Mývatn Research Station

Updated 2016-05-17

The Mývatn Research Station is an ecological field research institute under the Icelandic Ministry for the Environment. It operates in close cooperation with the University of Iceland. Its main task is to carry out and stimulate research that aids conservation and management of the Mývatn-Laxá nature protection area of international interest. Research activities are twofold: (1) long-term monitoring of the ecological situation; (2) short term research projects focusing on certain aspects of the ecosystem. Ecological monitoring started in 1975. It focuses on the entire food web of the lake. The nature of Mývatn and Laxá Myvatn is a large lake at the edge of the volcanic zone cutting through North Iceland. 
Its water wells up in a number of springs on the lake shore. 
Craters and volcanoes dominate the landscape. 
Several famous volcanoes are in the vicinity such as Hverfjall (Hverfell), Krafla 
and the Threngslaborgir crater row
. Volcanic activity in the region gives rare insight into the process of continental drift.
 Many strange lava formations occur, Dimmuborgir and Höfdi being the most famous ones, 
also the pseudocrates (rootless vents) which are characteristic for the lake shore. The lake itself and its outflow the River Laxá is the most fertile freshwater system in Iceland.
 The bird life and fishing (including Atlantic Salmon) is extremely rich. Owing to the position
 of Iceland between two continents and on the border between the arctic and boreal ecozones the species composition of the biota is unique. The richness 
is based on phosphate-rich groundwater, relatively high insolation 
and optimal water depth for aquatic plants and waterfowl. Fishing and harvesting of duck eggs has always been important for the local household.
 Hydro- and geothermal power extraction as well as mining activities
 are currently the main threats to the landscape and ecology of the area. The area attracts large numbers of tourists. The local nature undergoes substantial changes because of soil erosion, volcanic activity, mining, geothermal power utilization, agriculture, changes in grazing regime, structures for communication and other building activities. The area is a protected nature reserve, managed by the Environment and Food Agency of Iceland
, backed up by scientific information from the Myvatn Research Station. The Myvatn Research Station The Myvatn Research Station is a research institute focusing on Lake Mývatn and the outflowing river Laxá and their water catchment, with the overall aims of understanding and foreseeing changes in the ecosystem and its surroundings. Monitoring of the lake biota The overall aim of monitoring is to follow trends in the biota in order to detect undesired changes that may be caused by human activities and call for management actions. The monitoring is based on simple, well tested and ecologically meaningful methods that tackle various levels of the foodweb to maximize interpretability. Most monitoring projects are backed up by focused short-term research projects and are designed to yield usable data for scientific publications. The monitoring is carried out in cooperation with the University of Iceland, University of Wisconsin (USA), the Nature Center of North-East Iceland, the Institute of Freshwater Fisheries, and the Hólar College. Monitoring of other areas For comparative purpose the Myvatn Research Station is actively engaged in monitoring of two other wetland areas in North Iceland, those of Svartárvatn and Svarfadardalur. Food-web research The monitoring has revealed decadal fluctuations in the food web that have generated a lot of interest. Our research has focused on the potential drivers of the fluctuations, especially the interaction between the midge larvae and their food organisms (diatoms). We also do research on the effect of fluctuations in the populations of food organisms (midges and crustaceans) on the population dynamics of the vertebrates feeding on them (fish and waterfowl). Palaeoenvironment There is also an emphasis on long term palaeorecords of the lake and terrestrial ecosystems, including human impact. The research station organises, carries out or supports research on the palaeoenvironment of Lake Mývatn and the surrounding landscape. The main projects include (1) mapping of Viking Age turf wall systems revealing land division and management in the early days of Iceland’s history; (2) mapping and dating of charcoal pits and other features related to deforestation in the medieval period; (3) detailed reconstruction of the lake biota of Mývatn from remains in the lake sediment; (4) archaeological excavation of a midden, covering the whole historical period (870 to present) revealing the history of human use of the local resources; (5) historical documents of wildlife abundance. All this research is carried out in collaboration with a number of universities in the US., the UK and Scandinavia.

Time frame

Project time span
1975 -
Data collection
1975 -
Data processing
1975 -
Data reporting
1975 -

Contact information

Contact person
- -
Árni Einarsson, director

Parameters and Media

Not specified


Regions studied
Stations or areas where observations are made

Mývatn Research Station

Data availability

Data availability and access


Samples/specimens archived in specimen banks?

Methods & Procedures

Procedures and methodology used for, e.g., sampling and sample storage, sample pretreatment, extraction and analysis, including which laboratories are involved, references to methods employed, etc.

Lake biota, (1) All ducks, swans and geese, (2) All fish species, (3) All aquatic insect species, (4) Most cladoceran Crustacea, (5) Nutrients in inflowing water, (6) Plankton, (7) Benthic macrophytes, (8) Water temperature, (9) Ice cover.

Additional Information

Is this a bi- AND multi-lateral project (i.e. a project involving cooperation between different countries)?
Other institutes involved in the project

Icelandic Ministry for the Environment (Iceland MoE)

Is this project reporting to other organizations/programmes?

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