How we celebrate Independence Day? Working!

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Today is a quite busy day for everyone. After the script designing and drone flying, I experienced working in a group of four with Sydney, Kaela and Kathryn to take soil samples at two different spots. One next to the coast close to the birds’ habitat, the other one on both sides of the waterfall close to our camping site. The group work was divided efficiently, Kathryn and Sydney took all the samples, Kaela put the data into the database and I am in charge of taking bird view pictures of the sample site with Kari.

We took all the samples under the area covered by a tree crown, the trees we met here are 50 cm tall in average, no more than 2 meters, even if they’ve been growing for a decade or more. For each sample taken under the tree, we took a control group sample on the ground away from the tree. I assume the analysis of the sample can show the difference of the soil affected by the tree or not.

 

In order to get to the other side of the waterfall, instead of going all the way down, we chose to cross the river directly. The river is wider than it looks from above, it is also harder to cross than I expected. Yet everyone got excited crossing the river as it reflected a great group work between us and marked our job in the afternoon is halfway done, and we made it!

selfie taken right in the middle of the river

The whole process took longer than we expected, but everyone feels perfect after the task been accomplished. I am glad to see that we can work so well in as a group to contribute to the project, I also feel more bonded with my beloved team members.

I wonder how’s the taste of the grass

 

On the other hand, the drone flying group is also having a hard day, lots of flight plans need to be finished which cover a large area. Especially Jordan is almost having a non-stop. Cheers to super hard-working Jordan!

It’s all worth it when we were rewarded by Charlie’s roast lamb at dinner ūüėČ

Sunday Funday

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Hello faithful blog readers. Today was pretty foggy, so we were unable to fly any drones due to condensation on the electronics. However, folks got other projects to work on like analyzing the data we had already collected and working on monitoring the flow of one of the rivers, to assess its potential for hydropower. The fjord is beautiful in the fog, though, and many of us appreciated it by taking hikes, both long and small.

An exciting test pit was dug – over 1 meter of soil was removed from a square meter of land in a known previously habitated site at Sk√°lanes.¬†√ďli and Rannveig worked hard to excavate the area, and then we took 13 samples – one for every 10 centimeters. We hope to measure the amount of sheep DNA in each layer – we assume that settlers brought sheep with them, and so sheep DNA should be present in habitated layers and not present in layers that are not habitated. We’re also working to identify the tephra layers (soil horizons which were layed down by volcanic eruptions). It’s not clear out here which layer is which.


Tomorrow is Icelandic Independence Day! We will continue to collect soil samples and drone imagery in the morning, since it is supposed to begin to rain in the afternoon.

Digging, flying, and a lot of ACTATGCACGTC…

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Another day in paradise, and a bunch more science. Our group has a number of on-going projects at Skalanes: aerial surveying (near infrared and visible light imagery) for archaeology and ecology, soil parameter analysis and DNA extraction in different types of habitats for ecology, and DNA extraction and tephra analysis for archaeology. Today the diggers went to the test pit and continued digging, measuring, and preparing to take horizontal soil cores in the pit tomorrow. The flyers continued to survey two large areas (~1 square km each) in both light modes. These flights generate hundreds of images each which are harvested to our laptops and then run through Open Drone Map to create composite images of the entire area. Lastly, Faith Jackobs (EC ’18 and IFS ’18) arrived from Texas to help Em and I with our 16S rRNA and ancient DNA analysis workflows. She and I are working through our ancient DNA analysis of the samples we took at Stod last year to confirm that the analysis was done correctly. This includes measuring the amount and nature of the damage to the fragments as part of establishing their age. Stay tuned for the results.

Insert obligatory picture of the amazing natural world at Skalanes here…

The First Few Days at Sk√°lanes

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Hello! My name is Sydney, and I am a rising senior majoring in chemistry and minoring in math and physics. While in Iceland, I have been doing work with soil analysis and archaeology.
If you are interested, our research in St√∂√į was recently featured on the Icelandic news starting at 5:23.
The last few days we have been at Sk√°lanes, where we will be for the next week doing scientific research. Sk√°lanes is owned by √ďli and Rannveig and is located at the mouth of the Sey√įisfj√∂r√įur fjord. On the property one can find many creatures such as seals, whales, reindeer along with several species of birds including arctic terns, eider ducks, and puffins. Sk√°lanes also has several registered archaeological sites, which is what our program is really interested in studying. The house has a lab for scientists that come stay on the property, and several rooms with beds amongst the home. The property makes money by letting scientists stay on the property, performing tours of the house, and selling eider duck down.

