fall can damage vegetation, soil life, and overall ecosystem function. The
most drastic tephra events leave behind a barren surface of sterile substrates that require
decades or even centuries of natural primary succession to restore (Fridriksson 1981;
Thorarinsson 1979).
Tephra can damage vegetation by direct burial, heat, or breakage. Volatiles can adhere
to tephra particles and, through dry or wet deposition, can cause lesions, defoliation, or
plant death, as seen in the Laki eruption of 1783–1784 (Steingrı
´msson 1998). Stresses to
ecosystems caused by tephra include the inhibition of photosynthesis, changes in the water
budget (drought, surface flow, or waterlogging), and changes to predation and disease
vulnerability; these may all result in structural changes in the plant community (Antos and
Zobel 1985; Cook et al. 1981; Zobel and Antos 1987). Post-eruptive transport of tephra (by
water or wind) can be severe (Arnalds et al. 2013), leading to further damage or burial in
new areas. Wind erosion with tephra-laden air causes abrasion and desiccation and un-
covers plant roots, as well as reducing the soil depth (Hagen and Casada 2013). Tephra in
an open landscape can be blown back and forth, becoming a source of dust storms for
decades.
Volcanic eruptions can have a wide range of impacts on human health; arguably, these
impacts are more varied than for any other kind of natural hazard (Hansell et al. 2006;
Horwell and Baxter 2006). Tephra-fall modifies hydrology and lowers air quality, affecting
human health both directly, through inhalation or the abrasion of skin and eyes, and
indirectly through impacts on terrestrial and aquatic environments (Carlsen et al. 2012;
Gudmundsson 2011; Thorsteinsson et al. 2012). Resuspended tephra particles prolong
these health hazards. Aerosolization experiments on tephra, using the recent Eyjafjal-
lajo
¨kull (2010) and Grı
´msvo
¨tn (2011) eruptions, show the ease of re-dispersal to the air;
resuspension also caused a substantial increase in the concentration of respirable airborne
ash particles, increasing the potential health hazard (La
¨hde et al. 2013).
Post-eruptive processes extend the area of influence of a volcanic eruption some dis-
tance from the initial deposition area and can last for years. In 2013, 2–3 years after the
two 2010–2011 eruptions, resuspension of tephra by wind caused repeated episodes of poor
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air quality, with concentrations up to 1000–6000 lg/m
3
in Fljo
´tshverfi, S Iceland
(50–90 km away from the eruption sites) and up to 100–1100 lg/m
3
in Reykjavı
´k
(140–220 km away), which are well above the recommended limit of 50 lg/m
3
(EAI
2013). Post-eruptive resuspension of tephra has limited the quality of life in Iceland, as
reported in the media as late as 2013, by causing reduced visibility, ground transportation
hazards, property damage (such as sandblasted vehicles), and road closures. Similar effects
were seen in Chile after the Mt. Hudson eruption of 1991, where remobilization of ash by
wind was observed for at least 10 years after the eruption, causing significant problems in
some areas and greatly hindering the re-establishment of agriculture (Bitschene 1995).
Tephra-fall is the only volcanic process that shows a damage gradient. In contrast to
lava flows and pyroclastic flows, which cause the total devastation of the affected arable
land and vegetation (Bignami et al. 2012), the severity of tephra-fall on agriculture gen-
erally increases progressively with tephra thickness, although its effects are linked to those
due to social resilience and economic and political factors. In Iceland, tephra-fall has often
caused farms to be abandoned. In the lowlands, a tephra thickness of 8–10 cm has led to
farm abandonment for a year or less and 15 cm to abandonment for 1–5 years, while
30–50 cm of tephra has caused farms to be abandoned for a minimum of decades. In the
highlands, a 20-cm-thick tephra-fall caused permanent abandonment (A
´gu
´stsdo
´ttir 2013;
Thorarinsson 1979). Similar effects on society have been observed in other countries, the
key determinant of the re-occupation of farms being recovery of the vegetation (Wilson
et al. 2010). Damage to agricultural land or water resources can also have significant
impacts on the society’s long-term economic growth (Mitchell et al. 2013).
5 Costs of natural hazards
The costs to society of even a moderate volcanic eruption can be substantial, as shown by
the two Icelandic eruptions of 2010–2011. Both were moderate size events, with VEI
indices of 3–4 (Gudmundsson et al. 2012). The prolonged 2010 Eyjafjallajo
¨kull eruption
(lasting 39 days), combined with persistent NW winds, dispersed low concentrations of
fine ash over a large part of Europe. This ash caused an unprecedented, large disruption to
air traffic, with the cancelation of 108,000 flights, interrupting the travel of 10.5 million
passengers and costing the airline industry in excess of $1.7 billion in lost revenue
(Eurocontrol 2010). Although there was hardly any direct damage from this eruption, it
revealed the vulnerability of modern society’s interconnected economies. The conse-
quences of interruptions in supplies of goods to industrial firms worldwide meant that
gradually more and more economic sectors were affected by the volcano, in addition to
other subsequent negative effects on the global economy.
