Icelandic Field Studies (IFS) is a multidisciplinary science based on-campus and off-campus program designed for first-year, sophomore, and junior students to immerse themselves in a multifaceted exploration of the geology, biology, geography, environment, and culture of one of the most unique places on our planet. This program is part of the Earlham College EPIC Advantage initiative.

The program starts with an application period in the fall semester. We have a 1-credit orientation class during the spring semester, which includes cultural and scientific education. We ask our participants to sign up for an additional 1-2 credit independent research project with one of the leaders to prepare for our time in Iceland. Typically we spend 1 month during the summer on the meat of the trip, which involves one week of intense prep work on campus before heading to Iceland for three weeks of in-country travel, experimentation and exploration.

The principle curricular characteristics of the program are:

  • Multidisciplinary field science – biology (field, lab, and computational), chemistry, geology, computer science (hardware and software), archaeology, and environmental science. Our program engages students and faculty leaders from a broad range of disciplines.
  • Servant leadership development – Students practice servant leadership in collaboration with faculty leaders. Many of these principles are taken from Earlham’s Wilderness programs.
  • Notion of place – We consider Iceland from natural, cultural, and historical perspectives. We have ties to local educational and scientific entities. We collaborate closely with Icelandic scientists.
  • Sustainability – We study Iceland’s broadly sustainable energy economy and plant trees at the nature reserve Skálanes each year. We consider the effects of global warming on the delicate ecosystems of Iceland.
  • Long-term view – Each year, participants contribute data to projects that, over a period of years, document tangible aspects of climate change.
  • Science education and outreach – Building on the science projects, participants are expected to present the results of their work to their peers at Earlham, typically in an academic-style poster presentation or a formal presentation of learning session.

Our current projects include:

  • Microbiome analysis of soils taken in a chronosequence at the forefield of the Sólheimajökull glacier (we plan to add the Kvíárjökull glacier soon)
  • Microbiome analysis of soils taken from a variety of tree root plantings from the nature reserve Skálanes
  • Low-altitude drone surveys of Arctic lupine spread and bird nesting habitat at the nature reserve Skálanes
  • Low-altitude drone surveys for potential archaeological sites at Stoð and Skálanes
  • Ancient DNA analysis from soils extracted at known and potential archaeological sites at Stoð and Skálanes
  • Elevation modeling of the Sólheimajökull glacier and two volcanoes on the island of Heimaey: Eldell and Helgafell

Some of the places we visit and work:

  • Reykjavík, the capitol city – we explore its downtown, the National Museums and their fabulous swimming pools
  • Vestmannæyjar Islands, particularly Heimaey – we visit the Eldheimar museum and hike their two volcanoes, Eldfell and Helgafell. We spot puffins and other sea birds
  • Sólheimajökull glacier, where we take soil samples and hike the nose of the glacier
  • Vík, our layover as we work at Solo, with incredible black sand beaches and columnar basalt structures
  • Skálanes, a nature reserve on the east coast outside of Seydisfjordur where we spend about a week collecting samples and images, doing analysis, and enjoying the birds, sea mammals, and views of the mountains and fjord.