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.

Poop, poop, everywhere!

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Today (June 12th) was our first work day at Skalanes. We woke up to the tern chaos outside our fieldhouse and started the day with breakfast as usual at 9. Afterward, we gathered around for a research briefing on our next few days at Skalanes. The different research groups explained their plan for Skalanes and made their call for recruits as necessary. We also used the time to reflect on our program goals and expectations as individuals and as a community. Lilly has been making progress on her personal goal of pooping more outside and made us aware of a contest in play on who poops outdoors the most that some people were currently competing in and that others were free to join.

We did a quick activity writing down (anonymous) constructive feedback for individual aspects of the different goals that we had established earlier in the program. After that, we touched back on our journals and answered another reflective journal query, fittingly for our time in Skalanes, on the Quaker values of simplicity. We all shared our goals for the day and after lunch, broke into groups to get started with our work.

Lilly and Mads were joined by Gail today on their adventure to the tern nesting grounds. They scouted possible tern nests to sample and install temperature probes. While they (and anyone who passed by) were all hassled by the terns protective of their nests, unassuming Gail seemed to be the unfortunate prime target of the arctic terns this day and came back home covered in tern poop having (barely) survived one too many tern swoop attacks.

While part of our original hiking group for the day, Eli and Rei, stayed behind with Charlie to fix codes for the Elevation platforms we were going to use, the rest of us; Andy, Dre, Arlo and myself, decided to dedicate our time to help Nana and __ with their tree planting project. We caught a ride with them to our location near the stream crossing, and from there we hiked up the hill with stacks of baby birch trees, some fertilizer, and the dig tools.

Nana told us that the baby birches we were carrying that were at most 8 inches tall were around five years old, speaking to their slow growth in the harsh Icelandic outdoors. We were planting the saplings high up on the side of a hill so that they would be shielded from the Easterly and Northeasterly winds as well as from lichen encroachment at least for the next few years until they become tall/strong enough to benefit from their nitrogen-fixing instead of being killed off by them. We were joined periodically by Freyr, the big brown Labrador from the fieldhouse, giving us some moral support while we planted trees. Nana estimated that we collectively planted around 500 trees that day which was a great achievement and an excellent activity for the day.

Across the hill, sharing the company of Freyr with us, were Eli and Rei hiking up the stream where we had stopped. They had managed to fix the elevation platforms and were testing it on a nice hike going upstream towards the waterfall.

Back at the fieldhouse, other things were in motion including a drone check-up and a laboratory set-up. Emi and Faith set up a lab in an available room for DNA extraction and soil testing purposes. Neil, Jacob, Jeremy, and Ahsan worked on point-cloud analysis, LiDAR data, and other software and hardware aspects of our dear drones, Carmen and Lundy, with the help of Nick and Kellan. When the hiking groups came back home for the day, we found a few guys working outside near the shed and went in to find a wet floor in the shoe area next to the first bathroom. Apparently, the bathroom laundry or the toilet had flooded and was tracked to a problem with the sewage/septic tank in the fieldhouse. At cheers and jeers time, everyone made it a point to give cheers to the people who came and dealt with all our poop. It wasn’t a poopy day but there sure was poop and poop stories everywhere!

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.

Vikings and Lake Monsters

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Our journey east has brought us to part of Iceland with many unsolved mysteries and intriguing stories. Today, a fearless, soil sampling, drone-toting team of six went on a mission to the archeological site at Stöð, while the rest of the group divided and conquered to explore Egilsstaðir.

