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Earth Systems student field trip to Iceland
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31 students following the Institute’s B.Sc. (Hons) in Earth Systems participated in a week-long training session in Iceland, offered in connection with the second-year study-unit titled Environmental Monitoring: Survey Techniques for Life & Earth Sciences. The trip, held between 5 and 11 May 2013, was organised in collaboration with Iceland Naturalist, a leading Icelandic tour operator which specialises in natural history and wildlife.


The students were accompanied by members of the Institute’s academic staff, and followed an intensive programme consisting of lectures, fieldwork sessions, and student-led presentations and seminars during their stay. Field exercises addressed several different subject areas within life and earth sciences, including plant succession, river channel and flow characteristics, tephrachronology, aspects of geomorphological measurements, and GPS orienteering and mapping, amongst others. The group stayed in the town of Hveragerði in the south of Iceland, with daily excursions for fieldwork and site visits.

In addition to learning about field techniques and the challenges of fieldwork, throughout the week students had the opportunity to study a variety of tectonic and geomorphological processes and landforms. During a visit to Þingvellir National Park, students observed first-hand the divide between the Eurasian and the North American continental plates at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Students also visited a variety of volcanic areas, including the site of the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption and Iceland’s most active volcano Hekla. On their final afternoon in Iceland, students went on a glacier trek, with specialised guides explaining the many features particular to these environments, and the threats that they face. Of particular interest in Iceland is the interface between volcanoes and ice (reflected in the colours red and white on the country’s flag, in addition to blue, which represents the sea and sky). Indeed, volcanic eruptions under glaciers have created features such as the characteristic flat-topped thuya mounts, as well as extensive outwash plains, resulting from the massive floods produced by sub-glacial eruptions in the past. In Drumbabót, students visited a forest remnant dating back to the 9th century, which was destroyed by such a flood and subsequently buried by sediment, but which was re-exposed in recent years.  Other sites visited during the week included Geysir, which now lends its name to all geysers worldwide, the geomorphologically complex waterfall of Gulfoss, and the black sandy beaches at Vik.

Iceland also has a very interesting ecology. At the time of the visit, the annual bird migration had commenced, and several species of conservation interest were observed, including the Pink-Footed Goose, which breeds in the interior of Iceland, and Barrow’s Golden-Eye, a rare visitor to the European mainland.  Students also had the opportunity to see Minke Whale and puffins, during an offshore boat trip out of Reykavik.

Similar activities, aimed at providing students with experience in conducting field surveys in unfamiliar environments of particular geophysical and ecological interest, are a regular part of the Institute’s programmes in Earth Systems.





Photos © Iceland Naturalist

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Last Updated: 2 June 2016

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