Vatnajökull National Park - Dynamic Nature of Fire and Ice

© IUCN/Bastian Bertzky
Country
Iceland
Inscribed in
2019
Criterion
(viii)
The conservation outlook for this site has been assessed as "good" in the latest assessment cycle. Explore the Conservation Outlook Assessment for the site below. You have the option to access the summary, or the detailed assessment.
This iconic volcanic region covers an area of over 1,400,000 ha, nearly 14% of Iceland's territory. It numbers ten central volcanoes, eight of which are subglacial. Two of these are among the most active in Iceland. The interaction between volcanoes and the rifts that underlie the Vatnajökull ice cap takes many forms, the most spectacular of which is the jökulhlaup – a sudden flood caused by the breach of the margin of a glacier during an eruption. This recurrent phenomenon has led to the emergence of unique sandur plains, river systems and rapidly evolving canyons. Volcanic areas are home to endemic groundwater fauna that has survived the Ice Age. © UNESCO
© IUCN/Bastian Bertzky
© IUCN/Bastian Bertzky

Summary

2020 Conservation Outlook

Finalised on
02 Dec 2020
Good
The World Heritage values of Vatnajökull National Park are in good condition and are likely to be maintained for the foreseeable future. The site is adequately protected by various laws and regulations, and has an effective and mature governance and management system, with a notably high level of local input to decision making. There is also a comprehensive management strategy and action plan in place, which are subject to regular review and updating, as well as an effective long-term monitoring system. Current threats are low and include occasional illegal off-road driving in the backcountry and some highly localised disturbances (e.g. trampling, littering, crowding) around tourism hotspots. Climate change does not threaten the site's World Heritage values as such, but will clearly play a key role in the future of the site. The conservation status of the endemic groundwater fauna (not recognized as a World Heritage value) is not clear and could be assessed. Provided that current conservation measures are maintained, and the World Heritage Committee and IUCN recommendations from 2019 addressed, the site should be able to conserve its values in the long term. 

Current state and trend of VALUES

Good
Trend
Stable
The property was inscribed less than a year ago, and all the World Heritage values are still in a good and stable condition. Occasional illegal off-road driving in the backcountry and some highly localised disturbances (e.g. trampling, littering, crowding) around tourism hotspots are the main current threats to the property's values. Climate change will clearly play a key role in the future of the property, and is already evident in the ongoing and rapid retreat of Vatnajökull’s many outlet glaciers, potentially leading to the complete loss of the Vatnajökull ice cap and hence the interaction of fire and ice. However, as noted in the nomination, this process may take centuries and provides an important natural laboratory for studying the glacial, glaciovolcanic, geomorphological and ecological dynamics in response to climate change. This is reflected in the nomination’s focus on processes, and does not threaten the property's OUV as such. (IUCN, 2019)

Overall THREATS

Low Threat
The property covers over 25% of the central highlands of Iceland and extends onto lowland areas to the south to cover a total of approximately 12% of the country. The area is largely intact and remote from habituated areas with some 85% of the property classified as wilderness. There has been no destructive human development within the property’s boundaries (World Heritage Committee, 2019). Due to the nature of the property, natural hazards and disasters always pose a risk to park employees, visitors, facilities and local communities, whether caused by volcanic events, earthquakes, extreme weather events or jökulhlaups (State Party of Iceland, 2018). Climate change will clearly play a key role in the future of the property, and is already evident in the ongoing and rapid retreat of Vatnajökull’s many outlet glaciers, potentially leading to the complete loss of the Vatnajökull ice cap and hence the interaction of fire and ice. Ongoing traditional use (such as sheep grazing, hunting, fishing, egg collecting, mushroom and berry picking) is well regulated and does not pose any significant threat to the World Heritage values of the property. However, certain locations within the property are prone to human disturbance from trampling, littering, crowding and/or off-road driving (IUCN, 2019).

Overall PROTECTION and MANAGEMENT

Mostly Effective
The property is adequately protected by various laws and regulations, and managed by an effective management agency, supported at all levels by the Icelandic government, local municipalities and businesses. There is mature governance, with a notably high level of local input to decision making. There is also a comprehensive management strategy and action plan in place, which are subject to regular review and updating, as well as an effective long-term monitoring system. The property has an adequate and secure budget to cover essential staff and operations, but here is a need to sustain and further increase resourcing to ensure the management needs of the property are fully met. (World Heritage Committee, 2019)

Risk management is a major issue in this highly dynamic setting where natural hazards are common. Other essential management issues include preventing wear and tear of nature at popular visitor destinations within the property, resolving visitor use conflicts, and addressing occasional illegal activities in the property when they arise. There is a need to develop and maintain adequate facilities for educating, managing and guiding the ever-increasing numbers of visitors. There is also a need to continue to work with local communities, organizations and businesses around the park to maintain their involvement and help them benefit from the park. (World Heritage Committee, 2019)

Full assessment

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Finalised on
02 Dec 2020

Description of values

One of the world's most iconic volcanic landscapes

Criterion
(viii)
The coexistence and ongoing interaction of an active oceanic rift on land, a mantle plume, the atmosphere and an ice cap, which has varied in size and extent over the past 2.8 million years, make the property unique in a global context (World Heritage Committee, 2019). Iceland includes the only part of the actively spreading Mid-Atlantic Ridge exposed above sea level, with the tectonic plates on either side moving apart by some 19 mm each year. This movement is accommodated in rift zones, two of which, the Eastern and Northern Volcanic Zones, pass through the property. Underneath their intersection is a mantle plume providing a generous source of magma. The property contains ten central volcanoes, eight of which are subglacial, and two of the latter are among the four most active in Iceland (World Heritage Committee, 2019). The property addresses several of the gaps identified in IUCN's thematic studies on volcanoes - it includes the iconic Laki (or Lakagígar) volcanic fissure, the Odaðahraun lava plain, and the Herðubreið tuya peak recognized as Iceland's national mountain (Wood, 2009; Casadevall et al., 2019).

