The Golden Circle

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First of June, first truly full day in Iceland, and a busy one at that. We started with a somewhat hectic breakfast at the hostel but eventually herded everyone together and hit the road as tourists following the Golden Circle. We started off visiting the Hellisheiði Power Plant. Iceland is positioned over the Mid-Atlantic ridge, hence the many volcanoes in Iceland, and geothermal power plants such as the one we visited harness the energy from the hot water to provide electricity and hot water to Reykjavik and other parts of Iceland. After a cloudy start to the day, the winds blew them away and revealed the sun as we visited the Kerið crater. Kerið was a volcano which erupted then collapsed after it’s magma chamber emptied.

We trekked a path that encircles the crater, tried not to be blown over by the wind, and then walked down to the lake at the bottom. A parking lot lunch was enjoyed by all, as we munched on sandwiches and GORP.

Then we drove on to visit the huge waterfall Gullfoss. With the sun shining we were able to see a double rainbow in the mist!

We planned to visit Geysir (from the Icelandic verb geysa, “to gush”, the verb from Old Norse) but we’d spent so much time at other sites and still needed to get to Þinvellir. But through the van windows  we were still able to observe (mostly) steam coming from the ground as we drove past. At Þinvellir we tested out the drones and got them flying before exploring the rift valley which was the original site for the Althing, the Icelandic parliament. Here we were able to see the results of continental drift in person: faults (cracks) from the separation of the North American and Eurasian plates. It was a lot of fun walking around and great weather for gazing at the glaciers in the distance (thanks to great weather)!

Travel to Iceland

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Hello blog following friends! Welcome to the first blog post about the Icelandic Field Studies (IFS) program 2018. My name is Madeline and I am a sophomore environmental sustainability major at Earlham. In our IFS program this year, we have 17 people including students from all classes and many majors, and four faculty leaders who have a plethora of different skills to offer. We have all been working hard on developing and refining our research projects for the past few weeks and I am excited to summarize them here as well as give you a look at our first day in country.

There a few major interests in our group this year: Biology, computer science, geology/glaciology, and sustainability. Within these groups, there are subgroups who are working on various projects within the above disciplines. I am most acquainted with the biology side of things, so I’ll start there. There are three different projects happening under the bio umbrella. The first is on DNA sampling in soil samples. This project is hoping to gather data on the changing bacterial communities in the soil over time as glaciers have melted and the soil has become exposed to the air. This can help us create a timeline of areas based on the bacterial communities present there and help us examine how glacial recession affects bacterial communities. The next project is going to trap insects in fake flowers and monitor the pollinator populations in the area of study. The last project in biology on the effect of Lupine on the reproductive success or gametic investment (depending on if we find hatchlings or eggs) of Arctic Tern nests at our area of study. Lupine is an invasive, nitrogen-fixing plant that was introduced to Iceland to improve the soil. We will collect data on nests in areas with Lupine and areas without Lupine. This project will also be helpful in monitoring the Tern populations at our area of study.

The sustainability folks are building an efficient as possible mock greenhouse to see if a larger one would be plausible in the future. There will be more about this project in a later blog post.

The computer science team are interwoven in every other discipline while also programming drones that will capture images of many of the places we are going. These will be helpful in making GIS maps later and monitoring how the areas change. There will also be more description of these projects in later blog posts.

Those have been our research focuses for the past three weeks, but today we finally arrived in country and will be able to begin working on them. We spent all of May 30thpacking and finishing up last minute things in preparation for the trip. Then, at 8 p.m. we loaded two 12 passenger vans with ourselves and our large amount of luggage and made our way to the Cincinnati airport. After checking our luggage and moving through security, we got on our 12:30 a.m. flight to Reykjavik. We had a six-hour flight and arrived in Reykjavik at about 11:30 a.m. Iceland time which is 7:30 a.m in Indiana. We then made our way to the hostel we will be staying at for the next few nights and split into shopping groups to gather more things we needed. We ended the day with a delicious stir-fry dinner and are looking forward to hitting the hay after many hours of traveling. Tune in tomorrow for another exciting installment!