Comparing this eruption to that, a year later, of Grı
´msvo
¨tn, we can see how the cir-
cumstances at the time of an eruption can affect the amount of global economic damage. In
2011, Grı
´msvo
¨tn (at least VEI 4) produced more European tephra fallout in the first 24 h
than occurred during the entire 2010 Eyjafjallajo
¨kull eruption, with the bulk volume of
tephra 2–3 times greater (Gudmundsson et al. 2012). However, the short duration of the
eruption and the absence of strong upper atmospheric winds prevented the dispersal of
tephra at the scale observed in 2010 (Marzano et al. 2013); thus, the larger eruption had a
lesser effect on global society.
In Iceland, the costs to society of natural hazards are generally high regardless of the
circumstances. The effects of tephra-fall, being immediate, long-term, and widespread,
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123
lead to persistent costs for years afterward. The economic cost of recovery constitutes a
major burden on Icelandic society. Tephra-fall and the repeated floods due to the
2010–2011 events led to damages in transportation, agriculture, and tourism. Costs to the
Icelandic government for urgent tasks in the affected areas were 11.3 million USD in May
2012 (Prime Minister’s Office 2011). Additional costs were covered by the annual budget
provisions of various government institutes. Damage to insured property, by the end of
2011, was 3.43 million USD (Viðlagatrygging I
´slands 2011). Damage to uninsured
property, such as machinery, fields, drainage systems, home power stations, emergency
responses, and cleanup, has not been accounted for. Various other indirect and secondary
losses, such as social or environmental issues (including damage to ecosystems) and loss of
production are unquantifiable in monetary value.
A 2011 European study showed that if DRR initiatives can reduce the cost of damages
by less than 1 %, then from an economic standpoint such DRR actions can be justified
using cost–benefit analyses (European Commission 2011). Cost–benefit analyses are,
however, only a decision-making tool. It is rare that all costs and all benefits are assessed
and included in a quantitative assessment, while the assessment of risk, the study found, is
politicized in all DRR decisions (European Commission 2011). Investing in ecological
restoration should be considered, instead, as a high-yielding investment (De Groot et al.
2013). Studies have shown that healthy and resilient ecosystems contribute to climate
change adaptation, as well as to disaster risk reduction (CBD 2009; Doswald et al. 2014;
Munang et al. 2013; Renaud et al. 2013; World Bank 2010). Investing in preventive
measures, including maintaining healthy ecosystems, can be more cost-effective than
simply bearing the costs incurred by natural hazards (through inaction) or paying the costs
(including construction and maintenance) of engineered solutions to DRR (Jones et al.
2012; PEDRR 2010; UNISDR 2011; World Bank 2010).
6 Vulnerability of Icelandic ecosystems
Iceland’s climate is humid and cool-to-temperate. Iceland is near the boundary between the
midlatitude westerlies and the polar easterlies; cyclones pass frequently, and shifts between
frost and thaw are common. The mean annual range of precipitation is 400–2000 mm. The
mean annual range of temperature is 2–6 °C, with the mean July range being 6–10 °C
(Einarsson 1976). Cool summers considerably limit the yield and growing potential for a
range of plants. The growing season is short, i.e., days above 4 °C range from 89 to
144 day/year (Fridriksson and Sigurðsson 1983). Natural succession is slow, and
revegetation (with minimal human input) generally requires a long recovery time (decades)
to turn degraded land into healthy ecosystems.
Iceland’s most serious environmental problem is the degraded state of common
rangeland in the highlands. Andosols, the main soil type in Iceland, are characterized by a
general lack of cohesion (Arnalds 2004) and are vulnerable to degradation and erosion if
the vegetation cover is weakened. At the time of settlement, c. 871 AD, 60 % of Iceland
was vegetated and some 25–40 % covered by forest (Arnalds 1987). The current state of
Icelandic ecosystems is often far from the expected climax vegetation for the climate.
Birch woodland is the natural climax vegetation in Iceland, and lowland areas up to about
300 m.a.s.l. are within the subalpine vegetation zone. Above this limit, and in the outer-
most coastal districts in the northwest, north, and northeast, arctic-alpine vegetation
dominates (Hallsdo
´ttir and Caseldine 2005). At present, after 1100 years of added stress
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123
from unsustainable land use, about 95 % of the forest has been lost; only 27 % of the
country remains vegetated, and natural forests cover *1.2 % of the total area (Arnalds
1987; Gunnarsson et al. 2005). Surveys show that 40 % of the country is ‘‘considerably,’
‘severely,’’ or ‘‘extremely’’ eroded (Arnalds et al. 2001).
