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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New paper: volcanic ash, glaciers, melting behaviour, SE Iceland

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By Richard Chiverrell

In summer 2011, Richard Chiverrell joined a team led by Joanna Nield aided by field assistants; Steve Darby, Jules Leyland, Larisa Vircavs and Ben Jacobs (all Southampton University), on an expedition to south east Iceland. Our objective was to find some easily accessible glaciers to undertake repeated terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) surveys of different land surfaces to test whether TLS can capture surface roughness of terrain including the surface of glaciers and glacial outwash river floodplains called sandar in Icelandic. Enjoying the very excellent hospitality at Svinafell, our time in Iceland 3-12th July 2011 was a few months after the 21-30th May 2011 eruption of the sub-glacial Grímsvötn volcano. Our chosen glacier, Svínafellsjökull (63.999°N, 16.874°W) is about ~50 km southwest of the eruption centre and so on arrival the glacier had a reasonable cover of blackish-brown coloured volcanic ash.

We had gained a very real opportunity to see how ash affected the microtopographic evolution of the surface of a glacier and rates of ablation over a 7-10 day period. So springing into action with our various important tasks: erecting the Meteorological towers (everyone) in the off-chance of the wind blowing, taking once to twice daily laser scans of the ice surface (Jo), crevasse exploration, ablation stake and albedo measurement (Larisa and Ben), total stationing, sitting in a stone hut and g&t preparation (Steve), scampering about, hut building and fixing things (Jules), and finding glaciers / cooking (me). Result 1 = significant quantities of dartaa were collected. Result 2 = great trip, stunning landscapes and in one of my all-time favourite countries. If you want to read about how volcanic ash produces complex microtopographies and affects the ablation regime of rapidly retreating temperate glaciers, a new paper has just been published online……

Summer 2012: GPGs researching glacial environments in Iceland

Hi, I’m Kerrell and in my third year of the Geology & Physical Geography BSc degree. Over the summer, myself and 3 friends Mike, Lewis and Alex spent 6 weeks conducting our 3rd year dissertation project in South East Iceland.

Lewis, Alex, Mike and me on Falljokull glacier

Lewis, Alex, Mike and me on Falljokull glacier

Our projects varied but all were linked to the changing environments within a temperate glacier region. Lewis and myself conducted a study on the landforms within an ice marginal zone around 2 glaciers. I focussed on the Virkisjökull & Falljökull twinned glacier system and Lewis on the Svínafellsjökull glacier margin. Mike and Alex also worked within the Virkisjökull & Falljökull system, with Mike focussing on dating Late Holocene behaviour of the glaciers using lichenometry and Alex centring his project on the evolution of the sandur system over 5-6 weeks within the ice contact zone.

Mike and the huge boulder that we used to mark the edge of Virkisjokull on our first day. It retreated 8m in total!

Mike and the huge boulder that we used to mark the edge of Virkisjökull on our first day. It retreated 8m in total!

Me on the ice the day we walked up the glacier!

Me on the ice the day we walked up the glacier!

Conducting out dissertation in Iceland was a once in a lifetime experience and to work within such close proximity to such an active glacier margin was a fantastic opportunity. On our first day we visited both glaciers that we’d be working on and were in complete awe of the huge glacier bodies that flowed over the mountainous regions. The boys were actually speechless for a few peaceful moments!

An amazing day in South East Iceland

An amazing day in South East Iceland

Having the chance to work in such a dynamic region was very exciting. The landscape, particularly within the ice marginal zone was constantly changing and you could notice subtle differences in the landforms on a daily basis. We were very lucky in that when the UK was experiencing the torrential downpours over summer, we had pretty great weather…we even came back with a tan! Although there was a few days of awful conditions were we just couldn’t do any work in the field due to the drenching rain with water droplets the size of sponges and gale force winds. We even had to prop up the boy’s tent as the wind was so strong.

Lewis & Alex being brave in shorts looking out over Virkisjokull & Falljokull

Lewis & Alex being brave in shorts looking out over Virkisjökull & Falljökull

Conducting our own research projects was an experience that all of us really enjoyed. On our hour walk to the glacier every day, we’d talk about how working in the field on our own was teaching us so many vital skills and has particularly encouraged myself and Mike to further our education with a postgraduate degree. The work was very tough, the terrain was strenuous and being so far away from home at time took its toll on all of us. But being given the opportunity to work in a temperate glacial zone, that will never be the same again due to constant retreat, was the greatest reward for all our hard work. As well as working hard in the field we also took the time to enjoy Iceland as a beautiful country and visited sites such as Jökulsárlón (where James Bond was filmed!) and also attempted to make friends with the lethal seagull with claws….the Icelandic Skua.

On return to the UK, we had to present a 15 minute talk to staff and fellow students to summarise our findings in the field and we’re all currently working on a 10,000 word report and our final maps to hand in for our overall dissertation mark. The experience was amazing and the fact that we conducted our dissertation in Iceland had the rest of our department a bit jealous. Combining both geological and geomorphological concepts has really allowed us to pursue our dissertation with lots of enthusiasm which will hopefully keep us going to the final deadline.

Alex, Me, Lewis, Mike and our supervisor Richard at Jökulsárlón

Alex, Me, Lewis, Mike and our supervisor Richard at Jökulsárlón