Outstanding representation of on-going tectonic, volcanic and glaciovolcanic processes

Criterion
(viii)
The property comprises an entire system where magma and the lithosphere are incessantly interacting with the cryosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere to create extremely dynamic and diverse geological processes and landforms that are currently underrepresented or not found on the World Heritage List. It was here that the phrase “Fire and Ice” was coined. These Earth system interactions are constantly building and reshaping the property, creating remarkably diverse landscapes and a wide variety of tectonic, volcanic and glaciovolcanic features. The interaction between volcanoes and the rifts that underlie the Vatnajökull ice cap takes many forms, the most spectacular of which is the jökulhlaup – a sudden flood caused by the breach of the margin of a glacier during an eruption. (World Heritage Committee, 2019)

Outstanding representation of tectonic, volcanic and glaciovolcanic features

Criterion
(viii)
The on-going earth system interactions are creating remarkably diverse landscapes and a wide variety of tectonic, volcanic and glaciovolcanic features. Especially interesting and unique in this regard are the basaltic lava shields (Iceland shields), volcanic fissures and cone rows, vast flood lavas, and features of ice dominant glacio-volcanism, such as tuyas and tindar (ridges) of brown hyaloclastites, erupted in fissure eruptions beneath ice age glaciers. The latter occur nowhere else in the world in such numbers. Geothermal heat and subglacial eruptions produce meltwater and jökulhlaups that maintain globally unique sandur plains, to the north and south of the Vatnajökull ice cap, as well as rapidly evolving canyons and river systems. In addition, the property contains a dynamic array of glacial- and geomorphological features, created by expanding or retreating glaciers responding to changes in climate. (World Heritage Committee, 2019)

Outstanding natural laboratory for Earth sciences

Criterion
(viii)
The property contains a dynamic array of glacial- and geomorphological features, created by expanding or retreating glaciers responding to changes in climate. These features can be easily accessed and explored at the snouts of Vatnajökull’s many outlet glaciers and their forelands, especially in the southern lowlands, making the property a flagship glacial research location. The Vatnajökull ice cap reached its greatest extent by the end of the 18th century and has on average been retreating since then. Recently, its retreat has accelerated in response to global warming, making the property a prime locality for exploring the impacts of climate change on glaciers and the landforms left behind when they retreat. The well exposed volcanic features of the property have also been used as analogues for similar features on the planet Mars. (World Heritage Committee, 2019)
Supports unique groundwater fauna associated with glaciovolcanic environments
The volcanic zones of the property hold endemic groundwater fauna that has survived the ice age and single-celled organisms prosper in the inhospitable environment of subglacial lakes that may replicate conditions on early Earth and the icy satellites of Jupiter and Saturn (World Heritage Committee, 2019). The fissure swarms of the rift zones hold two endemic groundwater amphipods, Crymostygius thingvallensis and Crangonyx islandicus, representing the first known animal species worldwide to survive glaciation in refugia under the ice shield of the ice age (State Party of Iceland, 2018). 

