Reflections on the Year 3 Iceland field trip 2018

By Kathryn Ashton (BSc Geography Year 3)

Over the summer myself and 11 fellow students, along with lecturers James Lea and Rich Chiverrell, spent two weeks in Iceland for our 3rd year field course, conducting fieldwork and getting the chance to see a vast range of the amazing sites and landscapes Iceland has to offer. After managing to make our own way to Iceland, we spent the first night in Reykjavík, spending the evening exploring the colourful city and enjoying some food and drinks in the local restaurants and bars before the trip officially started.

Iceland 2018 fieldclass at Jökulsárlón

Iceland 2018 fieldclass at Jökulsárlón

The next morning we all met with Rich and James at 8am – ready to embark on a 6 hour drive to our first site Skálafell, in the South East of the country, where we spent the first half of the trip. On the way we stopped at many of Iceland’s most famous and incredible sites. These included; Skógafoss, a 60m high waterfall where we all got rather wet walking up to its plunge pool, and Svínafellsjökull – which for many of us was the first time we had seen a glacier in real life and filled us with excitement for the rest of the trip. The drive gave us the opportunity to see the varying landscape Iceland has to offer, with expansive lava fields being a particular highlight. Our final stop was Iceland’s famous iceberg lake – Jökulsárlón, filled with icebergs stretching from the glacier front and out into the sea. Once we arrived at our hostel, we spent the evening cooking group meals, which we continued to do for the rest of the trip. We were also lucky enough to be able to see the northern lights whilst staying here, which we’d all been hoping for during the trip.

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The next two days were spent at Skálafellsjökull and Heinabergsjökull, being introduced to the geomorphology of the area and trying out different fieldwork techniques which we could use when conducting our fieldwork later in the trip. We focused on the moraines within the sandur system to reconstruct past movement and extent of the glaciers, looked at how the landscape may have been shaped and changed by large events such as glacial floods and also at the contemporary processes occurring both within the glacier and at the ice margin, linked to its hydrology. We even managed to take part of an iceberg from the proglacial lake back to enjoy with our drinks at the hostel in the evening. After spending a morning discussing our ideas for our individual projects we split into groups and spent two days conducting pilot studies. Conducting fieldwork in such close proximity to the glaciers was an incredible experience unlike any fieldwork we had done before, and despite the slightly wet weather over these days they are ones which we all thoroughly enjoyed.

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The second half of the trip saw us move to our next site based at Svínafell, on the way we stopped off at another amazing glacier and iceberg lake – Fjallsárlón. Here we spent the day admiring the glacier and icebergs, whilst also looking at the geomorphology of the area and discussing the possible history of the glacier.  We even saw the glacier calving into the lake which was definitely a highlight and a very exciting way to end our day.

For the rest of the trip we were conducting our fieldwork at Virkisjökull-Falljökull. My group focused on the diurnal variations of the hydrology of Falljökull, which gave us the opportunity to work right at the ice margin, measuring the changes within the proglacial stream over 11 hours through the day to understand the dynamics of glacier melt. Another group was based in the moraine system, looking at the primary succession within the area and conducting lichenometry – measuring over 4000 lichens to map the timings of the retreat of the glacier. The final group were based in the outwash plains from previous Jökulhlaup events, measuring lichens and rock hardness, along with boulder sizes, to calibrate the ages of these events and the flow velocities of the floods.

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The drive back to Reykjavík on the final day was equally as good as the drive down. We had the opportunity to walk around the immense Gullfoss waterfall, and had another quick stop at Jökulsárlón. We stopped off at Iceland’s famous geysers which we saw erupt multiple times, whilst also making the mistake of standing down wind of them and getting rather wet. We also saw and drove through the mid Atlantic ridge which was a brilliant way to end the trip.

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Fjallsjökull and ice margin

Our field trip to Iceland provided us with first hand experience working in ice marginal areas of glacial systems and allowed us to fully immerse ourselves into the landscape to understand the many processes constantly changing the environment. Conducting this fieldwork was a fantastic experience and being able to work so closely to these active glaciers was a once in a lifetime opportunity, which we will never forget.

