About Tungnaáröræfi

The area north of Tungnaá is all volcanic in origin, and many of the largest postglacial lavas came from there, e.g. the great Þjórsárhraun lava from about 9000 years ago, which ran all the way to the sea between Þjórsá and Ölfusá. In historical times there have been at least three eruptions in this area. In 871 there was a big eruption which produced an ash layer which is called landnámslag, or the settlement layer. The Vatnaöldur ash cones formed in that eruption. In 1477 there was an eruption at Veiðivötn which formed the present landscape of small lakes. The third eruption was 1862–1864 when a fairly large lava flow was produced. All these eruptions are believed to have been part of the Bárðarbunga volcanic system.

In the Tungnaáröræfi region there is a large area of desert where less than 5% of the land is vegetated. The lavas are, however, often covered by lichen (Stereocaulon species).

Two specialized and rare habitat types occur in this volcanic area: the breiskjuhraunavist (dominated by Stereocaulon species lichen) in the Skaftáreldahraun lava; and vikravist (named after pumice) elsewhere in the area.

The breiskjuhraunavist habitat type takes its name from the lichen which covers the rougher parts of the lava, coloring it grey. Woolly fringe moss (grey) and dense fringe moss (yellow-green) are also prominent. Woolly fringe moss grows where the substrate is drier, on hills or ridges, and dense fringe moss dominates in hollows which collect snow and are damper.

The vikravist habitat type is named after the pumice and ash which are common in the soil. Vegetation is very sparse and low-growing, shaped by the constant movement of the pumice. Some high order plants survive there, such as moss campion, sea campion, thrift, and arctic fescue.

Wildlife is sparse. A few species of bird nest in the area. Common species are snow bunting, northern wheatear, golden plover, purple sandpiper, and meadow pipit. The great northern diver can be seen on lakes which have trout. Foxes and field mice are the only wild mammals.