In which we take a scenic drive

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Hello dear readers! We awoke to another day of beautiful weather and warm sunshine, which was enjoyed by the small herd of napping horses along the river. Charlie and I can’t figure out what we’ve done right to have 9 straight days of sun but the students are starting to doubt they need all that rain gear we emphasized so strongly …

 

Today we drove from Kirkjubæjuarklauster to Stöðvarfjördur with many stops in between. This drive took us from the south coast of Iceland to about half way up the east coast. Our first destination was to another glacier coming from the Vatnajökull ice cap (the largest in Europe) called Kviárjökull. We are scouting this glacier to see if it’s a good candidate for additional sampling in the future, so we can compare data from Sólheimajökull with another Icelandic glacier.

Note the mounds leading up to the glacier (moraines) – these mark places the front of the glacier has been in past years.

Our second stop is the lovely “Glacier Lagoon,” or Jökulsárion, where the Norðlingalægðarjökull glacier calves into the sea. This is the only glacier that calves directly into the sea in all of Iceland. We saw seals swimming in the lagoon along with eider ducks, gulls, Arctic terns and a few foolish/brave humans in kayaks!

The round black dots are indeed seal heads – 4 in total!
Stunning. I’ve never seen Iceland skies this clear.

 

After driving past 3 other outlet glaciers, we took a brief detour to the fishing town Höfn, where we were treated to a fabulous view of Vatnajökull and its outlet glaciers.

How many outlet glaciers can you count?

 

The day was getting more cloudy (finally!) as we drove another stretch of Route 1 to the small village of Djúpivogur for a bathroom break and important re-caffination. Yours truly also acquired a traditional Icelandic doughnut. Yum! The town is quite old and has a number of buildings dating from the late 1800s and early 1900s. They are also, apparently, quite proud of their toilets.

After journeying along a few more fjords and twisty roads, passing a number of camping vans along the way, we arrived at our destination – a schoolhouse in the small village of Stöðvarfjördur, a 5 minute drive away from the archaeological site we’ll be working at Monday and Tuesday. This site is significant for a number of reasons, which you can read about here and here. Tomorrow we will work with the drones, flying over the site and gathering information such as Near Infrared, which can point us to locations that were previously populated by humans. On Tuesday we’ll use that information to collect soil samples and test differences between microbial populations in soils that have been previously inhabited versus those that have not. But perhaps most importantly, the school has a washing machine, which has allowed us to finally get some clean clothes.

Good thing tomorrow is a holiday and school is not in session!

Wish us luck on all our work in the next few days. Signing off, your friendly neighborhood molecular biologist!

Between Two Glaciers

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The first thing we did today was pack and travel. We left our hostel in Vik early this morning, making a stop to collect groceries for the next few days, and set out north-east to Klaustur.

Klauster is a small town, right between Mýrdalsjökull, the glacier we worked at yesterday, and Vatnajökull, which is the second largest glacier in Europe. In Klauster we learned a lot about the history of the region, especially about the 1783 eruption of the volcanic fissure Lakagígar, a devastating natural disaster that we read about in the semester leading up to the trip.

Vatnajökull looms in the distance

After a short film about the eruption in a local visitor center, we went on a hike around the nearby cliffs, getting an excellent view of the ocean and the town below, as well as Systravatn, a beautiful lake at the top of the cliffs. At the end of the hike, we were about to see Kirkjugólf (The Church Floor), a formation called columnar basalt which forms when a lava flow cools under the right conditions.

Kirkjugólf (The Church Floor)

Today was mostly a historical and cultural day, and a break from our scientific work, but it was really cool to see the places and landmarks we have studied in person.

Sólheimajökull Day 2: RIP Carmen

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Its Lillian again with our second and final day at Sólheimajökull! Today we took soil samples around the glacier.

 

After having a great breakfast of egg fried rice using the dinner leftovers, we headed again from Vik to Sólheimajökull. Then we split up into three teams to take soil samples. We use the samples to measure microbial DNA. This can show us how the environment has changed after the glacier has receded. C and E had a map they created of sample sites that covered a wide range of years that the glacier receded from each spot. Then they split the spots up into three sets based on location.

 

Charlie, along with Sydney, Porter, and Jordan volunteered to take the most demanding set of samples, which required more strenuous hiking, including crossing rivers! The remaining two groups were led by Roger, who was the student leader of the day, and Em.

Group 2 selfie with Sólheimajökull in the background!

 

Group 3 selfie!

 

 

It took long hikes through the valley to reach all the samples

 

We could both see and hear Group 3 across the valley! Kathryn is in the light blue coat, and Roger is in the orange coat.

 

Group 3 found this beautiful waterfall while taking samples!

 

Group 2 saw some great plants trying their best in a fragile ecosystem!