A view from the porch of Sk√°lanes

To get to Sk√°lanes we left Sey√įisfj√∂r√įur, where we spent a night, then we drove out of town and crossed three rivers before arriving at the house. The car dropped us off at the first large river and then we hiked 4km to the house with our day pack. Our larger bags were brought to us by a car that crossed the rivers.

The first river we crossed (there was a bridge)

 

Part of getting to the house meant walking past arctic tern nesting grounds. They dove at our heads so we held sticks or lupin up to make them dive higher

 
Our first day we unpacked, met Freyr (a cute chocolate lab that lives on the property), and a group of six student from Glasgow university in Scotland. The computer science group did work on ODM (Optical Drone Map) and prepared the drones for the trip tomorrow. They hope to make some images of the area that will give the soil group a promising area to collect data.
I built shelves for the wet lab in the house for √ďli with Kathryn and Kaela.

Building shelves

There was a lot of down time our first day, and we got to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere and learn from the other students living here. There is a possibility to camp if we want, so I hope to be able to do that.
Our second day, it was unfortunately was too foggy and wet for the drones to fly, but it gave the computer scientists more of a down day than they’ve been having and they were able to focus on coding more of the programs we have been using. The soil group did research on how to distinguish between the tephra layers in the soil. Tephra layers are formed volcanic ash, and we can link them to certain eruptions, and hense have a dating tool.
The soil group then joined Rannveig after lunch to start preparing the site where we will be excavating soil from one of the 96 (I think that’s the right number). Rannveig was really excited since it was the first time she had applied for permission to excavate a site of her own. Freyr hadn’t seen her in two weeks and followed us so he could be with her. To prepare the site, we used a GPS to mark the area we were excavating and Rannveig chose a square meter she thought looked promising. We pulled the grass off of the top and then started excavating by gently scraping at the soil layers with a trowel and putting the dirt created in a bucket to dump nearby. We had to be careful that we weren’t disturbing any potential artifacts. We found charcoal, so there was definitely human activity in the square chosen, and Rannveig thinks it could be a midden heap, so I’m excited to see what we keep finding.

Walking to the dig site
Kathryn, Rannveig, E, Joyce, Kaela, and Freyr
The view from our spot
Freyr watching Rannveig taking GPS coordinates

Rannveig surveying
Setting up the square meter for excavation

Kaela and Rannveig beginning the excavation

When we got back to the house, Kaela and I made banana bread with the bananas that are way past ripe. It was ready in time for dinner and turned out better than I was expecting considering we multiplied the recipe by 10.

Kaela and I working on the final step of mixing in the flour

Last Road Trip

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Today we left from the archaeological site at Stod and moved to Seydisfjordur.

We were sad to leave such a welcoming, wholesome town, but excited for the next place/adventure.

We are only here for the night, but it is another nice break from our scientific work, which has been pretty constant in the last few days. Seydisfjordur is small, but it is a cool place to explore with lots of hiking trails and places to walk to.

Hiking around Seydisfjordur

 

Tomorrow we will head out to the end of the peninsula to Skalanes, where we will be working for the last week of scientific projects. Skalanes is, to some degree, the focus of our work here, so it has been nice to rest up before working hard for the next 7 days to finish our data collection and process samples.

Delicious Food = Science Completed

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A lot had to be done today, but when did that ever bother anyone getting their stomachs full and tastebuds stimulated?

After an early rise, a group of us headed out to the field at 8 AM to capture imagery from the drone, while the others stayed back at the schoolhouse to finish testing the soil samples collected earlier at the Sólheimajökull glacier. Being part of the group on the field, I was flying the drones through the flight paths we had previously made to capture two different types of imagery, Visual Lens Imagery (VLI) and Near Infra-Red (NIR), of the sites of interest. We planned to use the imagery captured from the drone flights to analyze the sites further, which would give us information regarding earlier settlement on the sites; for instance, the NIR imagery allows the camera of the drone to visualize the land in terms of colors that the average human eye cannot detect and thus, it proves to be useful for detecting differences in vegetation of the land.