7 Disaster risk reduction and natural hazards
The risk of volcanic eruptions cannot be avoided in Iceland, as the area of possible impact
for the largest events covers the whole island. The Icelanders’ only option is to live with
the risk and to aim to minimize it through DRR action, lessening the cost society has to
bear (A
´gu
´stsdo
´ttir 2013; Kelman and Mather 2008). The value of a DRR effort is threefold:
in disaster preparedness, quicker recovery, and cost reduction.
By building up healthy ecosystems, DRR increases the resilience of both society and
ecosystems to future volcanic events, improving their ability to survive tephra-fall and/or
minimizing the disruption (A
´gu
´stsdo
´ttir 2013). An ecosystem’s resilience to the deposition
of tephra depends on several factors: the depth of burial, the species’ capability to re-
generate when buried, the diversity of responses, seasonality, water availability, and the
toxicity of the tephra. Vigorous ecosystems generally have greater endurance and shorter
recovery times. Already stressed ecosystems are more vulnerable to the additional stress of
tephra-fall. Research on stability domains indicates that efforts to reduce the risk of un-
wanted state shifts due to disturbances should address the gradual changes that affect
resilience, rather than merely controlling the fluctuations caused by the disturbance (Folke
et al. 2004; Scheffer et al. 2001). Stability domains, for ecosystems, typically depend on
slowly changing processes that affect land use, nutrient stocks, soil properties, and the
biomass of long-lived organisms (Scheffer et al. 2001). However, once degraded,
ecosystems need human input to reverse these processes and to cross thresholds of energy,
nutrients, and the availability of seeds, before it is possible to transition to a more pro-
ductive state. Such actions have more than a century-long history in Iceland. The methods
traditionally used for revegetation in Iceland, i.e., fertilization and/or seeding and planting,
are also applicable to emergency revegetation after tephra-fall. DRR strategies that im-
prove the overall health of ecosystems, on the other hand, would be preventive, and the
experience gained could aid in planning post-eruptive recovery.
Vegetation is one of the main factors affecting dust emission and dust storm frequency
(Engelstaedter et al. 2003; Shinoda et al. 2011; Tegen et al. 2002). Taller vegetation has
higher surface roughness, resulting in less dust emission. When visibility data were used to
develop a global map of annual dust storm frequency (Engelstaedter et al. 2003), a
comparison with vegetation cover revealed an inverse correlation with the leaf area index
(an index of vegetation density) and net primary productivity; the highest storm frequency
was found in desert/bare ground environments, while a magnitude lower storm frequency
occurred in areas with dense vegetation cover. This underscores the importance of
vegetation in dust retention.
Vegetation acts as a bioshield reducing wind erosion (Aubault et al. 2015; Breshears
et al. 2009; Webb and Strong 2011). The standing biomass modifies the near surface wind
profile and alters soil and atmospheric characteristics (soil structure, surface stability, and
air moisture). Vegetation controls wind erosion through various processes: (1) by shel-
tering the ground surface from erosive forces, reducing the friction velocity under the
biomass to lower levels at the soil surface, creating wakes of reduced mean wind velocity,
Nat Hazards
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and covering a portion of the ground, thereby limiting the erodible area; (2) through
momentum extraction from the wind, by absorbing a part of the total shear stress of the
wind and thereby decreasing the shear stress acting on the ground and on the downstream
plants; and (3) by trapping and intercepting windborne particles to further reduce their
transport capacity (Hagen and Casada 2013; Shao 2000; Wolfe and Nickling 1993).
Stronger winds are required to initiate erosion in vegetated areas. The threshold velocities
required to initiate the saltation effect of wind erosion generally increase with both leaf
area index and canopy height (Hagen and Casada 2013). Standing biomass reduces the
surface loss from abrasion by the saltating sand grains an average of 35 % (Hagen and
Casada 2013).
Land cover in Iceland is characterized by seminatural surfaces (95.2 %), while agri-
culture areas cover only 2.4 %, according to the Corine land classification system (Na-
tional Land Survey of Iceland 2009). Plowing to remove tephra is only possible on a very
limited part of these agricultural areas. Removal of tephra and recovery of an ecosystem
thus depend mainly on natural processes. Recovery via extant vegetation and re-
colonization will likely play a role in the post-eruptive natural revegetation and succession
processes. Efficient post-event buildup of ecosystems depends on natural regeneration
ability of the site, through species, microsite, and successional patterns (Titus and
Tsuyuzaki 2003). Tephra-induced changes exert strong selective pressures, by filtering
intolerant species out of the community (Maun 2004). A species’ response to disturbance is
typically classified into three processes: tolerance, avoidance, and regeneration (Burylo
et al. 2012; Lavorel and Garnier 2002). Tolerance to tephra-fall is very dependent on the
vegetation’s height, as partial burial is easier to withstand than complete burial (Burylo
et al. 2012). Experience from volcanoes in Japan shows that a species’ survival following
an eruption occurs either via a seed bank or through vegetative recovery, provided that
disturbance gradients such as the thickness of the tephra-fall and/or the ground surface
stability do not exceed the species’ tolerance (Tsuyuzaki 2009; Tsuyuzaki and Hase 2005).