Long Day’s Journey Unto Ice

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Today began at 7:30 when Charlie and Emi left to pick up the rental van at the airport in Egilsstaðir, roughly 30-45 minutes away. Sanne, who runs and maintains the house at Skalanes, drove them – and as much luggage as we could pack in – out to the parking area where we had one rental car waiting. They transferred people and luggage into the rental and drove off. The rest of us ate breakfast, cleaned up the house as best we could to help out Sanne and the others who run Skalanes (a group of 30 is arriving at Skalanes tomorrow!), and began to load up Sanne’s vehicle with all of the luggage we had not been able to send with Charlie and Emi. Once the luggage was loaded, we began walking out the drive while Sanne drove the luggage to the parking area and then turned around to pick us up and drive us the rest of the way. At the parking area, we were faced with a cold and windy wait as Charlie and Emi drove back. We amused ourselves with word games and hypothermia dances until finally they arrived.

Loading up the vehicles with luggage and humans took only a few minutes, and then we were off on our long drive back to Vik. We stopped for a few minutes at Glacier Lagoon so Marketing could get some nice picturesque footage of us in Iceland and briefly saw a seal – they occasionally swim up into the lagoon, which is apparently close to 200 meters deep due to the icebergs. Other than that, the drive was long and pretty uneventful, with stops only for restrooms and other necessities. At one of the gas stations we learned that today is a holiday here in Iceland (Whit Sunday, the day before Pentecost), and we were concerned that the grocery store here in Vik would be closed, preventing us from getting groceries for tomorrow. We made a short detour to Klaustur, where we knew there was a gas station/convenience store that would have some basic groceries available, and picked up materials to make some quick Mac and Cheese for dinner tonight and sandwich materials for lunch tomorrow.

When we pulled into Vik we discovered that the grocery store is in fact open today and we needn’t have worried, but the early shopping trip did allow us to begin working on dinner much sooner after we arrived. Everyone was tired and hungry, since we pulled into the hostel at 7 pm and had left Skalanes at 8:30 (or earlier) this morning. It’s after dinner now, and Charlie and Neil are working on getting the elevation platforms and drone ready for tomorrow, when we’ll be returning to the Sólheimajökull glacier. Rather than collecting soil samples like last time, we’ll be climbing on the glacier itself to collect geographical and volumetric data we’ll use to chart its recession over time. Nic is down with a nasty cluster headache, which is preventing him from helping get the drone ready. Yesterday I finished modifying and debugging the elevation platforms’ code, but now Charlie is trying to debug an issue with Field Day, the Android app we use to gather data from them. All in all, it’s a pretty regular night for us here, with a group playing Euchre in one area and tech gear exploded across another space.

Tomorrow we leave the Puffin Hostel at 9 am to meet our glacier guides at 10 and begin collecting data on the ice.

No one has died of dysentery …

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… but we did ford some rivers! I have no photographic evidence of our journey (because I was worried about dying) so use your imagination as I walk you through the day.

Goal: Drive to Egilsstaðir to get to the airport to pick up a rental car so Dan, Neil and I can visit an archaeological dig on Friday (excitement!!) and do some shopping since the food delivery to Skalanes was delayed.

Problem: It’s been raining here pretty solidly for the last few days. The three (3) rivers that one must cross to get to civilization are rising … and rising … and rising …

Oli (the owner and manager of Skalanes) arrives in his big 4×4 truck circa 9 am. Charlie and I hop in ASAP, since Oli says the rivers are nearing the point of unfordability. We approach the first river. The water is rushing madly down to the sea. It is easily 3x higher than yesterday. Oli puts the differential lock on so the rear wheels will have more power. We charge through the river. It’s pretty intense but we clear it. We zoom down the road to the second ford and cross it, with similar trepidation (and a larger drop off downstream). Then we approach the third and final ford, which is the largest and most dangerous. The waters are roaring down the mountain. Oli angles the truck well upstream of our exit point, throws on the differential lock and moves forward into the current. I feel the truck being pushed downstream – the water level is almost up to the windows! Charlie is ready with his window-breaking tool, and I’m planning how I will roll down the window and climb out as soon as the river thrusts us against the rocks we are quickly approaching. Can I grab my pack (which contains all my cash, ID, credit card and passport)? Nope, better not risk it … the truck is groaning and lurching and then, inches away from the rocks at the end of the ford, the nose of the truck rises out of the torrent onto the road and we’re safe. Water has made it into the floor of the truck but we escape the mad dash to the sea.