Following the morning session of flying, we headed back to get some lunch and were already expecting a great meal based on what we were served yesterday, but our expectations were again exceeded with amazing food: beef meatballs with cheese, white rice, salad, creamy cheese sauce (I don’t know the name but it’s really good, I swear!). Given the satisfaction earned from this meal, we were determined to finish all the remaining work we had, so we headed back onto the field and stayed till 5:30 PM, with some delays experienced due to technical difficulties with one of the drones.

Drone team in their element (job not well done – needed a smaller altitude for this picture)
As we were flying the drones, excavation was occurring at this site of archaeological interest

Further proof of hospitality we received from Stodvarfjordur: Brekken offered to serve us dinner when they learnt that we will not be around for lunch tomorrow! And guess what? We stuffed ourselves again with the delectable pizza we were served. To finish off the day, our beloved faculty leaders E & C gave a brief presentation in the schoolhouse about the whole project, with the main audience being the local crowd.

The only picture of the pizzas I could capture given the rapid rate at which they were being consumed, but I can confirm that there was no lack of either quality or quantity
E & C talking about the project while Rannveig (on C’s right side) was translating

When You Give A Classic’s Major a Blog Post (on the same day they see an archaeological dig)

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Camping is always an adventure, even if said camping is in a schoolhouse.

The schoolhouse in St√∂d is both clean and cozy, with a carpeted little atrium–that has become a kind of common space–and plenty of little nooks and crannies (like the upstairs foosball table, or the little office space I am currently using to write this blog post). Everyone has been impressed with the living situation, enjoying the space to roam and the opportunity to get a little bit of personal space during the quiet moments.

The day started busy, a quick but enjoyable breakfast and then a hop over to the dig site at St√∂d. The site has been, thus far, a four-year venture– with multiple hands and great minds involved. The day before, Rannveig expressed that coming to work at the site was like a holiday, she only does it one month out of a year–so, the equivalent of four months of excavation. While four months may not seem like a lot of time, the site itself is exceedingly impressive. I am an Ancient Classics Major with a Medieval Archaeology minor, thus, the dig at St√∂d was like walking into a candy store. While this is the first archaeological dig site I have viewed in progress, I have seen the final product of excavations and know a little bit about the process; I was very impressed by the amount the St√∂d team had uncovered and how intact a lot of it appeared to be. Yes, the site does look like barebones to the naked eye–however, the number of walls and floors they have excavated and the length is surprising. You can actually imagine the structure there–whereas, there are a lot of sites (mostly older) that just look like a pile of rocks or scattered artifacts.

We were met at the site by Rannveig and Bjarni and educated on the history and rough outline of information about the site. What they have found is that there are the remains of two separate buildings, one bigger and older building and a smaller and newer building built inside the older. It is assumed that whoever created the smaller structure found the ruins of the older and found it more convenient and maybe offered more insulation to build within it. Additionally, the question that hangs in the balance is whether or not it was truly a settlement or just a waypoint (the latter being more common for Vikings to build). This depends on what DNA they find (especially in Midden heaps), if there are remnants of cattle then it is more likely that it is a settlement and not a waypoint.

After we were all caught up we parted ways, separating into teams. We had Porter, Lilli, Jordan, Li, and Mubi working on drones–flying the flight plans and collecting visual data on the site (the first batch of photos were high definition photos which will later be used for a 3-D display of sorts; the second half was with the NRA camera, to help see if there is anything below the surface by capturing the UV light from the plants). Another team (E, Katherine, Joyce, and Sydney) was in charge of the soil samples we collected at Solo. Meanwhile, C ran around answering questions and helping as the Jack-Of-All-Trades and vehicle driver. And I was left to soak up as much information about the site and feed my passion–getting a feel for what a dig looks like, meeting everyone, asking questions, and observing the excavation as it is and what it will hopefully turn into.

 

 

 

Since it was a holiday (Wit Monday, following Pentecost), the Stöd team was not digging today, however, they were available for questions and willing to share information. By about lunchtime I had been shown the artifacts (AMAZING! There are stones, a nail head, a part of an Arabic coin, some beautiful beads, etc.) and I had discussed the finds in their newest test pit (they found a bit of a wall and a hearth); while also asking some basic questions about identification of settlement and what the work looks like on a normal day.


