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Geology & Culture 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33

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Alviðruhamrar Drangurinn í Drangshlíð Dyrhólaey Dyrhólaós, Loftsalahellir Eyjarhóll, Pétursey Hjörleifshöfði Hrafnar, Svartinúpur Hvammsmúli, Kálfhamar, Pöstin og Dysjarhóll Hverfisfljót við Eldvatnstanga Katla, Mýrdalsjökull, Mýrdalssandur Kirkjugólf Kúðafljót Lómagnúpur Meðallandssandur Mögugilshellir, Þórólfsfell Nauthúsagil Skaftáreldahraun Skaftárós Skógafoss Steinahellir Stóra-Dímon, Litla-Dímon Systrastapi, Systrafoss, Klausturheiði, Systravatn, Sönghellir Vatnsdalshellir Þórsmörk Efra-Hvolshellar Eldmessutangi Hrútafell, Hrútshellir Höfðabrekka /Höfðabrekkuheiði Laufskálavarða Orrustuhóll Paradísarhellir Seljavallalaug Þríhyrningur

Mainly Geology 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68

Álftaversgígar Bleiksárgljúfur Djúpá Drumbabót Dverghamrar Dýralækjasker Eldgjá, Ófærufoss Eldgjárhraun Emstrur, Fjallabak Eyjafjallajökull, Gígjökull, Steinsholtsjökull Fagrifoss Fimmvörðuháls, Magni & Móði Fjaðrárgljúfur Foss á Síðu Hafursey Hólmsárfoss Kvernugil Lakagígar Landbrotshólar Langanes, Djúpidalur, Eystri-Rangá Langisjór, Fögrufjöll, Skuggafjöll, Grænifjallgarður Leiðólfsfell Tjarnir, Tjarnarnes Markarfljótsgljúfur, Markarfljótsaurar Merkjárfoss Reynisfjall, Reynisdrangar, Reynisfjara Rjúpnafell, Atley Seljalandsfoss, Gljúfrabúi Skaftá Skammadalskambar Sólheimajökull, Sólheimasandur, Sólheimaheiði Stjórnarfoss Tindfjallajökull, Tindfjöll Tröllshylur, Grenlækur Öldufell

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Mainly Culture 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81

Bjarnargarður Fellsheiði Granahaugur Hellur (Jón Steingrímsson) Kálkháls Kirkjubæjarklaustur Kúabót Núpstaður Sauðahús í Álftaveri Skálmarbær Tólfahringur Vík (older part of the village) Þykkvabæjarklaustur


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Katla Geopark

Geology

Katla Geopark includes geological features of global significance. Over 150 volcanic eruptions have been recorded in the area since the 9th century. The eruptions created the landscape and influenced where people settled. Through the centuries, man and nature have affected the region’s history. The landscape is constantly changing due to the volcanic activity.

Iceland lies astride the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where tectonic plates move apart from each other, causing a rift zone. A mantle plume exists below the country, centered beneath Vatnajökull ice cap. In South Iceland the interaction of the rift zone and the mantle plume results in complex and diverse volcanic activity.

The Geopark covers about 9% of Iceland, 9.542 km2, and follows the borders of three municipalities, Skaftárhreppur, Mýrdalshreppur and Rangárþing eystra. About 2.700 people live within the Geopark. Traditional agriculture has been the main source of employment, especially sheep and dairy farming. Cereal farming has recently increased. The villages of Hvolsvöllur, Vík and Kirkjubæjarklaustur developed as service centers for farmers. In recent years tourism has become increasingly important to the economy of the area.

Volcanic activity and its widespread effect on the area’s nature and landscape make Katla Geopark unique. The Geopark is in the most volcanically active area of Iceland, and the volcanic systems at Eyjafjallajökull, Katla, and Grímsvötn are particularly active. The region is characterised by central volcanoes, eruptive craters and fissures, rootless cones, lava fields, table mountains (tuyas), and hyaloclastite ridges which trend SW-NE, like the rift zone. Ice caps are prominent in the landscape, topping the highest volcanoes. Outlet glaciers and glacial rivers flow from them and glacial landforms, like moraines and ice-dammed lakes, occur in the area. Large floods, usually glacier outbursts associated with subglacial eruptions, have formed outwash plains in the lowlands. The oldest bedrock in the area is about 2,5 million years old, and can be found at the base of Lómagnúpur, an old sea-cliff (671 m). Other interesting features in the Geopark are fossil-bearing xenoliths, and tephra layers which are useful for dating (tephrochronology).

