Station name and owner

China Iceland Arctic Research Observatory – CIAO. Land and buildings owned by Aurora Observatory, AO, an Icelandic non-profit foundation. Operated under a long term lease agreement with AO by the Polar Research Institute of China – PRIC.


The CIAO Observatory is located at Kárhóll, about 1,5 km south of the small community of Laugar, approx. 60 km east of Akureyri in Northern Iceland at 65° 42.431’N, 17° 22.017’W. The land of the Observatory is 156 hectares. It was previously a privately owned farm, designated partially as agricultural land and partially as forestry area under a contract with the Forest Service. The location is in the valley of Reykjadalur, with glacier carved soft hillsides on the west and east side, open view to the ocean 32 km to the north and the Icelandic interior highlands to the south. The nature reserve of Lake Mývatn with its renowned natural features and the Vatnajökull national park are within close driving distance.

Biodiversity and natural environment

The Observatory land extends 2 km from the small salmon river Reykjadalsá at about 50 m altitude to the top of the soft hill of Mýraöxl at 301 m. The land is all vegetated. The lower and flatter part is grass fields that are not harvested any more. The middle part is forested (larix, pines, spruces, willows) and managed under a contract with the Forestry Service, gradually changing to moor and then tundra on top. The climate is relatively mild,  given the northerly latitude, and dry as it is inland and a fair distance from the ocean, with mean temperature + 6.3°C and annual precipitation 450 mm.

History and facilities

The Observatory was formally opened in October 2018. It consist of a new research building, farmhouse with accommodation facilities for min 10 persons and older farmhouses for service, wet-laps, workshops and storage. The Observatory research building is 763 m2 on three floors. It includes a guest centre and an auditorium seating 56 people intended for public outreach (education and tourism), to be opened fall 2019. The second floor has meeting rooms, work spaces, cafeteria and research facilities.  The third floor is designed for research facilities, work spaces, six camera towers and lazer/lidar rooms. In the outside area there is already a rio-meter field with 37 antennas installed, two magnetic meters, weather stations and more.

General research and databases

CIAO is a state of the art facility with latest research equipment related to aurora and upper atmosphere research already in place in carefully specially designed facilities currently including six all-sky camera towers and a lazer/lidar. More equipment and for further research fields is to be installed. The Observatory is also intented as a work hub for research conducted in its greater area. CIAO offers excellent working conditions for its users with spacious work spaces, laboratory facilities from high-tech dry labs to wet labs, latest servers and computer systems, communication equipment, fibre internet connection, special current stabilized electrical installation, high voltage wiring, and more, in a design-award environment. Station manager, technical and science support staff and administrative support staff is available for users benefit.

Human dimension

The Observatory is located in the rural municipality of Þingeyjarsveit, with an area of 6.005 km2 and a population of 962 people in 2018. Main livelihood is from farming, community service and increasingly tourism. The nearest community is Laugar, 1.5 km to the north, with a population of about 150 people, mostly employed in service. Laugar hosts a secondary school and a high school, shop, restaurant, bank and of course an outdoor swimming pool. 60 km to the west is the community of Akureyri, the largest community outside of the Reykjavík area, with a population of 20.000+ and the community of Húsavík with a population of 2.300 42 km to the north.


The CIAO Observatory is on the main nr. 1 ring road so driving connection to and from is very good, all year. The distance from Reykjavík is 440 km.Akureyri airport is 60 km to the west. The airport has multiple daily connections to Reykjavík as well as direct flights to Keflavík international airport. Akureyri has also some direct international connections, including to Greenland. Húsavík airport, 35 km away, has daily flights to Reykjavík domestic airport. Public buses run daily by the Observatory. Car rentals are widely available in the area.

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