Emi soil sampling for ancient DNA at Stöð

Rannveig, one of our hosts while we are at Skalanes, is currently studying the Stöð site as part of her Masters project. It is potentially one of the earliest Viking sites, dating from pre-settlement times. The dig is still at its early stages, but has revealed structural elements of two or more long houses and associated artefacts. Following up on an idea hatched on last year’s IFS trip, today Emi, Faith and Eila sampled 5 parts of the dig site in preparation for extracting the ancient DNA from the soil. We hope that the results will provide an extra dimension to our understanding of the inhabitants, giving us clues about what they hunted, ate and used for resources. Lilly, Merg and Andy were able to get aerial views of the site with the drone, similar to this one from 2017:

Aerial image of the dig at Stöð during the 2017 season. The white outlines are where the outer walls of the structure are believed to have been. The red circle marks a typical fire hearth where samples will be taken. Image credit Bjarni F. Einarsson.

Meanwhile, in Egilsstaðir, delicious morsels were discovered and consumed in the excellent Salt café, and several went on to soak away the aches and pains of the travel days in the hot tubs and sauna of the local swimming pool. While some got a view of Lagarfljót, the lake that forms the picturesque backdrop to the town, none reported seeing the “Lagarfljót wyrm”, the legendary lake monster first sighted in 1345, and more recently capturing international attention via this “live footage”:

Fjords, Glaciers, and Automobiles

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In the morning we said goodbye to our guesthouse outside of Kirkjubæjarklaustur and the herd of sheep that hung out around the yard and began our longest drive of the trip. A six-hour adventure past outlet glaciers and picturesque fjords all the way to Egilsstaðir in eastern Iceland.

We had a couple goals along the way including scouting out a different outlet glacier for future research, seeing a pretty glacial lagoon, stopping at the ancient Viking site at Stoð and finally getting to our guesthouse in Egilsstaðir. Also Emi challenged everyone to stay awake the whole drive in order to soak in the incredible scenery. Not to brag but I met the challenge head on and yes the dramatic landscape was worth it.

As mentioned before we are studying how nature seeps back into previously frozen/glacial-covered soil. We look at the soil composition at sample sites where the glacier was in 1996 years ago all the way to where it was pre 1900. This year and the year before we have been studying the glacial forelands of Solheimjokull. However, some colleagues from other schools suggested another outlet glacier that had more constrained movements and less tourists.

We decided to do some scouting and made our first stop of the drive at Kvíárjökull. The outlet glacier was stunning and in the clear weather we were able to see all the way up to where the cascade of ice disappeared into the mountains.

After walking around for a bit we got back in the cars and headed about an hour and a half down the road to Jökulsárlón a lake filled with icebergs that has formed in front of a melting outlet glacier.

After the lagoon we hopped in the vans for the long drive to the east. The landscape was breathtaking as promised. We stayed on Route 1 which hugs the coast of Iceland. With the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other we drove through little fishing villages tucked back in the fjords and passed grazing sheep and reindeer.

Our last stop at Stoð was a picturesque valley next to the ocean that is believed to be the first Viking settlement on Iceland. Archaeologists have begun digging there and unearthing ruins and tomorrow a group of us will return to extract some ancient DNA samples from the soil. After checking out the dig sites and soaking up the sun and the stunning valley we headed to our final destination for the day.

At our guesthouse in Egilsstaðir we were joined by Gail Connerley who flew in from Indiana to complete our four leader powerhouse team. We were also joined by Nic Arnold and Kellan Steele who were on the 2016 trip to Iceland. With our group finally complete we hung out into the evening, playing games, working on various projects as the fog rolled in off the mountains surrounding us.

 

 

A Quiet Day In And Around Kirkjubæjarklaustur

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After a few days of glacial hiking and science at Sólheimajökull, we enjoyed a relatively laid back and unstructured day exploring the history and environs of Kirkjubæjarklaustur (Klaustur for short – pronounced something like “cloister”), a tiny village near the South coast of Iceland.

We’re staying at a small guesthouse on a farm about half an hour out of town, nestled between old craggy lava flows and sheep pastures with a clear view of two massive glaciers – Mýrdalsjökull to the West, and Vatnajökull to the East. The uncommonly clear weather coupled with a shortage of beds led a few of us to sleep out in a tent last night, myself included. The sheep’s bleating, bird’s singing and the midnight sun conspired to keep us up, but the cool breeze, fresh air and past few days of hard work and hikes aligned to allow us all a sound night’s sleep.