Simplified geology map of Iceland showing the four main bedrocks and sediments. Map from the Geodetic Institute of Iceland.

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Katla Katla is one of the largest central volcanoes in Iceland, covered by the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap. The volcanic system, including Mýrdalsjökull area and the fissure swarm, Eldgjá, northeast of it, is about 30 km wide in its south-western part, narrowing gradually to the northeast and reaches a length of 78 km. The caldera, Katla, is located under the ice cap and is about 100 km2 and 700 m deep, filled with ice. The Katla volcanic system is famous for numerous subglacial eruptions. In the Katla volcanic system, 21 eruptions are known in historical time. The last eruption in Katla occurred in 1918. The total amount of tephra produced in that eruption has been estimated to have been around 700 million m3 and the glacial outburst flood (jökulhlaup) about 8 km3.

In 1955 and 2011 there occurred relatively minor jökulhlaup that destroyed the bridge of Múlakvísl, possibly resulting from small subglacial eruptions or from geothermal activity in the Katla caldera.

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 Katla was a kitchen maid at worn her pants. She therefore drowned him and the Þykkvabæjarklaustur hid in a barrel of acid. monastery. She was a Nobody knew what had stubborn old woman but had a pair of pants that had happened to Barði, but as time passed and the acid the unique nature that whoever wore them could was used from the barrel, run endlessly without tiring. people heard Katla saying She would use these pants “Senn bryddir á Barða” or when needed. Many were “Soon Barði will surface”. Katla knew that Barði would afraid of her difficult soon be found and she attitude and dark magic. would be punished for her A young shepherd by the name Barði had a hard time evil doing. Therefore she living with Katla. She would took her magic pants and scold him fiercely if any of ran northwest towards the glacier (Mýrdalsjökull) and the sheep went missing. jumped into the glacier, One day the abbot and never to be seen again. Katla went to a party. Before they returned, Barði Right after this the glacier was to have herded home began spewing fire and a all of the sheep. He was not massive flash flood came able to find all of the sheep roaring down the sands. People believed that her in time, so he resorts to dark magic had caused this Katla’s pants. By running and named the volcano relentlessly in the magic Katla, the canyon carved pants he was able to find all of the sheep before Katla out by the flood Kötlugjá and the fields destroyed by returned. Katla soon discovered that Barði had the flood, Kötlusandur.

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The coastline of Mýrdalssandur is constantly changing. Until the fourteenth century the ocean reached Hjörleifshöði and until the Katla erupted in 1660 it reached the cliffs east of Vík. During the Katla eruption in 1918 the south coast was extended by several kilometers making Kötlutangi the southernmost point in Iceland for decades, but now Dyrhólaey is again the southernmost promontory in the country. The eroding of Kötlutangi has been followed by coastal erosion in Vík.



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Eyjafjallajökull The Eyjafjöll volcanic system is a stratovolcano with well developed 2,5 km wide caldera at the top. The complex is covered by an ice cap above 1.000 m altitude and the highest point was at 1.666 m a.s.l. before the eruption 2010. Eruptions in Eyjafjallajökull are rare and relatively smaller than in Katla. Four eruptions in Eyjafjallajökull are known in historical times, in 920, 1612, 1821-23 and 2010. Before the eruption in 2010 there had been earthquake swarms there in 1994 and 1999 and the volcano was therefore under a close watch as an eruption under the ice cap would cause immediate danger to farms in close proximity to the mountain.

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The first eruption, at Fimmvörðuháls an ice-free ridge between Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull, lasted from 20th March to 12th April 2010. This small eruption created the craters of Magni and Móði on the north side of Fimmvörðuháls, directly across the popular hiking trail between Skógar, south of the pass, and Þórsmörk, immediately to the north. The eruption produced limited amounts of basaltic lava and attracted a lot of attention from tourists that could get close to the spectacular lava fountains and lava streams. A schematic E-W cross section through Eyjafjallajökull and Katla showing the positions of inferred magmatic bodies in the roots of the volcanoes (by Páll Einarsson).


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The second eruption started on 14th of April 2010 within the ice-capped caldera, with an explosive summit eruption amplified by magmaice interaction. Jรถkulhlaups (glacier outburst floods) are more common in Iceland than elsewhere in the world because of the interaction of volcanoes and glaciers. A warning system is operated by the Icelandic Meteorological Office that informs Civil Protection Authorities of impending floods or jรถkulhlaups. An important test was put to the system in the Eyjafjallajรถkull volcanic eruption on 14th April 2010 and the evacuation plans worked out well and no lives were lost due to the flooding.