Assessment information

Low Threat
The property covers over 25% of the central highlands of Iceland and extends onto lowland areas to the south to cover a total of approximately 12% of the country. The area is largely intact and remote from habituated areas with some 85% of the property classified as wilderness. There has been no destructive human development within the property’s boundaries (World Heritage Committee, 2019). Due to the nature of the property, natural hazards and disasters always pose a risk to park employees, visitors, facilities and local communities, whether caused by volcanic events, earthquakes, extreme weather events or jökulhlaups (State Party of Iceland, 2018). Climate change is already evident in the ongoing and rapid retreat of Vatnajökull’s many outlet glaciers, potentially leading to the complete loss of the Vatnajökull ice cap and hence the interaction of fire and ice. Ongoing traditional use (such as sheep grazing, hunting, fishing, egg collecting, mushroom and berry picking) is well regulated and does not pose any significant threat to the World Heritage values of the property. However, certain locations within the property are prone to human disturbance from trampling, littering, crowding and/or off-road driving (IUCN, 2019).
Tourism/ visitors/ recreation
(Disturbance from trampling, littering, crowding and/or off-road driving)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Localised(<5%)
Certain tourism hotspots such as&nbsp;Jökulsárlón or&nbsp;Skaftafell&nbsp;in the south of the property are already experiencing very high visitor numbers. This can result in localised&nbsp;disturbances (e.g. trampling, littering, crowding) and requires adequate visitor facilities and visitor management. In the backcountry, illegal off-road driving can also pose a problem in some locations, and is typically cited by the park administration as the most persistent threat to&nbsp;the park. (IUCN, 2019)
Invasive Non-Native/ Alien Species
(Localised spread of invasive Nootka lupine)
Very Low Threat
Inside site
, Localised(<5%)
The only invasive alien species of any concern within the&nbsp;property is the herbaceous Nootka lupine, Lupinus nootkatensis, which is spreading wildly at Skaftafell&nbsp;despite various control measures since 1994 (State Party of Iceland, 2018). This IAS does not threaten the World Heritage values of the property, but warrants continued management attention (IUCN, 2019).
Storms/Flooding
(Melting outlet glaciers and ice cap)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Widespread(15-50%)
Outside site
Climate change is already evident in the ongoing and rapid retreat of Vatnajökull’s many outlet glaciers, potentially leading to the complete loss of the Vatnajökull ice cap and hence the interaction of fire and ice. However, as noted in the nomination, this process may take centuries and provides an important natural laboratory for studying the glacial, glaciovolcanic and ecological dynamics in response to climate change. This is reflected in the nomination’s focus on processes, and does not threaten the property's OUV as such. (IUCN, 2019)
Volcanoes, Earthquakes/ Tsunamis, Avalanches/ Landslides
(Natural hazards and disasters affecting park employees, visitors, facilities and local communities)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Widespread(15-50%)
Outside site
Given the nature of the property, natural hazards and disasters always pose a risk, whether caused by volcanic events,&nbsp;earthquakes, extreme weather events or jökulhlaups&nbsp;(State Party of Iceland, 2018).&nbsp;However, there is a well developed risk assessment and management system in place, including an effective long-term monitoring system using&nbsp;space- and ground-based observations (IUCN, 2019). On-going geological processes are a key part of the property's OUV, and as such do not threaten the property's natural values, but they pose a risk to the park's employees, visitors, facilities and local communities.
Low Threat
The property covers over 25% of the central highlands of Iceland and extends onto lowland areas to the south to cover a total of approximately 12% of the country. The area is largely intact and remote from habituated areas with some 85% of the property classified as wilderness. There has been no destructive human development within the property’s boundaries (World Heritage Committee, 2019).&nbsp;Due to the nature of the property, natural hazards and disasters always pose a risk to park employees, visitors, facilities and local communities, whether caused by volcanic events,&nbsp;earthquakes, extreme weather events or jökulhlaups&nbsp;(State Party of Iceland, 2018).&nbsp;Climate change will clearly play a key role in the future of the property, and is already evident in the ongoing and rapid retreat of Vatnajökull’s many outlet glaciers, potentially leading to the complete loss of the Vatnajökull ice cap and hence the interaction of fire and ice. There is a very low threat from potential hydropower development and potential road developments and improvements, and a low threat from additional human disturbance with increasing visitor numbers (IUCN, 2019).
Renewable Energy
(Potential hydropower development)
Very Low Threat
Inside site
, Extent of threat not known
Outside site
The property and its surroundings face potential threats from further hydropower development. There appears to be continued interest in further development, as Iceland has outstanding hydroelectric power siting attributes. However, legal protections are in place to prevent such development (e.g. through the Master Plan for Nature Protection and Energy Utilisation and other legislation), and at present both the state and local communities are sensitive to the topic and appear to be primarily against further hydroelectric development. (IUCN, 2019)
Roads/ Railroads
(Potential road developments and improvements)
Very Low Threat
Inside site
, Extent of threat not known
Outside site
There is a very limited network of paved and unpaved roads within the property. Although there appear to be no plans at present for new roads within the property, there is a continued need to maintain the existing roads. At the time of inscription, the road from Dettifoss to Ásbyrgi&nbsp;(north of the inscribed property) was being upgraded to a paved road. Additional road construction&nbsp;should not be permitted, unless there is an exceptional&nbsp;justification and full prior impact assessment (IUCN, 2019).
Tourism/ visitors/ recreation
(Disturbance from trampling, littering, crowding and/or off-road driving)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Localised(<5%)
Certain tourism hotspots such as&nbsp;Jökulsárlón or&nbsp;Skaftafell&nbsp;in the south of the property are already experiencing very high visitor numbers, and these visitor numbers are likely to further increase in the coming years. This may result in localised&nbsp;disturbances (e.g. trampling, littering, crowding) and requires adequate visitor facilities and visitor management. In the backcountry, illegal off-road driving may also pose a problem in some locations. (IUCN, 2019)
Volcanoes, Earthquakes/ Tsunamis, Avalanches/ Landslides
(Natural hazards and disasters affecting park employees, visitors, facilities and local communities)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Widespread(15-50%)
Outside site
Given the nature of the property, natural hazards and disasters always pose a risk, whether caused by volcanic events,&nbsp;earthquakes, extreme weather events or jökulhlaups&nbsp;(State Party of Iceland, 2018).&nbsp;However, there is a well developed risk assessment and management system in place, including an effective long-term monitoring system using&nbsp;space- and ground-based observations (IUCN, 2019). On-going geological processes are a key part of the property's OUV, and as such do not threaten the property's natural values, but they pose a risk to the park's employees, visitors, facilities and local communities.
Storms/Flooding
(Melting outlet glaciers and ice cap)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Throughout(>50%)
Outside site
Climate change will clearly play a key role in the future of the property, and is already evident in the ongoing and rapid retreat of Vatnajökull’s many outlet glaciers, potentially leading to the complete loss of the Vatnajökull ice cap and hence the interaction of fire and ice. However, as noted in the nomination, this process may take centuries and provides an important natural laboratory for studying the glacial, glaciovolcanic and ecological dynamics in response to climate change. This is reflected in the nomination’s focus on processes, and does not threaten the property's OUV as such. (IUCN, 2019)
The property covers over 25% of the central highlands of Iceland and extends onto lowland areas to the south to cover a total of approximately 12% of the country. The area is largely intact and remote from habituated areas with some 85% of the property classified as wilderness. There has been no destructive human development within the property’s boundaries (World Heritage Committee, 2019). Due to the nature of the property, natural hazards and disasters always pose a risk to park employees, visitors, facilities and local communities, whether caused by volcanic events,&nbsp;earthquakes, extreme weather events or jökulhlaups&nbsp;(State Party of Iceland, 2018).&nbsp;Climate change will clearly play a key role in the future of the property, and is already evident in the ongoing and rapid retreat of Vatnajökull’s many outlet glaciers, potentially leading to the complete loss of the Vatnajökull ice cap and hence the interaction of fire and ice. Ongoing traditional use (such as sheep grazing, hunting, fishing, egg collecting, mushroom and berry picking) is well regulated and does not pose any significant threat to the World Heritage values of the property. However, certain locations within the property are prone to human disturbance from trampling, littering, crowding and/or off-road driving (IUCN, 2019).
Management system
Mostly Effective
The government agency Vatnajökull National Park (Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður) is the primary state agency responsible for implementing the park legislation, and is an effective organization, supported at all levels by the Icelandic government, local municipalities and businesses. There is mature governance in place together with experienced staff responsible for management employed on a long-term basis, including a strong complement of permanent and temporary staff.&nbsp;There is a comprehensive management strategy and action plan in place, that have achieved a notably high level of local input to decision making, and which are subject to regular review and updating. (World Heritage Committee, 2019)

At the time of the IUCN evaluation, the management plan dating from 2013 was being revised, also to integrate some areas that were added to VNP after 2013 (IUCN, 2019). As required by the VNP Act, the management plan includes the management objectives, means to implement management and protection, also for individual areas within the park, including individual safeguards, land use, construction work, transport and other infrastructure in the area. The plan also covers the public right of travel, access to the park and its use (State Party of Iceland, 2018).