Again, it was a holiday so all the businesses were closed today. Except, there was a wonderful restaurant/gift shop called Brekkan which welcomed us in and served us lunch. It was a fabulous meal! Baked Fish with a cream sauce, fries (or chips), some sweet dark bread, and salad with grapes. It was all delicious and very much appreciated. Everyone at the table had their fill (maybe even a little too much–I certainly felt like I had to be rolled out the door afterward) and sat, very satisfied.¬†

We came back to the schoolhouse to gather more layers (the wind was biting cold and the sun was just not warm enough to make up for it like our previous nine days) and to split up again. This time Lilli stayed behind to work on uploading the available drone photos, while the rest of the drone team headed back out to take the NRA photos. Soil people stayed behind to continue their diligent work in the dining room area of the schoolhouse kitchen (you gotta do what you gotta do).

I left with the drone group to continue my archaeology observation. I worked for a time creating a (ROUGH) sketch of the site, sitting in the grass and feeling the brisk cold wind. I certainly appreciated the blanket scarf I had picked up after lunch and the warm sun on my back. As I sat I heard unique bird calls, though I was unable to identify where they were coming from and what species was calling out. It is fascinating to observe the variety of birds that live in Iceland, so many species that are different from the ones I am used to in the States (in addition, I’ve grown up in Alabama and Indiana my whole life, which limits my avian knowledge to a limited area).
After sketching, I sat in Rannveig‚Äôs ‚Äúoffice‚ÄĚ (the back of a huge van, with camper chairs and a tiny table). This is where we discussed the different sections of the site (using my sketch as a reference), how it compares to other sites, the work she has done in the past, my research knowledge of Norse raiding and settlement in Ireland, and about the different jobs and activities Rannveig has done or is a part of throughout a year‚Äôs time. It is interesting to note, there are several positions open for archaeologists to become consultants for the government or building/electricity organizations, but it lasts about half the year due to weather constrictions.
The drone group finished up around 3:15pm (15:15) and we packed up. We were all eager to take showers in the pool facility and looking forward to taking a dip into the hot tub or swim in the pool. The facilities did not disappoint. We were all able to rinse off and enjoy the hot tub or pool, whichever suited the fancy. I noticed Joyce, Roger, C, Mubi, and Katherine floating around in the pool– while Sydney, E, and Lillian lounged in the hot tub (Rannveig joined the hot tub later–as did most of those swimming in the pool).

It took a bit of encouragement from Sydney to get me out in the open–the wind was still freezing, but this time I was wet from the shower and in a bathing suit. The hot tub appeared way too far away and when I opened the door the first time, and the wind hit me like a wall of ice. E later commented on how it appeared as if watching a cartoon– the door opened, I yelped, and the door was quickly closed again. However, nothing was colder than the 4-6 celsius cold tub. Sydney dipped inside first, staying in long enough for a photo! She later said it was as cold as the glacier runoff she had waded through at Solo (after dipping into the tub myself, I have a newfound appreciation for the determination Sydney, C, Jordan,¬†and Porter had to science that day, at Solo– jeeeeez, it‚Äôs cold!). After a bit, most of us at least tried the cold tub– including Lilli, C, Rannveig, and I– which, honestly, really added to the whole swimming in Ice(land) experience.
In a minute, we are going to be treated to Grilled Cheeses and Tomato Soup made by Lilli and Porter. And C has recently collected all the NRA photos and pieced them together–now we wait for the code to be able to adjust the light according to the native plants.
Exciting new developments in Archaeology!!! Hopefully more is revealed as we continue to explore and experiment.

 

 

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 Kirkjub√¶juarklauster to St√∂√įvarfj√∂rdur 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 Vatnaj√∂kull ice cap (the largest in Europe) called Kvi√°rj√∂kull. 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 S√≥lheimaj√∂kull 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 J√∂kuls√°rion, where the Nor√įlingal√¶g√įarj√∂kull 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 Dj√ļpivogur 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¬†St√∂√įvarfj√∂rdur, 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 M√Ĺrdalsj√∂kull, the glacier we worked at yesterday, and Vatnaj√∂kull, 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 Lakag√≠gar, 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 ūüôĀ

 

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