Post-eruptive erosion can also be beneficial if buried plants are uncovered in time to aid in
the recovery.
Healthy ecosystems bounce back more quickly after tephra-fall. Surface stabilization is
achieved, as the tephra is removed into the soil more quickly via root action and by adding
new organic material onto the surface. Surviving vegetation provides a local source of
seeds, while the shelter provided by vegetation both living and dead reduces secondary
transport. In areas with little or no vegetation, on the other hand, the fallen tephra is
unstable and easily moved repeatedly by erosion, causing further abrasive damage. This
effect was clearly observed in S Iceland after the recent eruptions. Research on the Hekla
eruption of 1104 AD indicates a rapid surface stabilization of areas with deep vegetation
cover, due to the vegetation subsequently growing through 35 cm of tephra. Other areas,
by contrast, were affected by erosion cutting into the underlying sediments and experi-
enced prolonged phases of instability, with discrete episodes of surface transport; such
processes continued until 1300 AD (Dugmore et al. 2007). History thus suggests that DRR
actions to produce healthy ecosystems can lessen post-eruptive tephra transport, producing
fewer incidents of low air quality, less disruption, and reduced cleanup, resulting in less
cost to society and better human and ecosystem health.
The degraded common rangelands in the highlands of Iceland are especially vulnerable
to tephra-fall events. Eroded surfaces like these, which are barren or have a partial
vegetation cover of sparse and low-growing plants, are easily disrupted. The resilience of
this rangeland to catastrophic events can be drastically improved by reclamation efforts, as
well as by reducing the grazing intensity. Diminished dependence on land use in certain
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123
high-risk areas would lower the country-wide risk of societal disturbance by tephra-fall
events. Improved overall ecosystem status could also provide future options for changed
post-eruptive land use, initiated as emergency short-term solutions or as a permanent land-
use change. Risk reduction actions have additional positive spin-offs, including decreased
erosion, increased soil fertility and water-holding capacity, and preservation or enhance-
ment of carbon stocks, biodiversity, and wildlife habitat, providing health and recreational
benefits.
8 Effective governance and policies
Land-use practices affect ecological processes in several vital ways, causing changes to the
composition, structure, and function of ecosystems. Environmental laws and agricultural
incentives both influence land use, but policy changes or new incentives are often needed
to implement management practices aiming for long-term environmental goals. Effective
governance of DRR requires an alignment of policies, including those pertaining to
agriculture, land-use planning/zoning, natural resource management, climate change
mitigation through revegetation, and restoration of native forests. Coherent legislation,
cross-sector integration, and effective knowledge sharing are all needed to make ecosys-
tem-based DRR approaches successful and to maximize their potential benefits. In Iceland,
the following policies need to be taken into consideration when designing DRR approaches
to tephra-fall.
8.1 Agricultural policies
Agricultural areas in Iceland are mainly in the lowlands, below 200 m.a.s.l., and cover
\1.2 % of the country’s total land area, whereas potentially they could cover an estimated
\6 % (Snæbjo
¨rnsson et al. 2010). Traditional agriculture is based on rangeland grazing
and on haymaking for indoor feeding during winter.
Agricultural subsidies have put pressure on Iceland’s ecosystems. From the 1950s to the
early 1980s, subsidies rewarded production, leading to an increased number of sheep until
production limitation quotas were set in 1978 and revised in 1985. Positive changes were
brought about through the work of the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland, which has
battled land degradation since 1907 (Olgeirsson 2007). In recent decades, two voluntary
land restoration incentive programs, ‘‘The Farmers Heal the Land’’ (since 1990) and ‘‘The
Land Improvement Fund’’ (since 2003), have led to farmland improvement, moving the
initiative and responsibility from the state to the local authorities and land users. A policy
change in 2000 encouraged sustainability, as the Icelandic government signed a contract
with sheep farmers on partial cross-compliance agricultural support. Participation is vol-
untary; farmers meeting the land-use quality criteria get up to 22.5 % more in subsidies.
Under this program, grazing should be sustainable on land in acceptable condition.