 

All the groups were able to make it to most of the sample sites. However, we are sad to say that we lost one of our drones, Carmen, during the sampling. Carmen encountered errors while flying, and we were unable to control it. We used the last image it captured to try and find it to no avail. Later, I found more data of the flight on the app we use to fly the Spark drones, and it is most likely that Carmen flew into the lake by Sólheimajökull. We are hoping to find funds to replace Carmen soon.

 

After we came back to Vik, we had a great dinner of chili made by Kaela! Then we packed up our things as we prepared for driving to Klauster the next day.

 

Carmen’s final flight 🙁

 

Sólheimajökull Day 1: Crampon, Crampoff

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Hello! My name is Lillian and I’m a senior Computer Science major. Today we hiked the glacier Sólheimajökull! Sólheimajökull is an outlet glacier of the glacier Mýrdalsjökull, meaning that it originates from Mýrdalsjökull through a valley. Sólheimajökull is also interesting in that it is covered in lots of ash from the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010.

We woke up in Vik to the sound of roosters. For a few people in the group, this was a nice reminder of home! Then we piled into the vans for the half-hour drive to the glacier.

One hen came up to hang out with us!

 

Gummi and Oddur lead us on our hike on Sólheimajökull. They both work in Reykjavík and have lead the IFS group on Sólheimajökull for multiple years. We divided into two groups, one with Gummi and Em and one with Oddur and Charlie. Then we split up with one group walking along the northwest side and one group walking the southeast side of the glacier. Before walking on the glacier, we had to put crampons on our boots in order to hike the glacier with more traction.

Walking to the glacier from the parking lot. This area would have been covered by the glacier within 20 years ago, but due to climate change, it is receding quickly.
Gummi and Em’s group with a great view past the tip of the glacier!
Oddur and Charlie’s group (minus me taking the photo)

 

After the two groups met on the top of the glacier, we ate lunch and did some drone flying!

We had a hard time not getting a little sunburnt on the glacer, but we’re clearly having a great time!
Obligatory drone selfie!

 

After lunch, each group climbed down the glacier opposite the way we came.

 

Sólheimajökull had many deep crevasses that Gummi and Oddur helped us navigate around.
A neat discovery found under a mound of ash and ice by my group!

 

After thanking and saying goodbye to Gummi and Oddur, we left to travel back to Vik. On the way, we stopped by Reynisfjara Beach, famous for its basalt columns, and for being the site of multiple films and movies, including Rogue One and Game of Thrones!

Group photo sitting on the basalt columns!

 

Group photo in the cave in the basalt wall!

 

Part of Charlie’s job description is to help students to get good photo ops.

 

After arriving back in Vik, we had an amazing Chinese dinner cooked by Li with the help of Joyce, Roger, and Mubi! Then we prepared to take soil samples around Sólheimajökull the next day.

Mountain Hike, Off the Island, Onto the South Coast

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The first thing we did after waking up was hiking up the 2nd mountain. For me, it was Helgafell, which is older compared to Eldfell, and is located towards the southeast part of the island of Heimaey. While hiking, we continued monitoring the altitude we were measuring yesterday with elevation platforms.

On the hike up to Helgafell, with the Sun shining down on us
View of airport and the southern end of Heimaey from the top of Helgafell

We returned to the hostel to feed ourselves lunch and to pack up for our ferry back to the mainland. Then we all got into our vans and drove towards Vik, a town close to the southern coast of Iceland, where we planned to stay for the next 3 nights. To finish off, E made some delicious veggie soup with bread and salad that had to be devoured.

Graffiti spotted on the way to the ferry from Heimaey
We stopped at Seljalandsfoss, a wonderful tourist attraction, on the way to Vik

Eldheimar Museum and Hiking

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Tuesday, June 4, 2019         No rain = beautiful weather, again

For the morning, the group of students walked to the Eldheimar museum and learned about the volcano eruption in Heimaey in 1973. It is a very cool museum where we walked around with audio guides that sense our location and play the corresponding audio. It is built around an excavation site after the eruption. We were able to see the ruin of a house, the model of the path of the lava flow which almost closed the port of the island, learn about what people were doing during the time and a newly created island by lava, Surtsey.

In the afternoon, we split up into two groups. One group hiked the Helgafell and the other hiked Eldfell. I hiked Helgafell. It was really fun with loose rocks and steep slopes. Despite being forecasted to be around 0 Celsius and windy, it was so warm and we had to shed layers during our hike. Our little science exercise for the hikes was to measure the pressure at sea level and at the top of each mountain that we hiked, and compare the margin of errors between devices and with the elevation marked (the accurate standard). Tomorrow, we will hike the other mountain and do the same thing.

A group photo with the puffin before we split.