Eyjafjallajรถkull has been for many years a great attraction for super jeep safaris during winter as well as being an ideal practice area for the rescue teams.

The effects of the 2010 Eyjafjallajรถkull eruption turned out to be more widespread than ever before in modern history. Because of the ash cloud approximately 107.000 flights were cancelled during an 8 day period, accounting for 48% of total air traffic and affected roughly 10 million passengers.

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Grímsvötn Grímsvötn is a central volcano below Vatnajökull ice cap. The volcanic system consists of the Grímsvötn central volcano, about 100 km long and 15 km wide volcanic fissure swarm including the Laki cone-row. The subglacier central volcano has developed a large composite caldera in the glacier Vatnajökull with a high temperature geothermal area. Grímsvötn is the most active volcano in Iceland. The number of eruptions since the time of settlement is uncertain but it is believed to be at least 60 (compared to about 20 in Katla). The most recent ones (at the time of writing) are those in 2011, 2004, 1998 and 1996.

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Glacial bursts (jökulhlaup) originate in Grímsvötn and charge down the River Skeiðará. They were the main reason that the Ring Road around Iceland was not completed until 1974. The caldera contains a lake which is covered by a 200-300 meters thick ice slab. Creeping ice and continuous melting caused by geothermal heat cause water to accumulate and the water level of Grímsvötn Lake rises. The ice slab also rises. When the water reaches a critical level it seeks an outlet north-east of Grímsfjall. The water begins to gush from the foot of the glacier into the bed of the River Skeiðará. A glacial burst begins, slowly at first, increasing in volume until peak flow is reached. The flow then suddenly decreases and the exit channel closes.

The eruption in 2011 lasted for a week with considerable ash fall in Southeast Iceland. The ash eruption plume rose rapidly up to about 17 km height, much higher than in recent eruptions in Iceland. The eruption caused some international flight cancellations but much less than was the case with the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010.

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The Grímsvötn eruption 2011 left a thick ash layer on the icecover and huge cracks and crevasses.

The eruption in 1996 caused considerable damage to the road and bridges across Skeiðarársandur. The eruption fissure, called Gjálp, was located between two volcanic centres, Grímsvötn and Bárðarbunga, and the subglacial topography directed meltwater from the erupting fissure toward the Grímsvötn caldera and rapidly filled the subglacial lake, lifting its ice cover and triggering major flood.

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Lakagígar The Laki eruption (Skaftáreldar) 1783-1784 and the resulting Haze Famine (Móðuharðindin) caused the worst environmental and socioeconomic disaster in Iceland´s history. The effects of the eruption reached far and the sulphuric aerosol cloud produced by Laki generated a persistent haze (dry fog) that hovered over large part of the northern hemisphere during the summer of 1783. On June 24th 1783, the haze was at its densest all over Europe. By the beginning of July it had spread to Russia, Siberia and China. At its peak, it covered about a quarter of the earth’s surface, or all land north of the 30° latitudinal line. It has been argued that the French revolution began with the eruption in Laki because of the enormous influence the mist had on the climate and farming in Europe.

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Toxic ash ruined pastures so livestock got sick with a disease called gaddur, and starved. The weather cooled due to the mist, and sea ice reached the coast. When winter arrived in 1783–1784 livestock collapsed from starvation and disease due to the toxic volcanic material. People died of hunger. During the hardship one in five Icelanders (about ten thousand people) died, and around 75% of the farm animals were lost. In Fljótshverfi, Meðalland and Síða, about 40% of the population died, 20 farms were covered with lava and another 30 were badly damaged and had to be temporarily abandoned.



The Reverend Jón Steingrímsson (1728-1791) served the church at Kirkjubæjarklaustur during the Laki eruption. He was a man of strong faith, but also took great interest in natural science and medicine. Among his literary accomplishments is his autobiography, one of the most significant and interesting biographies ever written in Icelandic, and his accounts of the Laki eruption, titled “A Complete Treatise on the Síða Fires” is a unique eyewitness account of the Laki eruption and the lava flow. This account includes descriptions of several scientific observations and interpretations, some of which did not become part of scientific knowledge until much later. He became a legendary figure for his actions during and after the eruption. He was believed to have performed a miracle one fateful Sunday in July 1783. On that day a branch from the lava flow threatened to destroy his church. Reverend Jón decided to conduct a service in it anyway, it was assumed to be the last service ever performed in that church. During his preaching, passionate prayers and calls to God, the lava branch stopped and the church was saved. Since then this mass has been known as The Mass of Fire, and reverend Jón Steingrímsson as the Pastor of the Fire. 