The overall management and governance arrangements are effective and highly participatory. Through the VNP Board and the four regional advisory committees there is a high degree of stakeholder involvement, including from local authorities and various stakeholder groups such as environmental conservation associations, and outdoor and travel associations. However, communication between the central park management and the four regions, eight municipalities and various stakeholder groups could be strengthened and the transparency of decision-making improved. (IUCN, 2019)
Management effectiveness
Mostly Effective
The management system is adequate to maintain the site's values. There is a comprehensive management strategy and action plan in place, that have achieved a notably high level of local input to decision making, and which are subject to regular review and updating. The government agency Vatnajökull National Park (Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður) is the primary state agency responsible for implementing the park legislation, and is an effective organization, supported at all levels by the Icelandic government, local municipalities and businesses. There is mature governance in place together with experienced staff responsible for management employed on a long-term basis. (World Heritage Committee, 2019)

At the time of the IUCN evaluation, the management plan dating from 2013 was being revised, also to integrate some areas that were subsequently added to VNP (IUCN, 2019). The maximum validity of the management plan without review is 10 years, but changes may be made within that time, if warranted. Section 5 of the plan lists the objectives and means to achieve them. A short-term action plan and a number of specific work and action plans, taking into account available budget, are elaborated as necessary and appropriate during the lifetime of the management plan (State Party of Iceland, 2018). Specific management effectiveness evaluations have not yet been implemented in VNP, but this should be considered in the future (IUCN, 2019), to confirm the effectiveness of the management systems and/or identify improvements.
Boundaries
Mostly Effective
The property covers over 25% of the central highlands of Iceland and extends onto lowland areas to the south to cover a total of approximately 12% of the country.&nbsp;Its integrity is reflected in the inclusion of entire and intact landscape and geophysical units, minimal human use and intervention, and scientific interest in the property (World Heritage Committee, 2019).

The northernmost parts of the originally nominated property - i.e. the areas north of the Herðubreiðarlindir Nature Reserve&nbsp;- were referred by the World Heritage Committee to allow the State Party to complete consultations with landowners in these areas, and ensure appropriate protection measures are put in place (World Heritage Committee, 2019).&nbsp;There are also some other areas that could&nbsp;eventually be added to the national park and World Heritage site, including the large Skeiðarársandur sand&nbsp;plain to the south&nbsp;(IUCN, 2019).

The property does not have a designated buffer zone. This was not deemed essential given the vast size&nbsp;of the property, the particular resilient&nbsp;nature of the OUV, and the existing protection in the property’s surroundings (IUCN, 2019).
Integration into regional and national planning systems
Highly Effective
The property is well integrated into Iceland's national planning systems and forms the backbone of the country's current protected area system.&nbsp;The establishment of Vatnajökull National Park in 2007 from a series of unconnected protected areas and unprotected land has been called the "biggest protected area development in Iceland" (Petursson&nbsp;et al., 2016).&nbsp;Moreover, the Government&nbsp;of Iceland has already launched a process to consider&nbsp;the establishment of a much larger “Central Highlands&nbsp;National Park”, which would probably include the existing Vatnajökull National Park as&nbsp;a core area (IUCN, 2019; Iceland Magazine, 2018).
Relationships with local people
Mostly Effective
The overall management and governance arrangements are highly participatory (Petursson&nbsp;et al., 2016). Through the VNP Board and the four regional advisory committees there is a high degree of stakeholder involvement, including from local authorities and various stakeholder groups such as environmental conservation associations, and outdoor and travel associations. Traditional use such as sheep grazing, hunting, fishing, egg collecting, mushroom and berry picking is allowed in some areas, and is being addressed in the management plan and regulated by VNP in consultation with stakeholders, rights holders and property owners in the area (IUCN, 2019).

The park also benefits the local communities through direct employment and tourism-related jobs and incomes (see also Benefits section). However, there is still a need to continue to work with local communities, organizations and businesses around the park to maintain their involvement and help them benefit from the park (World Heritage Committee, 2019). The property conducts a wide range of education and outreach activities including through its visitor centres, school visits, public lectures, and summer activities. In late 2017, an Education and Outreach Plan was approved for the park and the protected areas overseen by it (State Party of Iceland, 2018).

The impacts of site management on the community are overall positive. Nonetheless, conflicts and disputes over certain management decisions occasionally arise. Most of these concern the use and area restrictions that affect some of the traditional user groups (hunting, four-wheel drive clubs). However, communication between the central park management and the four regions, eight municipalities and various stakeholder groups could be strengthened and the transparency of decision-making improved. (IUCN, 2019)
Legal framework and enforcement
Mostly Effective
The property’s legal framework is adequate to protect its values (IUCN, 2019). The large majority of the property is protected by the Act on Vatnajökull National Park No. 60/2007 and Regulation No. 608/2008 (with subsequent amendments), whilst Herðubreiðarlindir and Lónsöræfi Nature Reserves are protected according to the Nature Conservation Act No. 47/1971. A range of other important national legislation is in place to ensure protection. Most of the land adjacent to the property is subject to the law on public land, where any invasive use requires approval by the Prime Minister’s Office. The 2019 WH Committee has recommended the State Party to complete the integration of the Herðubreiðarlindir and Lónsöræfi Nature Reserves into Vatnajökull National Park in order to facilitate cohesive management of the whole property (World Heritage Committee, 2019). This process is ongoing and&nbsp;Herðubreiðarlindir Nature Reserve has already been incorporated (Iceland Review, 2019).