The Eldfell group.

The view from Helgafell. If we look towards Eldfell, we can distinguish the new land that was created by the lava.

Cat of the Day! We met this cute little cat on our way back from Helgafell.

After dinner at Gott (a very nice restaurant), we (people shown in the picture above) biked to the south side of the island to see puffins. It was a rough bike ride! But it was worth it. Sheep and horses also became our friends for the ride.

Since we were on the south of the island, we hypothesized this was Surtsey.

 

On the way to Heimaey

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The weather has been unbelievably fabulous for three days on a roll. On the morning of Monday, June 3, 2019, the IFS group said goodbye to the Igdlo Hostel in Reykjavík and headed southeast. Our final destination for the day is Heimaey, a small island to the south of Iceland that can be reached by ferry. On our way to the ferry station, we stopped at the Commonwealth farm and a dam.

After packing and loading the van, we played cards while waiting for the people who went shopping to come back at the Igdlo picnic table.

It was noon and windy when we got off the car! The Commonwealth Farm is a replica of what has been dug up at the archeological sites in Iceland. We visited with the goal of getting a better idea of what we will be working with at the archeological site in Stod. The replica consists of a turf house and a small church next to it. In the turf house, we found items such as clothing, swords, wools, benches, and “bedrooms.” It shows how people back then might have lived and worked. Some of us commented it as no privacy because mostly everyone slept on a long bed bench altogether, with the one or two exceptions of high-status people sleeping in a small closet with space to lay down.

E is holding a sword in the turf house.

The right is the small church and the left is the turf house.

 

What are they looking at?

The dam!

 

Then, we had very much fun searching for a former forest that was destroyed by the eruption of Hekla in 1104.

Why was it fun?

Our van almost got stuck in the soft gravel. Fortunately, everyone got off the van except Charlie, the driver, and we were unstuck. The image below shows the track.

Our search for the forest was stopped by a small creek, so we enjoyed the view and played skipping rocks.

It was time to hop on the ferry. The experience was exciting for some of us, but not so much for those with motion sickness. I enjoyed bird watching with binoculars and the ocean breeze!

The tail of the ferry producing waves.

We arrived at the Heimaey Hostel save and sound. Thanks to Kathryn and Jordan, we had delicious pasta to fill our stomach before going to bed!

Waterfalls Galore

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Hello all, it’s me again, Kathryn! Today we put our tourists caps on again and went to the National Museum. The museum was incredibly informative, it told the story of the people of Iceland (how they got there, who they were, and what they became). My favorite exhibit in the museum was of the bath-house (I don’t recall the name in Icelandic). What is interesting about the bath-house is that it slowly evolved into the main-house because it was the warmest place to be. My favorite place in the museum was this little corner on the second floor where there was a chess table next to some books with some extremely comfy couches (I almost feel asleep there!).

This is the bath-house that in it’s later stages no longer resembled one.

This is the little nook I mentioned above. Sydney and Porter played a game of chess. You can take your guess on who won.

After the museum we headed to the Althing (the oldest and first form of Icelandic government). The location of the Althing is important for both historical/cultural reasons and geological ones. The Althing is where the North American and European plates are separating to form new land.

Currently Lilli is between the North American (right) and European (left) plates. This walk way leads to where the Althing was held.

This is flag is where it was held. The Althing was a long event and folks would set up tents to claim their spot, and you can still see those imprints in the ground.

A little past the Althing is this beautiful waterfall, the first one I’ve seen in Iceland (I have been told that there are many waterfalls in Iceland). The nice thing about Iceland is that because the water is so clean, you can re-fill your water bottle there. And I can tell you that it is the best water I’ve ever had.

After finish touring the Althing, we left to go see another, much bigger waterfall. On the way, we were able to see Hekla (by some miracle) through the haze, and drove through the town called Geyser. Interestingly, geysers (the geological phenomenon) is named after the town because there are so many of them. We did not stop there because according to E and C, it is just a tourist trap.

For size reference, there is a trail on the right side of the photo where people are walking.

This is a much nicer photo of the waterfall courtesy of Roger and his fancy camera.

And the obligatory group photo and a rainbow in the background.

To finish off the day Mubi served everyone an absolutely delicious meal of stir-fry ramen. Well, it’s time for bed for me, even though it’s still light out (that’s going to take some getting used to).

 

Adventure Time!

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The Iceland trip is officially in progress! I should probably introduce myself (and everyone else) before I continue on, I’m Kathryn Hulleman and I am a biochemistry junior.

This is all of us students on the trip, and from right to left: Li, Jordan, Joyce, Roger, Lilli, Kathryn (me), Sydney, Porter, Kaela, and Mubi.