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Innovators and entrepreneurs

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The Katla Geopark area used to be isolated from neighbouring communities because of unbridged glacial rivers that were difficult to cross. Towards the south was the coastline with no natural harbours and inland were mountains and icecaps. This environment fostered on one hand innovation and entrepreneurship, on the other an understanding of the natural forces at work.

The spirit of innovation is still flourishing in the Katla Geopark area. Þorvaldseyri is a pioneering farm in growing cereals in Iceland and has now an exhibition on the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010. The farm has its own micro hydro, a hot water borehole, and is now experimenting with using rape seed oil both as cooking oil as well as fuel for the tractors on the farm. Þakgil is another example. There a new camp site has been developed from scratch very close to the Katla volcano. A micro hydro power station has been built providing electricity for the camping huts, and an open air dining facility has been carved out in a cave in the soft palagonite formation.

Bjarni Runólfsson (1891-1938) was a self-educated farmer at Hólmur near Kirkjubæjarklaustur. In 19271937 he built over a hundred micro hydroelectric power installations throughout the country that harnessed the water power of small brooks on individual farms. Often he built the water turbines of iron from ships that stranded on the coast. In 1926 he bought a new FordT car, the first car in the area. He built a trout hatchery, a freezing facility on his farm, and a slaughterhouse. A true innovator and entrepreneur. After his untimely death his co-workers continued to build micro hydro power stations. 



Sveinn Pálsson (1762-1840) studied medicine and natural science in Copenhagen and lived all his professional life in the Katla Geopark area. He carried out systematic observations of Icelandic glaciers in the 1790s where he observed that glaciers move by creeping in a way analogous to the flow of tar. This accomplishment was not recognized at the time as his research papers were not published until a part of it in Danish in the 1880s. It has been argued that if they had been published earlier he would have been recognized as the father of glaciology. Sveinn lived in Vík for most of his professional life and is buried in the old churchyard at Reynir. Drawing from 1798 by Sæmundur Hólm.



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Keeping faith in Mother Nature.

Herding sheep from Hvítmaga across Sólheimajökull glacier.

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Eldgjá Katla Geopark is home to two of the largest basaltic flood lava eruptions in historical times in Iceland, Laki in 1783-1784 and Eldgjá around 938 AD. The Eldgjá fissure is at least 50 km long, extending from the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap in the southwest (Katla), into the Vatnajökull ice cap in the northeast. The most spectacular part of Eldgjá is a 8 km long part of it in the southwest where the fissure is about 400 m wide and 150 m deep. The fissure is a complex volcanic structure of a graben, an eruptive fissure and an explosive crater row. In the southernmost part the eruption was subglacial, and caused a large glacial outburst flood in association with the eruption, jökulhlaup.

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The Eldgjá eruption was a catastrophic eruption that had worldwide impact. The Eldgjá tephra from the eruption is widespread in the northern hemisphere. Total magma volume produced in the Eldgjá eruption has been estimated to be around 19 km3. Lava flowed towards Álftaver on the Mýrdalssandur sand plain, along the Skaftá river course and down to Meðalland (the Landbrotshraun lava) and reached the Atlantic ocean in Alviðruhamrar in Álftaver.


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The Eldgjรก and Laki lavaflows are not only big on an Icelandic scale, they are also some of the largest lava flows on earth since the end of the ice age about 10.000 years ago. The two lava streams have very different appearance, the Laki lava is covered with thick moss while the Eldgjรก lava is often covered with younger material but also characterized by countless number of pseudocraters or rootless vents (Landbrotshรณlar and รlftavershรณlar). These have been compared to similar features observed on the planet Mars.

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Tindfjallajökull Tindfjallajökull is the oldest and most mature volcanic system in Katla Geopark. No eruptions have been recorded there since the time of settlement but some small eruptions are believed to have taken place in early postglacial time. A well-known ignimbrite layer in the Þórsmörk area is believed to have originated from a large explosive eruption in the Tindfjöll volcanic system about 55.000 years ago when a 5 km wide caldera is believed to have been formed. Tindfjallajökull is one of the smaller icecaps in Iceland but the peaks of Ýmir and Ýma, that take their names from Norse mythology, provide for excellent all-around view, reaching a height of 1.462 m above sea level. The area is also a popular training ground for rescue teams.

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The word Tindfjöll now has a new aroma as Tindfjallahangikjöt (Tindfjöll smoked lamb) has been marketed as a special treat, especially at Christmas time.


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Tindfjallajรถkull is a popular area for hikers and skiers but also for more extreme sports like rock and ice climbing, snowboarding, snowkiting and hang gliding.