There are no unresolved land tenure issues within the property. The large majority of the property is public land, but there are also some state-owned lands and private lands in the south (State Party of Iceland, 2018). The 2019 WH Committee referred back to the State Party the nominated areas situated to the north of the Herðubreiðarlindir Nature Reserve, in the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River corridor and the northern Dettifoss - Ásbyrgi part of Vatnajökull National Park, in order to allow the State Party to complete consultations with landowners in these areas, and ensure appropriate protection measures are put in place (World Heritage Committee, 2019).
Enforcement
Mostly Effective
The enforcement of the legal framework is mostly effective. Infringements are relatively rare, and park management typically cites illegal off-road driving as the most persistent threat to the property (IUCN, 2019). The park has several active management means to address this; however, some additional measures (e.g. clearer road/track demarcation, additional signage, information materials and campaigns) could be taken to discourage off-road driving (IUCN, 2019). The 2019 WH Committee has recommended the State Party to take additional measures to discourage illegal off-road driving by visitors, and to rehabilitate any areas affected adversely by these and other visitor uses (World Heritage Committee, 2019). The Committee also recommended the adoption and implementation of an effective certification schemes for commercial operators and guides operating in the property, and to make available additional staff resources, including field staff, to ensure the effective protection and management of the property (World Heritage Committee, 2019).
Implementation of Committee decisions and recommendations
Data Deficient
So far, the only WH Committee decision was the one in 2019 inscribing the property on the WH List. The decision included a number of recommendations, the implementation of which still needs to be monitored and reported on. As requested by the Committee, the State Party already submitted to the World Heritage Centre a map of the inscribed property, reflecting the referral of the nominated areas situated to the north of the Herðubreiðarlindir Nature Reserve.
Sustainable use
Mostly Effective
As noted in other parts of this assessment (see Threats and Benefits sections), ongoing traditional use (such as sheep grazing, hunting, fishing, egg collecting, mushroom and berry picking) within the property is well regulated and does not pose any significant threat to the World Heritage values of the property (IUCN, 2019). Areas where traditional land use is permitted are specified in the management plan in accordance with&nbsp;the park's regulations (State Party of Iceland, 2018).
Sustainable finance
Mostly Effective
The property has an adequate and secure budget to cover essential staff and operations, with the principal financial support from the central government and up to 30% which is generated from its own income. Significant other support has also come from the government controlled Tourist Site Protection Fund and the non-profit organisation Friends of Vatnajökull. There is a need to sustain and further increase resourcing to ensure the management needs of the property are fully met (World Heritage Committee, 2019). The total budget of VNP has almost tripled since its establishment in 2008; however, since 2014, investments into infrastructure developments have stagnated while salaries continue to increase. In 2016, the total budget amounted to 559 million ISK, including 313 million ISK for salaries (IUCN, 2019). Still, the financing is deemed sufficient for conserving the Outstanding Universal Value of the property (State Party of Iceland, 2018).
Staff training and development
Mostly Effective
The overall management capacity of the VNP agency is adequate and effective. At the time of the IUCN evaluation, VNP had 16 permanent staff, including one overall park manager based in Reykjavik, five regional managers (two in the north and one each in the west, south and east), assistant regional managers, and some permanent rangers. Each year, the park also hires 60-70 temporary staff to work as rangers, service staff at visitor centres, or as general workers. The property depends upon this additional staffing to operate in an optimal way. During the IUCN field mission in 2018, all regional park managers reported a need for some additional staff resources, including field staff for certain areas and times of the year, and especially some centralised administrative support to help with tasks such as human resources, accounting, outreach and education. There was also a general expectation that the proposed Nature Conservation Agency could potentially provide centralised administrative support to VNP. (IUCN, 2019)

Overall, the property has an adequate and secure budget to cover essential staff and operations, and there is experienced staff responsible for management employed on a long-term basis. However, based on IUCN’s findings, the 2019 WH Committee recommended the State Party to make available additional staff resources, including both field staff and administrative support, to ensure the effective protection and management of the property. (World Heritage Committee, 2019)
Education and interpretation programs
Mostly Effective
The property conducts a wide range of education and outreach activities including through its visitor centres, school visits, public lectures, and summer activities. In late 2017, an Education and Outreach Plan was approved for the park and the protected areas overseen by it. This plan defines the status of activities related to education and dissemination of information and provides a vision and objectives for future programmes and activities, as well as defining desired visitor experience. The property continues to develop and improve its facilities for visitor access, education and recreation.&nbsp;One particularly noteworthy approach is the so-called roadside discourse: Rangers deployed at strategic access roads to the more remote highland areas stop all vehicles passing, bid the visitors welcome, give out maps and information material, and invite questions. (State Party of Iceland, 2018; see details in Section 5.i of the nomination dossier)

Hence, the existing education, interpretation and awareness programmes&nbsp;are considered to significantly enhance the understanding among stakeholders of both the values of the site and the adequate use of the site’s natural resources. Overall, illegal activities are rare, and usually not due to a lack of awareness.
Tourism and interpretation
Mostly Effective
The property is&nbsp;an important place for outdoor recreation and tourism in the country, and has seen a relatively rapid increase in visitor numbers in the recent past (exceeding one million in 2018), in line with the rest of Iceland.&nbsp;Although visitors can&nbsp;be encountered in all parts of the park, tourism is concentrated in a&nbsp;few popular destinations. By far the most visitors are encountered&nbsp;at Skaftafell and Jökulsárlón south of the Vatnajökull ice cap,&nbsp;620,000 and 640,000 respectively in 2016. In fact, over 70% of visitors only&nbsp;stop at one of these locations, or both. Within the property itself, visitor facilities are limited, mostly taking&nbsp;the form of discreet overnight huts, campsites and ranger stations&nbsp;operated by regional touring associations or the park itself. (State Party of Iceland, 2018)

Localised&nbsp;disturbances (e.g. trampling, littering, crowding) around tourism hotspots such as&nbsp;Jökulsárlón or&nbsp;Skaftafell require adequate visitor facilities and visitor management. In the backcountry, illegal off-road driving can also pose a problem in some locations. There is continuous monitoring of visitor numbers and distribution, trail erosion, ‘wear and tear’ on visitor facilities and the presence of waste. (IUCN, 2019)

The 2019 WH Committee has recommended the State Party to 1) put in place adequate visitor facilities around the Jökulsárlón Lagoon in the south of the property, and at the Dettifoss Waterfall to the north of the property; 2) adopt and implement an effective certification scheme for commercial operators and guides operating in the property; and 3) take additional measures to discourage illegal off-road driving by visitors (World Heritage Committee, 2019).

A new policy for park operations, approved on 24 June 2019 (following broad consultations) and to be enacted from 1 January 2020, will allow VNP to limit the number of visitors in certain areas and will require companies in the tourism industry to obtain a permit to operate within the park boundaries. The companies will have to follow rules regarding worker and tourist safety, as well as regarding conduct in the area. Service companies may have to bid for permits, should the number of interested companies exceed that of available permits. (Iceland Monitor, 2019)
Monitoring
Highly Effective
An effective long-term monitoring system is in place, using space- and ground-based observations, for improved evaluation of seismo-tectonic movements and volcanic hazards as well as for glacial flow and fluctuations and key aspects of the property’s biota (World Heritage Committee, 2019). There is a clear and adequate framework for monitoring the state of conservation of the property, including a set of useful indicators covering the fields of geology, geological hazards, biota and tourism. This includes continuous monitoring of visitor numbers and distribution, trail erosion, ‘wear and tear’ on visitor facilities and the presence of waste (IUCN, 2019).