Today was a long day (or two depending on how you count). Fortunately for us, all of the flights went smoothly (no missed flights, delays or people). We passed the time in the Minneapolis airport by playing codenames. On the way into Reykjavik, there was interesting statue. That is wait for it… An egg with a jet hatching out of it.

Luckily for us, the weather was beautiful when we arrived in Iceland— nice and sunny, no rain, and a minimal breeze. To start off the trip, E and C (plus me) went out shopping for food while everyone else took a nice, needed nap. After lunch, which was sandwiches with smoked lamb and some Swiss cheese, and with full bellies, we started out on adventure to the downtown area lead by Em. Em’s tip for not getting lost in Reykjavik is to know how to get home from the concrete church, because it is visible in from most of the downtown area.

Some highlights from our walk around Reykjavik included:

  • We saw a beautiful black cat named Kisa who was very soft and friendly.
  • There was a flight show going on to celebrate a 100 years of flight in Iceland. I saw many planes doing tricks out on the harbor (one even did two or three loop-d-loops in a row
  • Seeing the Icelandic version of the Sydney opera house (as Kaela pointed out). It is a concert hall over the harbor meant to imitate the look of basalt columns.
  • We went into the flea market and then hanging out in the parliament park to enjoy the Iceland air.

Charlie and Jordan cooked a delicious meal of baked cod with leaks, mashed potatoes and a salad. And now for the photos!

This is the beautiful cat Kisa who graced our presence this morning!

Here is Sydney (with Porter and Mubi in the background) on the street of downtown Reykjavik. As you can see the sun is out and there is almost no wind! This nice of weather probably won’t happen again on the trip, but one can hope!

Porter and I have started a trend of imitating statues throughout the city (with much goading on Kaela and Sydney’s part) which we hope to continue throughout the trip.

 

And that concludes all that we did for today. I for one am ready for bed and can’t wait for what tomorrow brings!

 

Áfram Ísland

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Last night a group of us decided to go camping. We arrived at the camping spot around 11 pm feeling a little bit tired after the hike. However, we didn’t want to sleep right away, so Arlo and I went exploring our surroundings while the rest were playing Euchre (well, except Faith who went to sleep.)

The next morning started with Eli’s alarm and then with the pleasant sounds of the nearby waterfall. After some morning stretching, we decided to have a few minutes alone to enjoy the beautiful scenery around us. We then headed back to the house for breakfast and joined the 9 am briefing meeting.

Today marked a special day for the entire nation of Iceland. At 1 pm, Iceland marked its debut on the World Cup against Argentina. To be part of such occasion, Oli made sure we had a bus pick us up and drive us to Seyðisfjörður where we would watch the game. While most of us were getting ready for the kickoff, Dan, Emi and I had already our Iceland jerseys and scarfs on. Before leaving, Dan sparked our excitement by presenting a brief history of Iceland’s national team.

We arrived at Seyðisfjörður around noon. Having one hour available before the kickoff, we went to a local market and then ate lunch at a nearby restaurant. At 1 pm we were at a community center were locals from Seyðisfjörður had set up a giant projector to watch the game. Finally, the moment I had personally been waiting since I joined this program arrived. It was kick off time. After a slow start, Argentina got the early lead with Aguero. Luckily, Iceland responded right away, and after four minutes Finnbogason equalized. Everyone stood up celebrating and chanting; it was an unforgettable moment. Those were the highlights of the first half.

The second half began with Argentina pressing up high and trying to get the lead again while Iceland was well organized and closed all the spaces in defense. Then, in the sixty-fourth minute, Argentina had a penalty awarded. The community center went quiet waiting for Messi to take the penalty. And then, Halldórsson saves the penalty, and everyone is again celebrating and chanting as if Iceland scored again. The last minutes of the game were nerve-wracking as we witnessed Iceland draw its first ever World Cup game.

After the game, we went to Oli’s house where his son, probably inspired and motivated by the brave performance of his country, invited us to play football in one of the nearby fields. Some of us accepted the invitation, and we decided to play Europe-USA (if you were wondering which of the teams won, Europe did, twice (: ). It was really fun playing football again, even though we quickly realized we were out of shape. Yet, we continued to play until it was time to get back to Skálanes.

All of us, except Andy who decided to run from Seyðisfjörður back to Skálanes, got rides in groups from Oli and Charlie. It is worth mentioning that it took Andy only one hour and twenty-four minutes to complete the run (17.4 km) and reach Skálanes before the last group did. Once we were back, we had a delicious meal cooked by Ahsan, Nick, and Sallie, and discussed the plan for tomorrow. After dinner, another group went camping while we continued working, spending time with each other, and resting.

To conclude, today was an unforgettable day for Iceland and me personally. Stay tuned for another update tomorrow, and as always Áfram Ísland.

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