However, from an environmental perspective, the criteria are not stringent enough, and
continued land use is allowed if improvement plans are made. Furthermore, the definition
of ‘‘sustainable land use’’ is not scientific, but instead based on criteria agreed upon
between the sheep farmers and the government. Sanctions against overexploitation are
limited. Laws to control grazing on degraded land exist in theory (for example, Act.
6/1986, 17/1964), but in practice any attempts to enforce them have not led to real grazing
control.
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123
A global comparison of case studies suggests that, in seven out of eight cases, the
economic consequences of land degradation are much higher than the costs of related
inaction, even when the costs of degradation are defined only in terms of decreased crop
yields (Nkonya et al. 2011). Reasons for failing to take action against land degradation are
often based on policy (Braun et al. 2012). Improved land health and the improved economy
of rural areas could be obtained if agricultural policies had less emphasis on production and
more of a focus on environmental values. This finding is in line with a recent synthesis by
OECD (2010) on the linkage of agriculture policy and rural development, suggesting that,
faced with heterogeneity in rural areas, the continued shift from a sectoral emphasis toward
place-based policies is likely to lead to increasingly effective policies.
8.2 Land-use planning and wilderness protection in the central highlands
Iceland’s interior highlands are uninhabited, yet they are influenced by land-use planning
and socioeconomic pressures. They are important as common grazing areas for lowland
sheep-farming communities. Each municipality manages its adjacent areas, which extend
toward the center of the country. Legislation passed in 1998 (Act. 58/1998) to clarify the
ownership of the highlands provided a legal basis for the Icelandic state to own both the
land and the land rights that are not subject to private ownership. This act led to an ongoing
legal procedure disputing private and governmental claims. Stakeholders are diverse, with
conflicting economic interests. Farmers, landowners, municipalities, power companies,
various types of tourism, recreational users, and nature conservationists all have divergent
visions of nature and land use. New legislation on planning (Act 123 of 2010) is intended
to provide a coordination platform for sectoral plans regarding these central highlands.
Land-use intensification generally leads to reduction in both response diversity and
functional redundancy, thereby reducing an ecosystem’s resilience to future disturbances
(Laliberte et al. 2010). Successful resource management should aid in ecosystem buildup,
not add to the chronic stress that makes the effects of the disturbances permanent (Mori
et al. 2013).
8.3 Rural policies
Rural development often involves areas with declining income, declining employment, and
a falling population; it is concerned with stimulating economic growth, creating new
sources of income, and preventing the further decline of rural populations (OECD 2009).
Iceland is no exception: More than half of the population lives in the city of Reykjavı
´k,
after persistent urbanization and depopulation of rural areas during the last century. About
7 % of the nation lives in areas with small local population clusters, where diverse em-
ployment and services cannot be maintained (Bjarnason 2010). Remote marginal lands
face the possibility of being withdrawn from production; they experience high transport
costs and are only marginally profitable. They are also more likely to be linked with
adverse environmental effects, such as erosion due to mismanagement. Agriculture and
rural development in these sites could benefit from a diversification of policies.
8.4 Climate change mitigation through revegetation
Increasing carbon sequestration in the soil and in vegetation through reclamation of de-
graded or desertified land is an important part of Iceland’s climate change actions for the
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123
UNFCCC (Art. 3.4 of the Kyoto Protocol). In Iceland, revegetation on 83.21 kha removed
167 Gg CO
2
eq. (Net—Net accounting) in 2010, compared to 1990 (Environment Agency
of Iceland 2012). Revegetation is also a part of ten major tasks of an Icelandic govern-
mental action plan from 2010 to curb greenhouse gas emissions. This strategy aims for a
50–75 % overall reduction by 2050, compared to 1990, yet the trend from 1990 to 2010
suggests a 30 % increase in these emissions (Environment Agency of Iceland 2012). The
effectiveness of this policy goes hand in hand with the funding provided: Since 2003, funds
to the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland have decreased by 30 %. To reach the emission
reduction target, more effort should be put into the removal of carbon through revegetation.
Early action accumulates more carbon with more climate benefits.
9 Reclaiming vulnerable land and building healthy ecosystems
National strategies for the restoration of native Icelandic woodlands, set forth in 2007, aim
to increase forest cover to 10 % of the island in the future (Ministry for the Environment
2007). Various projects contribute to this effort, such as revegetation by the Soil Con-
servation Service of Iceland and regional afforestation programs. Birch (Betula pubescens)
has been the only forest-forming tree species in Iceland since the Holocene. Birch and
willow species (Salix spp.) have good potential for natural regeneration, often being early
colonizers in natural succession and key species in ecosystem development. On severely
degraded land, land reclamation is often necessary prior to afforestation to stabilize the
surface, halt soil erosion, restore ecosystem functioning, and provide sites for seeds.