General requirements for monitoring and research of the property are established in the VNP management plan. The VNP agency is primarily responsible for implementing the management plan and for defining indicators on the state of conservation and sustainable use of the park. VNP cooperates with a number of partners to monitor these indicators, including the University of Iceland, Icelandic Meteorological Office, Icelandic Institute of Natural History, Iceland Glaciological Society, Soil Conservation Service of Iceland and three regional Nature Research Centres. The management plan includes a list of monitoring priorities (Section 7.17) and also notes that VNP seeks to apply research findings and monitoring results to the management of the park. (State Party of Iceland, 2018)
Research
Highly Effective
One of the main objectives of VNP is to promote research in the area. The property’s management plan summarizes various research opportunities (Section 3.1.1) and notes that VNP seeks to apply research findings and monitoring results to the management of the park. It recognizes that connections with the scientific community, scholars and organisations working in these fields are an important basis for robust research and easy access to and dissemination of knowledge. The management plan includes a list of research priorities (Section 7.17) and also notes that “it is important that the park authorities have oversight over all research in the national park, at any given time. This will make it easier to assist scientists and scholars, and it is also important that conclusions from research can be used to the benefit of the national park, as far as possible and where needed” (Section 5.3.5). (State Party of Iceland, 2018)

The property is an outstanding natural laboratory for Earth sciences and has long attracted scientists from around the world. The intense, international scientific interest in the property is evidenced by some 775 scientific peer reviewed papers published over the last 50 years, 281 over the last ten years (many referenced in the nomination). Vatnajökull is among the best monitored and researched ice caps worldwide, and the property is also a prime location for climate change research. VNP has also been collaborating with the University of Iceland to measure and monitor visitor numbers and trends, visitor satisfaction and visitor impact within the property. (State Party of Iceland, 2018)

Overall, there appears to be adequate knowledge about the site to support planning, management and decision-making.
The property is adequately protected by various laws and regulations, and managed by an effective management agency, supported at all levels by the Icelandic government, local municipalities and businesses. There is mature governance, with a notably high level of local input to decision making. There is also a comprehensive management strategy and action plan in place, which are subject to regular review and updating, as well as an effective long-term monitoring system. The property has an adequate and secure budget to cover essential staff and operations, but here is a need to sustain and further increase resourcing to ensure the management needs of the property are fully met.&nbsp;(World Heritage Committee, 2019)

Risk management is a major issue in this highly dynamic setting where natural hazards are common. Other essential management issues include preventing wear and tear of nature at popular visitor destinations within the property, resolving visitor use conflicts, and addressing occasional illegal activities in the property when they arise. There is a need to develop and maintain adequate facilities for educating, managing and guiding the ever-increasing numbers of visitors. There is also a need to continue to work with local communities, organizations and businesses around the park to maintain their involvement and help them benefit from the park. (World Heritage Committee, 2019)
Assessment of the effectiveness of protection and management in addressing threats outside the site
Mostly Effective
There are limited anthropogenic threats from outside the property. Additional hydropower development affecting the property is neither planned nor permitted, and additional road construction through and within the property is not planned and should not be permitted unless there is an exceptional&nbsp;justification and full prior impact assessment (IUCN, 2019). Natural hazards and disasters always pose a risk to park employees, visitors, facilities and local communities, whether caused by volcanic events,&nbsp;earthquakes, extreme weather events or jökulhlaups (State Party of Iceland, 2018). However, there is a well developed risk assessment and management system in place, including an effective long-term monitoring system using&nbsp;space- and ground-based observations (IUCN, 2019). Climate change does not threaten the property's OUV as such but will clearly play a key role in the future of the property (IUCN, 2019). The property is a prime locality for exploring the impacts of climate change, and provides many opportunities for raising awareness about these impacts and potential responses (see for example the 'Melting Glaciers' project and website; Vatnajökull National Park, 2019).
Best practice examples
The so-called 'roadside discourse' approach could be considered a best practice example for park-visitor interaction: "Due to the vast size of the property and the&nbsp;limited numbers of visitors present at any given time at the more&nbsp;remote highland sites, rangers have been deployed at strategic access&nbsp;roads to these sites. The rangers stop all vehicles passing, bid&nbsp;the passengers welcome, give out maps and information material&nbsp;and invite questions and discussions. This has turned out to be a&nbsp;very gratifying service for all concerned." (page 245 of the nomination dossier; State Party of Iceland, 2018).
World Heritage values

One of the world's most iconic volcanic landscapes

Good
Trend
Stable
The property was inscribed less than a year ago, and this value is still in a good and stable condition.&nbsp;This iconic volcanic region covers nearly 14% of Iceland's territory, and contains ten central volcanoes, eight of which are subglacial, and two of these are among the most active in Iceland. The property's integrity is reflected in the inclusion of entire and intact landscape and geophysical units, and minimal human use and intervention (World Heritage Committee, 2019).&nbsp;The vast volcanic landscapes are in good conditions; the main threats to this value&nbsp;are occasional illegal off-road driving in the backcountry and some highly localised disturbances (e.g. trampling, littering, crowding) around tourism hotspots.

Outstanding representation of on-going tectonic, volcanic and glaciovolcanic processes

Good
Trend
Stable
The property was inscribed less than a year ago, and this value is still in a good and stable condition.&nbsp;The property comprises an entire system where magma and the lithosphere are incessantly interacting with the cryosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere to create extremely dynamic and diverse geological processes and landforms. The interaction between volcanoes and the rifts that underlie the Vatnajökull ice cap takes many forms, the most spectacular of which is the&nbsp;jökulhlaup&nbsp;– a sudden glacial outburst flood (World Heritage Committee, 2019). Climate change will impact some of the processes represented in the property, and is already evident in&nbsp;the ongoing and rapid retreat of Vatnajökull’s many&nbsp;outlet glaciers, potentially leading to the complete loss&nbsp;of the Vatnajökull ice cap and hence the interaction of&nbsp;fire and ice (IUCN, 2019). However, this&nbsp;process may take centuries (Schmidt et al., 2020),&nbsp;and itself provides an important natural laboratory for studying the glacial,&nbsp;glaciovolcanic and ecological dynamics in response to&nbsp;climate change (IUCN, 2019).