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Rangárþing eystra is one of the three municipalities in the Katla Geopark area with a population of about 1.750. The main livelihood of the community is within agriculture and tourism. The area is well known for its tourism attractions; waterfalls, glaciers, Þórsmörk, a protected site of natural interest, and now the volcano eruption in Eyjafjallajökull. It also offers a wide range of accommodation and activities for guests visiting the area. The largest settlement is the town Hvolsvöllur (population 850) which is one of the few inland located towns in Iceland. It started developing in 1930 and is now the main service centre for the agriculture and tourism in the area. The town is situated in one of the most important Saga regions of the country, with some of the main stages of the renowned Njal's Saga. Mýrdalshreppur is another municipality in the Katla Geopark area, with a population of around 470. Vík, the center of the municipality with a population of 290, has developed as an important local commercial centre and service for the travel industry. The northern border of the municipality is the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which caps the volcanic Mt. Katla, while its southern limits are black sands and the rolling Atlantic waves. Vík and its surroundings is one of the main bird life areas in Iceland. Just east of Vík is one of the largest colonies of Artic terns in the country, and huge colonies of puffin, kittiwake and fulmar inhabit the cliffs sheltering the village to the west. Fulmar nests in cliffs and mountain gullies all along Mýrdalur. The third muncipality of the Katla Geopark area is Skaftárhreppur with a population of around 450. The centre of the local farming community is Kirkjubæjarklaustur, population 120, usually referred to as Klaustur or the Convent. The name comes from the fact that in 1186 a Benedictine convent was founded at Kirkjubær. The convent was active until the Reformation in 1550 and gives name to many local places like Systrastapi, the rock of the convent sisters, a high steep rock with an excellent view over the area and the Laki lava stream. The village is well situated between the glacial river Skaftá and low wooded hills with the beautiful fall Systrafoss right in the village. At the edge of the village is Kirkjugólf, Church Floor, a 80m2 protected natural monument, a columnar basalt formation that resembles a floor laid with hexagonal tiles. 16

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Katla Geopark Project - 2011 www.katlageopark.is

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Authors: Sigurður Sigursveinsson, Steingerður Hreinsdóttir.

© Photos: Björgvin Þórðarson, Erla Berglind Sigurðardóttir, Frank Bradford, Héraðsskjalasafn Vestmannaeyja/Kjartan Guðmundsson, Helga Davids, Hrafn Óskarsson, Ingibjörg Eiríksdóttir, Jónas Erlendsson, Kristinn Jónsson, Lovísa Ásbjörnsdóttir, Monique Starr, Morgunblaðið/Golli, Ólafur Eggertsson, Regína Hreinsdóttir, Rögnvaldur Ólafsson, Sigurður Sigursveinsson, Sigurgeir Már Jensson, Sigurlaug Linnet, Skógasafn/Sverrir Magnússon, Snorri Baldursson, Sveinbjörn Jónsson, Þorsteinn Jónsson, Þorsteinn Valsson, Þórhildur Jónsdóttir, Þórir N. Kjartansson, Valgerður Helgadóttir, Þuríður H. Aradóttir. Front page: Hrafn Óskarsson. Drawing: Sæmundur Hólm. Layout: Auglýsingastofa Þórhildar 2511.5. Printing: Ísafoldarprentsmiðja.

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What is a Geopark? Geoparks combine conservation, sustainable development and community involvement. The geological heritage is important but educating the public about the environment and promoting regional sustainable development is of paramount importance. EGN Established in 2000, the European Geoparks Network (EGN) aims to protect geodiversity, to promote geological heritage to the general public as well as to support sustainable economic development of geopark territories primarily through the development of geological tourism. The network has united territories from across Europe that share these aims and which are now working together in an active and dynamic way to achieve them. Originally consisting of four territories, the network has, as of April 2010, been expanded to include 43 territories across 17 European countries. GGN UNESCO gives its ad hoc support to national Geopark initiatives which are coordinated through a global network of national geoparks (Global Geoparks Network [GGN]) where national geological heritage initiatives benefit fully from their membership of a global network of exchange and cooperation. As of October 2010 the GGN has 77 members in 25 countries. In 2001 the European Geoparks Network signed a formal agreement with UNESCO whereby UNESCO gave the network its endorsement. A further agreement was signed with UNESCO in 2004 whereby the EGN was given responsibility for regulating membership of the UNESCO Global Network of Geoparks in Europe.

ISBN 978-9979-72-000-3

www.katlageopark.is

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Katla Geopark