Twenty-three students following the Institute of Earth Systems’ B.Sc.(Hons.) in Earth Systems participated in a week-long training session in Iceland in connection with second and third-year study-units which deal with field survey techniques for the life and earth sciences. The group was based outside the town of Selfoss in southern Iceland between 25 September and 1 October, with daily excursions related to fieldwork and site visits.
The students were accompanied by members of the Institute’s academic and technical staff, and the group was joined by four of the Institute’s M.Sc. students. The intensive programme of fieldwork focused on employing basic field surveying techniques to study several subject areas such as plant succession on lava fields, lichenometry, volcanology, and tephrachronology.
In addition to collecting data in the field and experiencing first-hand the challenges of fieldwork in unfamiliar terrain and in adverse weather, students had the opportunity to study a variety of tectonic and geomorphological processes and landforms. During a visit to Þingvellir National Park, they were able to observe 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 Iceland’s most active volcano Hekla, the site of the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption, as well as an active eruption site at Fagradalsfjall on the Reykjanes peninsula. They also went on a boat trip around the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago, to view the spectacular volcanic landscape and observe the many seabird species that nest on the islands.
The group went on a glacier trek at Sólheimajökull, with a specialised guide explaining the many distinct features of these environments and the threats that they face. In Drumbabót, the students visited a forest remnant dating back to the 9th century, which was destroyed by flooding caused by sub-glacial eruptions and subsequently buried by sediment, but which has been re-exposed in recent years. Other sites visited during the week included Geysir - which lends its name to all geysers around the world, and the geomorphologically complex waterfall of Gullfoss.
Field trips of this sort aim to provide students with valuable experience in conducting field surveys in unfamiliar environments of particular geophysical and ecological interest, and are a regular part of the degree programmes offered by the Institute of Earth Systems.