Outstanding representation of tectonic, volcanic and glaciovolcanic features

Good
Trend
Stable
The property was inscribed less than a year ago, and this value is still in a good and stable condition.&nbsp;The on-going earth system interactions are creating remarkably diverse landscapes and a wide variety of tectonic, volcanic and glaciovolcanic features.&nbsp;In addition, the property contains a dynamic array of glacial- and geomorphological features, created by expanding or retreating glaciers responding to changes in climate (World Heritage Committee, 2019). Climate change will impact some of the features represented in the property, and is already evident in&nbsp;the ongoing and rapid retreat of Vatnajökull’s many&nbsp;outlet glaciers, potentially leading to the complete loss&nbsp;of the Vatnajökull ice cap (IUCN, 2019). However, this&nbsp;process may take centuries (Schmidt et al., 2020),&nbsp;and itself provides an important natural laboratory for studying the glacial,&nbsp;glaciovolcanic,&nbsp;geomorphological and ecological dynamics in response to&nbsp;climate change (IUCN, 2019).

Outstanding natural laboratory for Earth sciences

Good
Trend
Stable
The property was inscribed less than a year ago, and this value is still in a good and stable condition.&nbsp;The property is an outstanding natural laboratory for Earth sciences and will always attract scientists from around the world. Over the last ten years alone, nearly 300 scientific peer reviewed papers have been published on various aspects of the property (State Party of Iceland, 2018).&nbsp;The Vatnajökull ice cap reached its greatest extent by the end of the 18th century and has on average been retreating since then. Recently, its retreat has accelerated in response to global warming, making the property a prime locality for exploring the impacts of climate change on glaciers and the landforms left behind when they retreat (World Heritage Committee, 2019).
Assessment of the current state and trend of World Heritage values
Good
Trend
Stable
The property was inscribed less than a year ago, and all the World Heritage values are still in a good and stable condition. Occasional illegal off-road driving in the backcountry and some highly localised disturbances (e.g. trampling, littering, crowding) around tourism hotspots are the main current threats to the property's values.&nbsp;Climate change will clearly play a key role in the future of the property, and is already evident in the ongoing and rapid retreat of Vatnajökull’s many outlet glaciers, potentially leading to the complete loss of the Vatnajökull ice cap and hence the interaction of fire and ice. However, as noted in the nomination, this process may take centuries and provides an important natural laboratory for studying the glacial, glaciovolcanic,&nbsp;geomorphological and ecological dynamics in response to climate change. This is reflected in the nomination’s focus on processes, and does not threaten the property's OUV as such. (IUCN, 2019)
Assessment of the current state and trend of other important biodiversity values
Data Deficient
Trend
Data Deficient
The volcanic zones of the property hold endemic groundwater fauna that has survived the ice age and single-celled organisms prosper in the inhospitable environment of subglacial lakes that may replicate conditions on early Earth and the icy satellites of Jupiter and Saturn (World Heritage Committee, 2019).&nbsp;The conservation status and trend of these organisms is not clear; they could be affected by human activities, or the impact of climate change.

Additional information

Direct employment,
Tourism-related income,
Provision of jobs
-&nbsp;The 16 permanent park employees are based at eight locations&nbsp;in Reykjavík, Mývatn, Ásbyrgi, Egilsstaðir, Skriðuklaustur, Höfn,&nbsp;Skaftafell and Kirkjubæjarklaustur.&nbsp;Three of these park&nbsp;employees and their families are the only permanent inhabitants on a year-round basis. Another 70–100 part-time employees (rangers,&nbsp;glacier guides, workers and visitor centre staff) live within the property&nbsp;for 2–12 months during the travel/tourist season.
- Although visitors can&nbsp;be encountered in all parts of the park, tourism is concentrated to a&nbsp;few popular destinations. By far the most visitors are encountered&nbsp;at Skaftafell and Jökulsárlón south of the Vatnajökull ice cap,&nbsp;620,000 and 640,000 respectively in 2016. In fact, over 70% of visitors only stop at one of these locations, or both.
(State Party of Iceland, 2018)
History and tradition,
Wilderness and iconic features,
Cultural identity and sense of belonging
As noted in the nomination document, the property supports some cultural values of national importance,&nbsp;including both historic sites of significance to Icelandic&nbsp;people, and the overall importance of living in a&nbsp;dynamic island, with persistent and frequent volcanism&nbsp;and glacial floods, to the development of the Icelandic&nbsp;psyche (IUCN, 2019). Within the property, Mt. Herdubreid&nbsp;is an iconic table mountain, known as the national mountain of Iceland and often called the "Queen of Icelandic mountains".&nbsp;
Outdoor recreation and tourism,
Natural beauty and scenery
The property includes several areas of great natural beauty and stunning scenery. Thus, it is&nbsp;an important place for outdoor recreation and tourism, and has seen a relatively rapid increase in visitor numbers in the recent past, in line with the rest of Iceland.&nbsp;Although visitors can&nbsp;be encountered in all parts of the park, tourism is concentrated to a&nbsp;few popular destinations. By far the most visitors are encountered&nbsp;at Skaftafell and Jökulsárlón south of the Vatnajökull ice cap,&nbsp;620,000 and 640,000 respectively in 2016. In fact, over 70% of visitors only&nbsp;stop at one of these locations, or both. Within the property itself, visitor facilities are limited, mostly taking&nbsp;the form of discreet overnight huts, campsites and ranger stations&nbsp;operated by regional touring associations or the park itself.
(State Party of Iceland, 2018)
Importance for research,
Contribution to education
- Research: The property is an outstanding natural laboratory for Earth sciences and has long attracted scientists from around the world. The intense, international scientific interest in the property is evidenced by some 775 scientific peer reviewed papers published over the last 50 years, 281 over the last ten years, on various aspects of plate tectonics, volcanism, glaciovolcanism, glaciology, glacial geomorphology, and ecology (many referenced in the nomination). (State Party of Iceland, 2018)