Restoration strategies for Iceland’s native forests are well presented in the Heklusko
´gar
project (Heklusko
´gar 2015). This 900 km
2
woodland restoration of native birch and wil-
lows near Hekla volcano, S Iceland, aims to reduce the potential damage from future Hekla
eruptions by increasing ecosystem resilience and limiting the secondary distribution of
tephra to nearby regions. When the project began in 2005, Heklusko
´gar was mostly
comprised of desertified land at a fairly low elevation. Forest remnants, historical accounts,
and place names, however, suggested that forests had grown there in the past which, in the
post-settlement period, were degraded over time as human land use and tephra-fall events
led to severe erosion.
Ecosystem functioning in Heklusko
´gar now remains hampered by nutrient-limited soil,
low water-holding capacity, unstable surfaces, and extensive frost heaving, which together
limit its natural recovery and the establishment of seedlings. Revegetation through fertil-
ization and seeding helps to overcome these ecological thresholds, stimulating a natural
succession of local flora and aiding ecosystem development. The extent of the area and the
input needed, however, place practical limits on this otherwise very successful woodland
restoration attempt. Self-seeding is promoted by strategic placement of tree seedlings,
which in the future will act as sources for seed dispersal and further colonization by wind-
dispersed species.
The success of the startup at Heklusko
´gar is credited to the fact that planning and
management is a joint effort of various stakeholders: landowners, governmental officials,
scientists, and extension officers. It represents an alignment of policies toward a united
goal of sustainability and DRR. A similar buy-in by all stakeholders will be necessary to
expand the Heklusko
´gar concept to areas near other active Icelandic volcanoes. This
expansion will first, however, require a determination of which areas will see most benefit
from the Heklusko
´gar approach; such areas may not be those that are most at risk from a
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123
tephra-fall event. Predictions of volcanic impact zones are in general a difficult task that
often constrains DRR action (Bignami et al. 2012), since in Iceland, as stated above, the
whole island can endure damage in the largest eruptions. Areas of influence for smaller to
medium eruptions, however, are usually regional, with a directional extent. In these re-
gional focus areas, a new risk assessment for volcanic hazards, currently in progress, will
provide the information needed to plan a more detailed, long-term DRR action.
Identifying high-risk zones, based either on the expected frequency of volcanic erup-
tions or on their degree of impact, can aid in directing DRR actions, as well as improving
their ease of execution and increasing their expected social value. Areas that face multiple
natural hazard risks (e.g., of different frequency or magnitude, as well as possibly inter-
acting risks) could arrive at effective multi-risk approaches through a cost/benefit analysis
of DRR actions. Actions such as those represented by the Heklusko
´gar project are likely to
be most successful outside of the zone of extreme impacts, from areas of medium impact
toward the edge of the impact zone. In zones where extreme impacts are likely, any
preventive DRR action is likely to have limited value. There, only post-eruptive
revegetation can stimulate natural succession on fresh volcanic deposits.
Preliminary results, based on the location of Iceland’s most active volcanoes, the fre-
quency of tephra layers in the soil (Larsen and Gı
´slason 2013), and the prevailing wind
patterns (Jo
´nsson 1990,2010), suggest that areas in S and SE Iceland are the most likely to
experience tephra-fall events (Fig. 1).This region of expected tephra-fall, stretching
270 km along the southeast coast, is also considered ‘‘fragile’’ in the sense of rural de-
velopment, with negative trends regarding population, age structure, and employment
(Bjarnason 2010). The population in this area has fallen by 13 % during the last decade
(Bjarnason 2010). Cultural and behavioral barriers have to be addressed. Rural commu-
nities in S and SE Iceland, for instance, may be unwilling to change their traditional land-
use patterns and thereby affect rural cultural events, such as the autumn sheep gathering
from communal areas. There may also be uncertainty about whether property rights based
on tradition will be lost, if this type of land use is discontinued. Information could over-
come these barriers, so that resistance to change does not limit progress toward sustainable
land use. Changes through regulatory governance and involving local stakeholders can
guide these rural communities toward a more sustainable use of natural resources.
Natural systems have large absorption capacities; yet once tipping points are reached,
they can suddenly crash, with devastating consequences for other economic and social
systems (United Nations ESCAP 2013). Ecosystems at risk should receive priority for
management interventions to enhance their resilience or restore the desired stability do-
main. Building resilience will mean addressing a nexus of converging threats. One key is to
understand how land use exacerbates episodic disturbances that can reshape systems.
Effective land-use planning can be applied as DRR, diminishing existing stress by building
up healthy ecosystems, thereby enhancing the ecosystems’ resilience and reducing societal
vulnerability to natural hazards (EEA 2010). Land-use planning does, however, have un-
resolved challenges. Few disaster risk management systems have been able to employ
land-use planning or to influence investment policies to encourage effective disaster risk
management (Johnson 2011; UNISDR 2011).
