Obituary for Halldór Ólafsson
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Obituary for Halldór Ólafsson

Photos and text by Erik Sturkell


On the 20th of September the world lost a good man, and I lost a fantastic friend and colleague when Halldór Ólafsson (born 1937) passed away in Reykjavík, Iceland. I had the privilege of knowing Halldór for many years. Our first fieldwork together took us to Eyjafjallajökull in summer of 1998 (fig. 1) and our last trip in 2015 to the Askja volcano (fig.2). The Askja volcano was probably one of his favorite destinations. Halldór lost his parents at a young age and was helped by Sigurður Thórinasson and got a profession as smith. Halldór helped Sigurður in the field for decades. In 1975 he was employed by the newly formed Nordic Volcanology Institute as a technician. He worked extensively with Eysteinn Tryggvason on ground deformation measurements. With the onset of the Krafla fires in December 1975 they had plenty to do being occupied with following the crustal deformation of the rifting and the eruptions. Halldór helped Eysteinn a lot over the years in following the development of several active volcanoes. After Eysteinn retired I came to work with Halldór in 1998 (fig. 2) while doing crustal deformation studies, which is one of my research topics. I was fortunate to work with Halldór on numerous fieldtrips in Iceland, particular in the highlands. During those trips, I learned from Halldór how to drive a 4wd car in the highlands and find my way around. We traveled on glaciers, too, in particular on Mýrdalsjökull (fig. 3) during the 2000-2004 period of volcanic unrest. We did our last fieldtrip together to Askja in 2015 (fig. 2). This was a year with plenty of snow in the caldera (fig. 4). Thank you Halldór for all the exciting trips (fig. 5) and for being a fantastic friend!

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Finnst þér lífið fúlt og kalt,
fullt er það með lygi og róg
en brennivínið bætir allt,
bara að það sé drukkið nóg.
(Páll Ólafsson, 1984)

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On a final note, I visited Iceland between the 3rd to 11th of October and missed the funeral, which took place on the 28th of September.

Figure 1. Halldór measure the antenna height at the GPS site Hamragardar in the summer of 1998.
Figure 2. At the hut next to the volcano Askja, Halldór attending the fuel situation. This was our last trip to Askja together in summer 2015.
Figure 3. The photograph used on the front page on the journal Náttúrufræðingurinn (Sturkell et al. 2003), with Halldór at the GPS station Enta a nunatak in the Myrdalsjökull glacier.
Figure 4. The summer in Askja with a lot of snow. Halldór and I assessed the situation at the profile and almost all the benchmarks in the levelling line were hidden for us. The levelling line was measured the 22nd of September.
Figure 5. In the summer 2002 we visited the farm Kvísker to find a place for a GPS benchmark. From left to right Halldór, Halvdan Björnsson, and Freysteinn Sigmundsson.

Ólafsson, Páll, 1984. Kvæði. Fyrra bindi. (Sigurborg Hilmarsdóttir gaf út). Skuggsjá. Hafnarfirði 1984, Bls.289
Sturkell, E., Einarsson, P., Sigmundsson, F., Geirsson, H., Ólafsson, H., Ólafsdóttir, R., & Guðmundsson, G.B., 2003: Þrýstingur vex undir Kötlu. Náttúrufræðingurinn 71, 80–86.