 

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My honest experience of university

Blog post by Rosa Blakelock, who graduates next week with a BA (Hons) in Geography

It is often said that university is the best time you’ll have, that you meet your “friends for life” and create memories that the rest of your days will struggle to live up to. These things are often said by those who are looking back, and no doubt some of these things are true, but memory is unreliable and this may not be the whole truth, and may mask parts of university life that re challenging and unhappy, stressful and upsetting memories. The truth is that university can be fun but can also be a very isolated place, which is strange to think, that you can feel lonely whilst surrounded by 25,000-odd people of your own age. When asked to write this blog post as a recently graduated Geography student, I was wary of exhibiting a cynical, Scrooge-like vibe, making readers feel disillusioned, but I am even more wary of contributing to the culture of not talking about issues faced by students, which helps paint a picture of university as clear as dishwater for those who are yet to come. Major organisations such as the NHS (where I now work) have reams of information about student mental health and Student Minds, which is a student mental health charity that provides information for students to look after their health, support others and create change. If you want to find stories written by other students, Imperial has a great blog section on mental health.

I think one of the things that is painfully ironic about university is that when you’re going through a hard time, it is so easy to think you’re alone because everyone around you looks as they’re having a ball. But the reality is that every single person, if not now, then in the not-too-distant past, has been through something very similar. From feeling homesick to feeling too dim to make it through the year, from discretely battling depression and having no energy to get up in the morning, to paranoia and anxiety developing, coming to terms with a newly diagnosed STI…what do all these things share, apart from being astonishingly common among the student population? They are hardly talked about.

Coming back to university after being sectioned in my second year (put in a psychiatric hospital for a few weeks), I felt more alone than ever in my life. I still had my wonderful friends who had stuck by me through the hell I went through, but they were now graduated and I was placed in a brand new year group…like a latecomer to a party where everyone has been hanging out for two years. I am generally a friendly person, easy to get along with you might even say, but man, my confidence plummeted hard during my last year in this new year group. I spent my days sitting on my own in lectures, not talking to anyone, isolating myself from a group of people I was convinced, had it together. Naturally I was given therapy and counselling after my episode and it wasn’t until a few weeks in, sitting in the overcrowded waiting room at the university counselling service that I realised, it’s not just me. The reason waiting lists are so long and appointments are so distant is because so many people apply for counselling that the services just can’t cope. A YouGov survey showed that 27% of British uni students report having a mental health problem whilst studying. And that’s only the people that actually spoke up about having one, I am confident that the percentage would be a lot higher if we were all honest.

Feeling alone is the worst thing in the entire world, and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. But, if the fact that I am now graduated, married and in a full-time job bestows me with any wisdom whatsoever, I want to relay that anyone feeling down, anxious, lonely or a combination of the three, is certainly not alone. Your own mental health is more important than anything – good grades, friends, money, popularity, jobs, clothes, drugs, a flat stomach, approval from your parents…anything. So if any of these things are causing you to feel bad, I urge you, make changes, ask for help, take it from someone who’s been through hell and back because of bad choices, it’s just not worth it. Asking for help can be awkward but it is surely not shameful. After I took a year out of university from getting seriously ill, I lost all my confidence, and eventually realised that if I didn’t ask for help, my life would continue to be difficult for the rest of my degree. I sought guidance and advice from my tutor, who I will forever thank as the reason I made it to graduation. She told me that people like me, who have problems that affect their work, sometimes need a bit of extra help to push them forward to the starting blocks everyone else races from. Otherwise I would not only be battling through uni, I would be carrying the weight of my problems too, and no one needs that. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your friends or even your family, there are so many resources made specially for you! A quick chat with your GP will provide you with some general guidance, and although the university counselling services are stretched, they have drop in sessions and hundreds of leaflets with information that can help. Another good place to visit is the student support department, who have drop-in sessions tailored to give advice and help students out, because they know uni can be a really hard time. One thing that you can’t think is that nothing or no one can help. Initially reaching out for help is the hardest part, I promise. I used to think that getting help was giving me an unfair advantage, but actually, the help is there to give everyone an equal chance.

Anyway, to end on a lighter note, the person you will be when you graduate will be unrecognisable from your former self and for the best possible reasons. University teaches you to look at life pragmatically, develop into a mature version of yourself, and if you’re lucky, you’ll end up making friends that will be the godparents to your children one day.