Planning for recovery after a disaster is likewise missing in most countries, with a few
exceptions such as China, Canada, and New Zealand, where disaster recovery is linked to
broader projects of governance (Mitchell 2006). Iceland could benefit from forming a
recovery plan for ecosystems that have endured tephra-fall, following New Zealand’s
example of making sustainability the guiding principle of all public actions taken during
the recovery phase of disasters (Mitchell 2006).
Nat Hazards
123
The state of an ecosystem determines its tolerance to disturbances and affects its re-
covery time (Grandy et al. 2012; Lindig-Cisneros et al. 2006). The extensive ecosystem
degradation in Iceland, coupled with the island’s short growing season, ensures that post-
eruptive ecosystem recovery is a long-term process. A preventive DRR approach through
healthier ecosystems, combined with a post-event approach of planning for sustainability,
could speed up this recovery. Positive tipping points may occur in the recovery process,
when human interventions in degraded ecosystems allow their processes and populations to
recover (Olgeirsson 2007; Westley et al. 2011). Ecosystem functioning and the traits that
lead to enhanced ecosystem resilience and succession in Iceland need to be explored while
planning this ecosystem recovery process. It is within this context that the Heklusko
´gar
concept is most successful. With its effective stakeholder participation, alignment of
policies, use of local flora, and heterogeneous solutions tailored to fit the local environ-
ment, the concept can be transferred to other regions that are likely to be at risk of tephra-
fall.
10 Conclusions
As volcanic activity in Iceland is expected to rise in the future, increased natural hazard
risks can be anticipated. Eruptions in 2010–2011 proved the value of pre-disaster planning
for some volcanic hazards, but a new focus is needed on pre-disaster mitigation responses
for the effects of tephra-fall on vegetation. As outlined in the UNISDR Hyogo Framework,
healthy ecosystems and environmental management are key actions in disaster risk re-
duction (DRR). The Hyogo Framework further recommends that policymakers take six
steps toward DRR: assessment, prevention, mitigation, monitoring, early warning, and
preparedness (UN-ISDR 2013). The assessment here of the tephra-fall problem has shown
that vulnerability exists due to current land use in Iceland and that the underlying risk
factors could be reduced. Prevention of tephra-fall events is impossible, but improved
ecosystem health could prevent further degradation and move systems away from negative
ecosystem tipping points (Sidle et al. 2013). Mitigation has been shown to improve
ecosystem resilience. Monitoring improves knowledge on ecosystem status, detects subtle
signs of resilience loss (Sidle et al. 2013), and suggests improvements. Such monitoring is
important to set up in Iceland. Early warning immediately prior to events is irrelevant here,
as ecosystem processes operate on long-time scales. Preparedness can be obtained from
studying past events and through sustainable practices. Societal DRR benefits will include
the economic and human health benefits of healthy ecosystems and their services prior to
an eruption, while, afterward, those ecosystems that survive tephra-fall will reduce the
secondary transport of tephra. Post-eruptive benefits to society will be faster recovery for
the economy, transport, and agriculture, and, first and foremost, better air quality.
The Hyogo Framework is due to expire in 2015, and a wide consultation process is
currently shaping its successor, the post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction. The
new Sendai DRR framework was endorsed at the Third UN World Conference for Disaster
Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan on March 14–18, 2015 (UNISDR 2015). At its core are
four priorities for action: (1) understanding disaster risk, (2) strengthening disaster risk
governance to manage disaster risk, (3) investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience,
and 4) enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response and to ‘‘Build Back Better’
in recovery, rehabilitation, and reconstruction. These priorities are directly aligned with our
approach here: (1) we have strengthened the evidence base for an ecosystem approach to
Nat Hazards
123
DRR for volcanic tephra-fall; (2) we have pointed out governance issues in Iceland that
need to be strengthened for effective DRR; (3) we have suggested an alignment of various
policies regarding land-use, land degradation, and rural development in order to strengthen
the sustainable land-use management of ecosystems and form an integrated natural re-
source management approach that incorporates DRR; and (4) we have suggested that
heightened ecosystem resilience is the key to disaster preparedness and to efficient
recovery.
Vulnerability to tephra-fall is dynamic, changing in both space and time, and depends
on a complex relationship between nature and society. Societal changes in governance, the
understanding of hazards, technology, coping mechanisms (before, during, and after), and
the resources available to DRR or post-event response actions all fluctuate over time.
Consider, for instance, the difference in vulnerability between the pre-industrial subsis-
tence farming community, where the effects of major eruptions could lead to nationwide
crisis, depression, and famine (Thordarson and Self 2003), and the modern society that can
follow online the real-time measurements of activity during an ongoing volcanic eruption.