- Education: The property conducts a wide range of education and outreach activities including through its visitor centres, school visits, public lectures, and summer activities. In late 2017, an Education and Outreach Plan was approved for the park and the protected areas overseen by it. This plan defines the status of activities related to education and dissemination of information and provides a vision and objectives for future programmes and activities, as well as defining desired visitor experience. The property continues to develop and improve its facilities for visitor access, education and recreation.&nbsp;(State Party of Iceland, 2018)
Legal subsistence hunting of wild game,
Collection of wild plants and mushrooms,
Fishing areas and conservation of fish stocks,
Livestock grazing areas
- Hunting:&nbsp;There is limited wildfowling (pink footed goose,&nbsp;graylag goose and ptarmigan) and reindeer hunting in some parts of the property. The collection&nbsp;of birds’ eggs is also allowed in some areas.

-&nbsp;Collection of berries, plants or mushrooms: This is allowed in some parts of the property according to rules set by the park administration in consultation with stakeholders, rights and property owners.

- Grazing: Sheep grazing is allowed in highland pastures in the north,&nbsp;west and east – although most of the highlands are far too remote and barren for sheep to ever go there – as well as&nbsp;limited areas south of the ice cap.

Note: Areas&nbsp;where traditional land use such as grazing, fishing and collection&nbsp;of birds’ eggs is permitted are specified in the management plan in accordance with&nbsp;the park's regulations.
(State Party of Iceland, 2018)
Vatnajökull National Park provides a wide range of benefits to the national and local economy, local communities, the Icelandic people, foreign visitors and the international scientific community. The park employs local people, and generates jobs and incomes in the tourism industry. The property conducts a wide range of education and outreach activities, and is a globally significant site for researchers and scientists in many disciplines. Some traditional use such as grazing, fishing and hunting continues within certain areas of the park as&nbsp;specified in the management plan and in accordance with&nbsp;the park's regulations. The property contains several historic sites of national significance, and has played an important role in the development of the cultural identity of Icelandic&nbsp;people.
Organization Brief description of Active Projects Website
1 Vatnajökull National Park "Melting Glaciers" (full title: Icelandic Glaciers – a natural laboratory to study climate change): The Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources has appointed the Vatnajökull National Park in cooperation with the Icelandic Meteorological Office to implement the "Melting Glaciers" project, in collaboration with the South East Iceland Nature Research Center and the Institute of Earth Sciences of the University of Iceland. The goal of the project, which is a part of the government’s climate change agenda, is to increase awareness about climate change and the associated consequences for glaciers in Iceland and elsewhere.
https://www.vatnajokulsthjodgardur.is/en/areas/melting-glaciers
2 Friends of Vatnajökull The Friends of Vatnajökull Association is a non-profit organization that was founded on 21 June 2009 as a funding body for Vatnajökull National Park. The role of the association is to raise funds to support research, promotional and educational activities to ensure that as many people as possible can enjoy the natural phenomenon and the unique natural history that the National Park has to offer. Since 2010, the Friends have sponsored over 90 projects for a grand total just shy of 300 million ISK. An overview of the projects that have been sponsored so far can be found here (in Islandic): https://www.friendsofvatnajokull.is/grants
https://www.friendsofvatnajokull.is/

References

References
1
Casadevall, T. J., Tormey, D., and Roberts, J. (2019). World Heritage Volcanoes. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. Available at: https://portals.iucn.org/library/node/48448&nbsp;(Accessed 20 April 2020).
2
IUCN (2019). World Heritage Nomination – IUCN Technical Evaluation, Vatnajökull National Park (Iceland). In: IUCN World Heritage Evaluations 2019, IUCN Evaluations of nominations of natural and mixed properties to the World Heritage List. WHC/19/43.COM/INF.8B2. [online] Paris, France: World Heritage Centre, UNESCO. Available at: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1604/documents/ (Accessed 21 October 2019).
3
Iceland Magazine (2018). Preparations for a New National Park in Central Highlands Get Underway. [online] Available at: https://icelandmag.is/article/preparations-a-new-national-p… (Accessed 11 May 2020).
4
Iceland Monitor (2019). Number of Park Visitors Could Be Limited. [online] Available at: https://icelandmonitor.mbl.is/news/nature_and_travel/2019/0… (Accessed 11 May 2020).
5
Iceland Review (2019). Vatnajökull National Park Now Largest in Western Europe. [online] Available at: https://www.icelandreview.com/news/vatnajokull-national-par… (Accessed 11 May 2020).
6
Petursson, J.G., Thorvardardottir, G. and Crofts, R. (2016). Developing Iceland’s protected areas: Taking stock and looking ahead. Parks, 22.1, pp.13-24.
7
Schmidt, L.S., Ađalgeirsdóttir, G., Pálsson, F., Langen, P.L., Guđmundsson, S., &amp; Björnsson, H. (2020). Dynamic simulations of Vatnajökull ice cap from 1980 to 2300. Journal of Glaciology, 66(255), pp. 97-112.
8
State Party of Iceland (2018). Nomination of Vatnajökull National Park as a World Heritage Site. [online] Reykjavík, Iceland: Vatnajökull National Park Administration, pp.1-318. Available at: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1604/documents (Accessed 25 March 2020).
9
Vatnajökull National Park (2019). Melting Glaciers. [online] Available at: https://www.vatnajokulsthjodgardur.is/en/areas/melting-glac… (Accessed 11 May 2020).
10
Wood, C. (2009). World Heritage Volcanoes. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. Available at:&nbsp;https://portals.iucn.org/library/node/9486&nbsp;(Accessed 20 April 2020).
11
World Heritage Committee (2019). Decision 43 COM 8B.8. Vatnajökull National Park (Iceland). [online] Paris, France: UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Available at: https://whc.unesco.org/en/decisions/7364/ (Accessed 13 September 2019).

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