Same sh*t, different day

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One doesn’t really hear things that go bump in the night in Iceland in the summer. Maybe it’s because there is really no “night” here. You know, kinda like that whole tree falling in the forest bit? So when I heard a strange gurgling sound in the wee hours of the morning on our last day at Skalanes, I was a little worried, but I drifted quickly back to sleep when no one else in the room became restless.

In the morning, we all woke to rain and wind. I wandered down to the main gathering area for coffee and breakfast and realized that something had definitely gone bump in the night…the sewer system…again. Thank goodness we are a group of Earlhamites. We live with an adventuresome spirit, a positive state of non-expectancy, assume positive intent, and apparently we do plumbing, which in this case was a true example of servant leadership. (Thank you, Charlie, Nic, Kellan and Faith!)  

While not an ideal way to begin the day, there was much to do to prepare for our very early shuttle tomorrow to Egilsstadur for the flight back to Reykjavik. Arlo, Mads and Lilly trekked to our Skalanes campsite to retrieve the tents, deerskins and sleeping bags. They reported the ground was completely saturated and the rivers were rushing. Meanwhile, each science group carefully repacked gear that will return to Earlham with us and this is also our signal that it is time to begin to curate the data we’ve collected thus far. We will be working on this during our time in Reykjavik.

As the logistics of the day concluded, we took the time to enjoy our last night at this special place. On this last night at Skalanes, several took a walk to the cliffs to see the puffins while others tried to redeem themselves in final matches of Catan and Uchre. It’s off to bed for all, as tomorrow is an early day of travel. Skalanes has truly become a home away from home for many of us. This place is an incredible retreat each year for learning with and from each other (and often times with others from institutions around the world – nice to see our friends from Glasgow again!), analyzing and curating data and one of the most beautiful spaces contemplation and reflection. Until next time, Skalanes. 

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

Go East, EC

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Today was a combination of exploring, testing and traveling. This morning we briefed the group on what will take place the next few days that we spend working at the glacier Sólheimajökull. Then we packed up and checked out of the B&B Guesthouse after a lovely stay. A subset of us worked on the drones and elevation platforms, while others of us were took one last hike on the island. After boarding the ferry, we drove east on route 1 to Vik, our destination for the next few days.

I was able to hike a very fun steep path up to a cliff top where we got a fantastic view of the island. We had to use a rope to climb a steep slope of scree, but the views were worth it!

A great view of the lava flow from Eldfell in the 1970s eruption.

 

Intrepid scree hikers – Faith, Emi and Neil

 

Here you can see the ferry coming into the island. The white “cloud” is actually the icecap Mýrdalsjökull on the mainland.

 

After hiking, we all got on the ferry to head back to Iceland.

Ferry back to the mainland

 

Goodbye Vestmannaeyjar (Vestmann Islands)!

 

We drove past Sólheimajökull on our way to Vik. This is the first major science stop. In the next few days, we will be hiking on the glacier itself to measure its elevation and calculate the volume of its snout. We will also be collecting soil samples from a variety of locations surrounding the glacier. DNA will be extracted from the soil and we will sequence it to determine what types of bacteria are living in each sample. This will tell us how Icelandic soils recover from glacial coverage over the years. I’m excited to begin!

Walkin on some big rocks

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 Hello from Heimaey! Yesterday was a big day as it was our first one whippin out the elevation platforms. We split into two groups and collected elevation data on two volcanoes (!!!) (Eldfell and Helgafell) and then on this craaaazy mountain we climbed and saw a bunch of kittiwake nests in the cliff on the other side. Mindblowing. It was like the mountain was just cradling us and the kittiwakes were all just zooming by. Shoutout to Anisha, who faced her fear of birds bigtime.

   

Also this sculpture was really cool.

Gonna add more later. Gotta go hiking.

Love,

Lilly

So Long Reykjavik, Hello Heimaey!

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Today, we said goodbye to Igdlo, the hostel in Reykjavik, and boarded our vans to head for our next stop, the island of Heimaey! Our day began at 08.00 with breakfast, and we loaded our bags and ourselves into the vans for the drive at 09.30. After about an hour and a half, we arrived at the ferry port from which we departed for the island. Once at the port, we played some enjoyable card games while waiting for the 12:45 ride. The ferry had two levels and a deck above, allowing us to appreciate the open air of the water, and see the amazing islands as we went past.

After arriving on Heimaey, we walked up into the town and arrived at B&B, the place we are staying on the island. We split up into rooms and prepared for an afternoon at the Eldheimar museum. At the museum, which is within walking distance of B&B, we learned about the 1973 eruption on the island, seeing some of the buried buildings on the island, and video footage of the lava spewing from Eldfell. We left in waves, with some people going off to test various things such as our drone, and others playing soccer.

 

Afterwards we came back to the hostel, and had a delicious burrito dinner prepared for us by Eli, Ahsan, and Lilly.

This was the end of our structured program for the day, after which we all went to a local establishment to watch the friendly match between Iceland and Norway. We were joined there by a wide variety of locals, and got to experience a large part of their culture.

Tomorrow we’ll explore the volcanoes on the island, using our built-in-house elevation platforms to get measurements for the two most recent volcanoes, helgafell and eldfell.

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