All communities need the skills, capacity, and experience to cope and adapt. Among these,
an awareness of risk and vulnerability can enable informed decision making. We have
linked here volcanic eruptions to ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction and the need for
sustainable land-use management, although the use of ecosystems as ‘‘bioshields’’ is not a
panacea and should be accompanied by other measures, e.g., early warning systems, dis-
aster preparedness, and emergency actions, to decrease people’s vulnerability to natural
hazards (Feagin et al. 2010). However, if Iceland’s currently unsustainable land-use
practices are continued, the country’s vulnerability to tephra-fall will increase; the mini-
mum benefit of DRR would be to limit that increase in vulnerability. Alternately, a weak
framework of legislation and policy, poor land-use planning, and inertia to change are
some of the economic, political, scientific, and social components contributing the most to
environmental degradation.
Ecosystem services are essential for sustainable livelihoods, both immediately and in
the long term. The restored habitats of an ecosystem-based DRR effort will improve the
capacity of both ecosystems and people to withstand future extreme natural hazards.
Investments in sustainable land management can offer cost-effective solutions (De Groot
et al. 2013) to reducing a community’s vulnerability to natural hazards such as volcanic
eruptions. It costs less (in economic, social, and political terms) to prevent or mitigate
hazards than it does to clean up and fund recovery after a disaster (Anderson 1990).
Ecosystem-based DRR in Iceland could also merge the goals of sustainable and rural
development. Combining ecosystem restoration in degraded areas with long-term views of
rural development, nature protection, agriculture, and resource management leads to a
proactive, cost-effective alternative to the reactive, emergency-response expenses, while
pooling limited resources for rural, agriculture, and ecological development provides more
leverage toward sustainability and resilience. In the long term, DRR investments have a
high rate of return and contribute to sustainable economic development (European Com-
mission 2013). But investing in prevention, versus only reacting to disasters, requires
political will, resources, and an adherence to long-term political strategies that recognize
the value of ecosystems and the need for DRR solutions.
The key messages presented in this article are not only relevant for DRR in Iceland but
are also valid for other regions, especially in other volcanic areas where people depend
strongly on natural resources, where environmental conditions are degraded, and where the
growth of vegetation is limited by harsh environmental conditions. The innovative ap-
proach suggested here aims to reduce environmental vulnerabilities in order to reduce the
Nat Hazards
123
primary and secondary effects of volcanic tephra on ecosystems and human health. The
opportunities that effective ecosystem management provides for DRR, in terms of de-
creasing the vulnerability of both people and ecosystems to future extreme events, should
be given high priority in disaster management planning. Encouraging the sustainable use
and appropriate management of fragile ecosystems now has an additional aim: to reduce
risk and vulnerabilities to natural hazards.
Acknowledgments I thank Nancy Marie Brown, Magnu
´sH.Jo
´hannsson (SCSI), Arna Bjo
¨rk
Þorsteinsdo
´ttir (SCSI), Guðmundur Halldo
´rsson (SCSI), and anonymous reviewers for their help in im-
proving the manuscript.
Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Inter-
national License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution,
and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the
source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
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... Our results show that mitigating the risks of coastal disasters such as tsunami, flood, storm surge, and coastal inundation are the primary functions of Eco-DRR (Glaser et al., 2015;Huq and Stubbings, 2015;Seijger et al., 2015). In terms of the regional distribution, nine (Keenan, 2016;Glaser et al., 2015;Sejiger et al., 2015;Arnold, 2012;Kolahi et al., 2012;Ahmed et al., 2013;Ágústsdóttir, 2015). ...
Thesis
This study focuses on the potential for governing coastal disaster risks in developing countries through a mangrove ecosystem-based approach to understand the factors contribute to the success of coastal, mangrove ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction strategies. The interactive governance theory is utilized to understand the relations between the social and natural systems at the multi-levels, but especially at the local level. The research employed a mixed qualitative and quantitative method, including a review of literature and policy documents, field survey, interview and focus group discussion. The case study of Indonesia and India are selected since they have both suffered recently from coastal disasters including the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004 and coastal erosion induced flooding and using mangrove ecosystems as protection against ongoing coastal disaster. The research shows that the interactive governance approach and governability assessment framework is useful for assessing the relevance of Eco-DRR. It produces four potential governing pathways which could increase governability of Eco-DRR, namely 1) coordination; 2) goodness of fit; 3) social mobilization, and 4) learning and adaptiveness. However, the research also revealed that despite government support, both in Indonesia and India, the mangrove Eco-DRR programmes are more projects undertaken primarily by non-governmental and financed by foreign actors. This raises the question whether coastal developing countries have the capacity and resources to undertake programmatic, systematic coastal disaster risk reduction governance in the short and long term, addressing the growing long-term coastal disaster risks as a result of climate variability and change.
Research
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