You may think that the rest of the day will be tame compared to this adventure. Incorrect. After picking up our car and getting some serendipitous shopping completed, Charlie and I head back toward Skalanes with myself at the wheel. I head into the mountain pass of route 93 from Egilsstaðir to Seyðisfjörður. The wind is gusting at 20 knots and the rain turns into snow as we crest the pass. We drive through intense pea-soup fog patches as we pass by snowpack, and it’s a good thing that all cars in Iceland are required to have their lights on 24 hours a day so we don’t strike each other in the fog. We finally descend into the valley, and drive past waterfalls which are being blown backwards and upwards by the strong winds. As we approach Skalanes, we know there is no way we can drive our SUV past the rivers (indeed, Oli hung the “Closed” chain over the road as we left). We now face a 4.5 km trek from the road to the house. We call in reinforcements and Dan, Neil and Jacob answer the call. We trudge into the east wind with our groceries. Where there was a road, there is now a series of deep, large puddles and quickly forming new rivers. In one location, the land immediately next to the trail has disappeared (even since Dan, Neil and Jacob walked out to the car) and is quickly being eroded away. The cold wind is blowing the rain directly into our faces. After about 45 minutes, we reach the house. We drag our soaking carcasses into the warm, dry lodge and jump into showers to warm up.

The rest of the day really pales into comparison – mostly because I was exhausted and just sat around by the fire. Shout out to my Marmot water-proof pants and North Face GorTex jacket – they kept me mostly dry!

Tomorrow I take Dan and Neil and drive to the dig site in Stöðvarfjörður. We’re hopeful that we can offer them our services to aid their excavation! http://icelandreview.com/news/2016/09/15/major-archaeological-find-iceland

P.S. Sage’s code is working!!!!!

Signing off for now,

Emi

Rain Rain Go Away

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Cold, wet and cold. Constant rains at Skalanes, indoor science is not as exciting as outdoor science. Ventured out into the as little as possible. Once to place and geo-reference survey stakes, and once to track the elusive Gandolf. He is a master escape artist and a speed demon. Gandolf is a domestic rabbit that escaped/was released near the house at Skalanes. The first few attempts on his capture involved many hands and quick feet. However in the past few days I have tried a different approach. Slow and steady trust building. I have successfully had him eat out of my hand on two separate days. the rains today slowed the efforts. I hope day three will bring full success. Since we could not fly the drone and decided to wait on soil samples we decided to do a bit of group bonding, many rounds of Euchre and Coup past the time. Even in the rain this place is gorgeous. I can’t wait to get outside and do some more exploring!!

A ferry, a climb, and a feast!

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The day began bright and early (and misty) to catch an hour long ferry ride to Heimaey. Thankfully, our stomachs allowed for a relaxing journey with the opportunity to spend time on the deck or stay inside for a short nap. Upon arrival, we were greeted by faint smell of fish and the sound of birds who were circling the many cliffs surrounding us.

Our first stop was the lowest spot in sight- the docks, where we calibrated the Ambiance Platform device onto the application, Field Day, developed by the Earlham CS group. This was then able to track our movements throughout the island as we split into two groups to hike the volcanoes, Eldafell and Helgafell. The scree made our hike challenging, but after pushing through, we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the town as we reached the top and collected the points of highest elevation.

As we returned to town, there was time to freely explore the streets, shops, and museums. Before heading back on the ferry, we were treated to a mouthwatering dinner at GOTT, a highly reviewed favorite of Charlie’s.

Eggs, Fog, Geothermal, and a Waterfall

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After a much needed night of sleep, we began our second day in Iceland! We woke up to a 5-star breakfast, omelettes, courtesy of Charlie. After breakfast we hopped in the cars and were off to Hellisheiði Geothermal Power Plant for a tour. The van missed its turn due to some extreme fog, but eventually we all made it! At the plant got to learn about how geothermal power is generated and how the plant sends the hot water and power it produces to everyone in Reykjavik.

