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.



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.

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!

Welcome, and we’re almost gone…

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Welcome to Earlham’s 2018 Icelandic Field Studies Epic program blog. Seventeen of us are packing-up to leave campus tonight, three more join us in Iceland. Over the next couple of days we’ll post news of our travels to Iceland, a bit about the people in our group, the science we do, and our daily escapades (complete with pictures!). Stay tuned.




And now available in video…

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One of the things that was different about this year’s trip was that two of Earlham’s Marketing folks joined us for four days, two at Skalanes, one at Solheimajokull, and one at Laki (and a lot of time in the van/car/trucks gluing all that together). Susanna Tanner and Mark Brim trudged around in the rain and wind taking pictures, video, interviewing people, eating and traveling with us. We were really happy that they were forced chose to come to Iceland and work with us. This video is the first bit to come from that, more to follow.

Birds of Iceland

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Like any good amateur birder, I kept a list of all the birds we saw on our trip. Special shout out to Neil who made many sightings, as well as to Sage, Cait, Nic and Kellan for contributing to the list. Total count: 27 species!

Bird                                        Date                                  Location

Common Snipe                       24 May                              Thingveller

Pink-footed Goose

Mallard Duck

Black-headed Gull

Pied Wagtail


Oystercatcher                       25 May                                 Selfoss

Whooper Swan                                                                 Geysir

Arctic Skua                            26 May                                Solheimajokull

Arctic Tern                             28 May                                 Klauster

Eider Duck                                                                         Jokulsarlon

Snow Bunting

Whimbrel or Dunlin

Pidgeon                                                                             Elgisstadir

Canada Geese

Fullmar                               29 May                                    Skalanes



Ringed Plover                    30 May

Grey Phalarope                 31 May



Greylag Goose

Harlequin Duck                 2 June

Black-tailed Godwit


Raven                               4 June


Next year I want to see the gyrfalcon!!!! It was spotted by Nic and Kellan while flying the drone.

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