Research Areas

The main research of the Institute for Sustainability Studies may be divided into the following categories:

The Nordic Centre of Excellence on Resilience and Societal Security, NORDRESS, was funded from 2015 until 2020 under the Social Security Programme of NordForsk, which addresses questions of vulnerabilities, resilience and capabilities for crisis management related to prevention, preparedness, response and recovery.

Its aim is to develop new knowledge about and solutions for the many aspects of societal security affecting the Nordic countries. The research funded by the programme should add value to work already done within Societal Security in the Nordic countries.

Find more information about NORDRESS here.

Konnect was a Nordic project that brings together art and environmental sciences with the aim of arousing awareness of pressing environmental concerns among the general public and decision makers.

Art students from all Nordic countries, artists,  and environmental scientists convened in 4-day workshops to learn about and discuss important environmental concerns. The students developed ideas of art works inspired by these issues and concerns. Selected art projects got a production grant and will took part in a final exhibition at the end of the  Konnect workshop in each of the Nordic countries.

Participants were Nordic Art academies, as well as the Institute for Sustainability Studies, University of Iceland, the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Nordic House in Reykjavik. 

Find more information about Konnect here.

Icelanders face challenging natural forces, both in terms of the climate and frequent natural hazards, as is to be expected in a county so young in geological terms.

Iceland's economic prosperity has rested on fisheries performed under dangerous conditions in northerly waters, consequently safety at sea plays an important role when striving for sustainable fisheries.

Other focus areas regarding the effects of the environment on heath include air quality and health, and the effects natural disasters may have on physical and mental well being.

In this sector the ISS has focused on:

Safety at Sea

In the last century, Iceland´s economic prosperity rested on fisheries, demanding that fishermen venture out to sea all year round, often under severe weather conditions. A great number of fishermen have lost their lives at sea or suffered severe injuries. Research shows that work conditions in fisheries at sea are among the most dangerous in the world.

Safety at sea is one of the fields the ISS has focused on when studying the effects of environment on health.

Ongoing projects in this field include:

  • A comprehensive electronic database of all reported injuries occurring on Icelandic vessels.
  • Studies on the type of injuries sustained in the fishing fleet and the conditions/ events leading up to the injury.
  • Safety management systems on board different types of fishing vessels.
  • Working conditions on board fishing vessels and in the fish processing industry.
  • Safety and survival training of fishermen.
  • International agencies and their policy regarding safety at sea.

Contact: Dr. Gudrún Pétursdóttir Director of ISS, University of Iceland,

Natural Disasters

In the past century Icelanders experienced 65 natural disaster events on land (in addition to lives lost at sea), which caused severe damage to property and cost more that 90 human lives. Although volcanic eruptions were most frequent, 90% of the fatalities were due to snow avalanches.

Civil Defense is very well organized and implemented in Iceland, and the initial phases of disaster reactions, evacuation, search and rescue have been successfully carried out. However, only recently has attention been paid to the long term effects of natural disasters on individuals and communities, and measured to assist the recovery of communities who have suffered a trauma.

Currently, the ISS focuses on:

  • Health effects of volcanic eruptions - Ash and Health focusing on the effects of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption on human and animal heath. A population-based questionnaire study on the perceived effects of the eruption on the exposed population.
  • The efects of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption on air traffic. This is a part of the FP7 project ENHANCE – Enhancing
  • Risk Management Partnerships for Catastrophic Natural Disasters in Europe.
  • Long term effects of natural disasters - how to facilitate recovery in communities hit by natural hazards.
  • Adaptation to and mitigation of coastal challenges due to global warming - a multinational project CoastAdapt funded by the Northern Periphery Program funded.

Contact: Dr. Guðrún Pétursdóttir Director of ISS, University of Iceland,

Air and Health

The ISS takes part in several projects pertaining to the quality of air and its effects on health.

The ISS takes part in a committee appointed by the Minister of Health and the Minister for the Environment in 2010, to collect information on the quality of air in Iceland and the effects of air pollution on health, particularly of children and youngsters.

Iceland presents favorable conditions for such studies since extensive records of many relevant variables are available.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers has been brought together to collate information on air quality, weather, traffic, use of medicines, and comprehensive records of hospital admission due to heart-and /or respiratory diseases.

Contact: Dr. Guðrún Pétursdóttir Director of ISS, University of Iceland,

Iceland is rich in hydropower as well as geothermal energy sources, which meet the need for household energy in the country. However, Icelanders must still import all energy for transportation, including the fuel for the fishing fleet, which is the country's major source of greenhouse gas emission. Thus there are both direct financial and environmental incentives to find alternatives to conventional fossil fuel.

With increased environmental awareness, power plants and transport seek more sustainable solutions and the procedures adopted for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) need to be revised.

In this sector the ISS has focused on:

  • Energy related constructions and improved EIA
  • Transport with pylons or subterraneous cables
  • Electricity and other alternative energy sources for transport
  • Developing Sustainable Energy Indices
  • Sustainability Assessment Protocol for Geothermal Utilization

In order to tackle the variety of challenges and opportunities that accompany changing natural conditions, we need to gain better understanding of the underlying processes and likely consequences.

The ISS conducts research in several field pertaining to global warming:

  • Threats and opportunities with changes in coastal regions
  • Long term effects of climate change on vegetation in Iceland
  • Economic assessment of the ecoservices, in particular those provided by Heiðmörk recreational park on the outskirts of the capital area.

Iceland is endowed with rich natural resources. The prosperity of the Icelandic economy in the 20eth century rested on the rich fishing grounds surrounding the country, as well as the natural sources of hydroelectric and geothermal power. In recent years the pristine nature and varied landscape have attracted tourists in rapidly growing numbers, while in the future the abundance of clean fresh water will gain importance as a natural resource. At the same time, severe erosion of vegetation and soil is the greatest environmental threat the country faces.

Managing these natural resources is a constant challenge that demands solid understanding of the complex underlying processes. This is a field that requires an interdisciplinary approach, where specialists from many different areas are brought together.

The ISS has in particular focused on tools for improved fisheries management - electronic fisheries logbooks, electronic management tools for fish processing factories, product tracing tools, improved digital bathymetric charts and remote surveillance of fisheries.