After the tour, it was back into the fog for a drive to the waterfall, Gullfoss. Gullfoss is a popular waterfall in the canyon of the Hvítá river in SW Iceland. 

We ended our excursions with a delicious dinner of Tikka Masala, prepared by Ai Lena and Jacob!

And so, we landed!

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Today marks our fist day here in Iceland.

Events started in a bit of a disarray with the airlines misplacing some important biology items and Charlie attempting new fashion trends,

but nevertheless after collecting our things from the baggage claim we soon found the members of our group who had arrived ahead of the main party. 

Dan was our fearless leader of the day and we organised into groups to get some errands done such as getting an emergency SIM card, going grocery shopping, and getting dry ice. At this point everyone was feeling the effects of tiredness, jet lag, and the every present brightness special to Iceland.

The day was far from over though, for our first real taste of Icelandic scenery the group went off to Þingvellir, a national shrine and home of the first parliament in existence, that lies directly next to the Almannagjá canyon which is made by the separation of the north American and European tectonic plates.
In such a short time, we have already been met by so much beauty here in the land of fire, ice, and trolls, we are all excited for what the next couple of weeks have in store for us.

Taking the LiDAR out for a spin

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We took the LiDAR out for a spin on Friday. We had a beautiful (read: high tech) rig that consisted of Neil driving, Kellan holding the LiDAR out the sunroof, and Nic spread out across that back seat with the drone (Kia), laptop, and router, collecting data from the LiDAR. We re-learned that Kia doesn’t like having a lot of metal around, so our plan to collect GPS data was challenged, more on why GPS data is important below.

This is us trying to get a good GPS signal on Kia, not us actually driving with Kia sitting on the roof…
Note: Kia is the drone not that we are in a KIA car

 

 

After a lot of indoors practice with the LiDAR, we determined that the best way to set up Kia when in Iceland is to have a balanced rig with weight evenly distributed to the sides. The elements that we have to consider are the LiDAR, a wifi transmitter as well as battery packs for both. Neil and Charlie are working on getting these built in a reliable prototype.

 

Our ultimate goal is to create point clouds from the LiDAR data based on GPS coordinates. During our test run on Friday we collected data but are still mapping this data based on time instead of GPS. Our plans for Monday are to pull the GPS data from our Friday test run from the Kia and align the GPS/telemetry data with the LiDAR data in a point cloud. This will allow us to correctly map the data in a point cloud. We can’t map the LiDAR data using time because the LiDAR spins faster than our time readings and time is linear and our flight most likely won’t be linear. If we were to create the point cloud using time, we would have a straight line where the data would be stretched out and repeated.

The next generation of next generation sequencers has arrived!

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We have received, from Oxford Nanopore, the MinION. (Min-ION, not one-eyed yellow minions, get it straight.) This device promises whole-genome sequencing of microbes, viruses and archaea from soil samples we will collect at the Solheimajokull glacier. This device is extremely small and portable, and one sequencing run can be done on a laptop in 6-8 hours. One flow cell can run up to 12 samples at a time, and while the samples are being sequenced, internet access will allow simultaneous queries of a database that will determine what species were in our sample. Thus, in REAL TIME, we can identify the composition of the soil microbiome. This is a drastic improvement over prior methods, which involved sending 16s rRNA samples to a company and waiting for 2-3 weeks for results. 

What kind of science are we doing with this device?

We will be collecting soil samples at the Solheimajokull glacier (near the town of Vik in Iceland). We want to obtain samples that have been “out of the freezer” i.e. not covered by the glacier for a specific number of years – 10, 20, 50, 75, 100, 150, 200, etc. We will compare the microbial populations present in these different soil samples and look at the type of soil and flora growing in these different locations. This will teach us how the land “recovers” once it is freed from a glacier.

This device will help us do this analysis on site and give us the data almost immediately. It’s really new, cool and exciting. We’re looking forward to learning about soil succession with the use of this device!

 

Blogger: Emi (Biology Professor and MinION hand modeler)

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