Home Sweet Skalanes!

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On Monday June 11, we journeyed to our home for the next week or so, Skalanes! We had to check out of the hostel in Egilsstaðir by 11:00 am, but our ride to Skalanes didn’t leave until 5:30 pm, so we had some free time in town. Emi, Charlie, Arlo, and Dan met with a group of professors and students from various universities at the Salt Cafe to discuss overlapping research interests. Afterwards, a handful of us met up with our fellow Earlham folk and spent a good chunk of the afternoon hanging out, playing Euchre and Carcassonne, drinking tea, and hitting our heads on the wonderfully decorative and incredibly low-hanging ceiling lamps. Charlie went back and forth to the post office to drop off the postcards that some of us wanted to send to friends and family. Another group of Earlhamites went with Andy and Eli to the Snaefell visitor center and went to see some nearby ruins of an old monastery, a forest (a very rare thing in Iceland), and the third tallest waterfall in Iceland, Hengifoss. Meanwhile, Kellan, Nic, Gail, and Faith spent the afternoon walking all the way from Egilsstaðir to Seyðisfjörður! Google maps puts this down as a 26.7 km hike which takes 5 hours and 48 minutes to walk.


The rest of us went to the Egilsstaðir airport around 5:00 pm to drop off the vans and wait to be picked up by the bus for Skalanes. After loading up the bus and heading out of town, we had a very scenic drive through the mountain pass which separates Egilsstaðir from Seyðisfjörður. Along the way we picked up our hiking friends, who had almost made it to Seyðisfjörður!

To get to the house at Skalanes, you need to traverse a gravel road and three rivers, so the bus dropped us off as close as it could get. From there, we walked for about an hour, and then finally arrived!


For dinner, potato leek soup, smoked lamb on bread (a traditional icelandic dish), smoked salmon on bread, unsmoked cheese on bread, and hard boiled eggs on bread. There was also butter. And bread.

CrampOn. CrampOff.

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Today we ventured back out to the rapidly shrinking glacier, Sólheimajökull. It was an incredibly beautiful day, which made our adventure even more lovely. We split up into three teams to collect data which we will use to measure just how quickly the glacier is melting. One group flew our handy drone and collected great aerial imagery. The other two groups hiked up the glacier with elevation platforms to measure how far above sea level different points on the glacier were. A year from now, many of those points will be noticeably lower.

Preparing to Climb

As one might imagine, climbing an ice cube is no walk in the park. Our lovely glacier guides Gummi and Oddur provided us with crampons (essentially “ice-cleats”) and mini-pickaxes. Without crampons, we would slide all over the place, but we were told the pickaxes were more “for show.” After going over some basic glacier safety, Gummi took a group up the east edge of the glacier finger and Oddur guided another set of us up the west edge. It was a nice trek up, and it was warm enough to wear a single layer at some points. On our way up the east edge, Gummi pointed out some streams where we could fill up our water bottles with authentic, fresh glacier water. The two groups met fairly far up the glacier in the middle, and we had lunch on a giant ice cube. As Emi noted, we would be hard pressed to find a better lunch spot. After lunch, the groups switched paths and Gummi led us down the west while Oddur led the others down the east. On the way down, Gummi recounted coming to the glacier when he was younger and pointed out the general area where the glacier ended 5 years ago. It was easily 50 meters beyond where it ends now.

Glacier Water for Gail

After a warm day on the glacier, we came back to Vik and had a delicious curry and rice dinner prepared by Nic and Kellan. Tomorrow, we will have a cold day on the fissure volcano Laki, led again by Gummi and Oddur.

Laser Beams and Drones

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Over the last few days, we have been making good progress with our LiDAR endeavors. Neil and Charlie have been working on weight-efficient methods to attach the LiDAR to our drone, Kia. The initial prototype was too heavy, and a test run over-heated Kia’s battery. It turns out that we can cover one of Kia’s sensors without catastrophe, which will allow us to attach the LiDAR to Kia underneath said sensor without needing extra material like a platform for the LiDAR to sit on.

It will be useful for us to sync up the LiDAR data with GPS data from Kia. Fortunately, both the LiDAR and Kia transmit time-data. Unfortunately, that data is not easily accessible, much less synchronizable. Kellan and Nic have been working on methods to extract this data so we can sync up and get going. They have also been working on installing software and writing code for analyzing point clouds (3-D depictions of LiDAR readings).

I have been familiarizing myself with the tools and methods used for analyzing point clouds. Once we have gathered our LiDAR data, how do we extract meaning from any of it? First we will need to reduce noise, which can be done by using statistical analysis to detect outlier points (laser reflects off of a piece of airborne dust, for instance). Since we will be looking for particular kinds of things (archaeological ruins, bird nests, etc.), we will then need to have methods for detecting particular features. For example, the foundation of a structure will likely have near-straight lines. If we have a tool that will highlight all near-straight lines, we can search for archaeological ruins more efficiently. There are many object-detection techniques, all of which involve very clever math. If we’re lucky, any noise-filtering and object-detection algorithms that we may need are already out there. If not, enough work has been done in this field that synthesizing existing methods will (hopefully) be doable.


We are currently searching for a renegade tablet that seems to have wandered off. I can’t imagine it can run very fast or far, so we should come across it soon if it doesn’t get tired and come home by itself.