Our itinerary today was flexible, but we begun as a group by visiting the memorial chapel for the 1783 eruption of Laki. While preparing for the trip, we all read the book Island on Fire, which detailed that particular eruption as well as shared information about Volcanic processes in general. The town of Klaustur was the site of Jón Steingrímsson’s famous “fire sermon,” where his congregation prayed to be saved from the eruption as lava flows advanced all around them. Their church was spared, and their survival was touted as a miracle and lives on in the Icelandic consciousness.

The nearby Skaftárstofa information center featured an interesting exhibit on Icelandic moss, which we’ve been seeing a lot of. It detailed different kinds of moss and the conditions in which they grow. The staff at Skaftárstofa also showed us a short film detailing the dramatic events of the 1783 eruption of Laki.

Following our time at Skaftárstofa, the large group split into several smaller groups as we explored the trails weaving throughout and around the town. A number of us took the scenic “Love Path” that wound up and around the cliffs above the town. This trail included a few sites of note. The tallest tree in Iceland was visible from the trail, a sitka spruce measuring approximately 25 meters tall (around 80 feet – shorter than plenty of trees on Earlham’s campus!). Other highlights included Systravatn, a pond where nuns bathed, Hildishaugr, a fabled burial mound (more likely a lava column), and Kirkugólfið, the “church floor,” where the tops of columns of basalt protrude from the earth and look like a man-made construction.

Some other folks explored other trails as well. After our various hikes, we took a short ice cream break and headed back to the guesthouse. A delicious dinner of mac and cheese was prepared by Charlie, and for the evening we set about packing up and preparing for the long day of transit ahead. Tomorrow, we’ll be making the long drive to Egilsstaðir along the fjords of the South East coast.

Today We Hiked Up A Glacier

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Yes, you read that right today we hiked up Sólheimajökull glacier in the south of Iceland. After traveling yesterday and staying in Vik, we woke up this morning to the most delightful breakfast. Waffles, fresh warm bread, Icelandic cheese infused butter and smoked trout, with freshly squeezed orange and apple juice was the smell that filled our small hostel here in Vik. Scrambling to get our stuff together, we left Vik at “08:45” on our way to the glacier 45 minutes away, all the while listening to some jamming music from our co-leader of the day Emi.

Arriving at the foot of the glacier we met Gummi and Oddur who helped fit us with crampons and ice axes to look awesome but also to be safe. We hiked a brief distance where we put on our crampons and went through some safety briefings, learning how to walk on the glacier, what not to do and the best places to enjoy its beauty. Then, we started hiking, first together as a full group to get onto the glacier itself and then we split into two, heading in opposite directions around the glacier.

 

Sólheimajökull is an outlet glacier of the mighty icecap of Mýrdalsjökull and though it is one of the most easily accessible glaciers it is still a difficult climb. Being about 8 km long and 2 km wide, Sólheimajökull is blanketed in ash spots from the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 leading there to be black areas all over the glacier, making the most beautiful contrast.

We pushed onto the lower part of the glacier, walking around the deepest crevasses which extended as far down as the eyes can see, as rain and melt water poured into them. The small streams on the glacier were so fresh that we all stopped to fill out bottles with the purest and freshest water we had ever tasted. Spots on the glacier covered by ash at points where higher than the surrounding ice as the ash insolated ice preventing it from melting and the most majestic waterfall could be seen on the left side of the glacier.

                          

Having a brief lunch at a high point on the glacier, we froze our butts as we sat on the 1000-year-old ice and ate our packed sandwiches, drinking Iceland’s purest water. We then hiked back down the glacier taking a different route. The sound of out axes and crampons slamming into the ice as we descended the beautiful Sólheimajökull glacier is something I know we will all remember.

 

 

5th June, 2018

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