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The last 5 days in Iceland I spent on and in front of glaciers and volcanoes. Absolutely incredible. I felt like this is where I belong. I will share more, For now, I've attached my group's glacial geology report (PDF file) from our field work. In the next post is an attached diary of the first two days, also a PDF file. Great photos, and some of the cool stuff I learned.
May 11-15, 2013: Day 1-2 of Glacial Geology 5-day field trip Glaciers covering Katla volcano & Eyjafjallajökull volcano
The last five days in Iceland I spent on and in front of glaciers & volcanoes for two of my classes. It was absolutely the most incredible learning experience and most fun I have had I think ever in my life. I hope some of the pictures you can 'feel' Iceland and a little of these last five days.
I wrote a diary ("Dagbok", in Icelandic) for the 2-day field excursion and a field report (with a team) for 3-days working in front of Solheimajokull glacier, which is an 8 km outlet glacier of Myrdalsjokull glacer that caps the dangerous Katla volcano. Solheimajokull is featured in the movie, "Chasing Ice" - our class placed two wires 12 m deep into the glacier that will measure summer melt this year. We visited two outlet glaciers of Eyjafyjatajokull volcano & glacier, which is the one that famously erupted in 2010, stopping air traffic in Europe. While working in front of Solheimajokull glacier, there was a scientist doing her PhD research on drumlins, a landform glaciers make. When I found out she was a Canadian girl from Toronto, that was neat to meet there. Drumlins are all throughout Canada, I sure recognize them from living in Alberta. It was cool to meet another Cdn girl into the same thing! :)
This diary and report I will try to attach to this post, so that you can hopefully learn some amazing stuff. It really is relevant to everyone, because glaciers tell us about our climate and actually regulate our climate, along with volcanoes. There are over 100 volcanoes in Iceland, 25 of which have erupted in recent history. Over 90% of Earth's temperature is over 1000 degrees C, and it is the Earth's thin crust that protects us from its molten temperatures where glaciers and volcanoes co-exist, and where we are able to know life. This interrelationship of volcanoes and glaciers is fascinating to me. When a volcano erupts underneath a glacier, it forms a unique rock called hyaloclastite (called moberg in Iceland), and causes megafloods as a massive flood of water melted and discharged, called jokulhlaups. Interestingly, when I looked up 'hyaloclastite ridges' on the internet, I learned that it is prominent in BC and Iceland. I'm definately going to be looking into this more, as Canada was covered in an ice sheet and BC has many volcanoes so it makes sense. Hope you enjoy the photos and diary & report if you like :)
On my last nite, about 1:00 am I went for a walk by myself outside of our hotel which is just under Katla volcano & near the beach. It was still quite light out, because of Iceland's latitude. I could hear sheep and baby lambs and all kinds of night sounds of insects; the still air and beautiful silouhette of Katla, its wonder & power - I had a few tears because this place is so moving and I would be on a plane in less than 48 hrs saying g'bye. In all, it is nice to be moved by nature & life in this way, though. I feel like I'm really living and breathing who I really am. Wow. too cool.
There's a popular mountain hike at Mt Esja, which overlooks the city of Reykjavik, that I'd always wanted to hike on since last Aug. Finally, Niall and I made it today, as it's some kind of holiday in Iceland today with no school.
Exams are done!!! Yeah! Learned so much here it's incredible. :) Excited to do this 5-day glacier field trip starting Saturday - learning research techniques that the glaciologists & glacial geologists are doing out there..to study climate change, glacier behaviour and ice ages. Did you know, that the Greenland ice sheet reaches depths of interglacial periods between 130,000 to 115,000 years ago when Earth's temp were warmer than now? The Univ of Copenhagen's drilling project on Greenland's ice sheet called NEEM, is pretty cool. Antarctica's ice sheet is about 35 million years old with very slow, gradual accumulation from it's extremely dry, polar climate. Subglacial lakes are just now being accessed underneath the Antarctic ice sheet at various locations, the deepest at Vostok by the Russian scientists. It's a delicate task as the lake water is millions of years old...holding 'secrets' to biological life, etc. very long ago. It's a very exciting time for scientists to have techniques to drill that far (3-4km depth) to 'read' the record of this long ago in our climate of Earth.
The four glaciers we will be working on in S and SE Iceland are:
1. Gígjökull (retreating glacier that drains north from the the famous ice capped Eyjafjallajökull volcano, that stopped air traffic in Europe in 2010).
2. Svínafellsjökull (Skaftafell, an outlet of the largest in Europe, Vatnajökull glacier).
3. Mýrdalssandur, forefront of Mýrdalsjökull glacier (near village of Vik and Katla volcano).
4. Sólheimajökull (outlet glacier of Katla volcano/ice cap, also near Vik).
A quote I read this morning: "Every one is born with wings". - Rumi
The polar Midnight Sun.
In January there were only 3-4 hours of light, so it meant settling into the darkness. Now, early May, every day brings an extra 7 minutes of light! The sun rises 4:30 am and sets at 10:30 pm. Already, there is only 6 hrs of 'darkness', although at 1:00 am there is still a dim glow of light on the horizon. By June, there will be a midnight sun. I love it!! I love the light & contrast! The contrast of light & darkness, warmth & cold, feast & famine, work & relax. :)
Today marks the day that means we only have two weeks left in Iceland. I've been studying, steadily focused on writing final exams (each one's 3 hrs), one was this morning (Glaciology) and the last on Monday (Volcanology). Next week, May 11th, I go on a 5-day field research trip for Glaciology and Glacial Geology. We work on and in front of 4 different glaciers in S Iceland. We will have special training for trekking on glaciers, wearing boot ice grips, ice piks & tied together at times. The research we learn to do is what scientists do in their work. 50% of our Glacial Geology mark is from the reports we will write over the five days. Niall will be staying with his closest friend, Sturla, and his family that lives by their school. They were very welcoming & looking forward to having Niall in their home, I am very thankful for our new ties & friendships here. After selling some furniture & packing, we will soon lift off from this beautiful experience & place, for Canada. Truly a bittersweet moment, with feelings of love and appreciation for Iceland mixed with gladness & excitement to go home. I've learned that home is where the heart is. It's not such a physical place, i.e. four walls, but a feeling in the heart, knowing we are home. It's a place where we feel good. Wherever that may be. ;) I've learned from this experience that we're always supported, always loved & have everything we will ever need & more - just trust, be open and have gratitude. Yes. It must be true.
A few weeks back, I took up the opportunity to go snorkeling in what is rated the top 10 dive sites in the world: Silfra at Þingvellir. I had meant to finish my diving certificate here but realized it would take four days so settled for snorkeling and some other time will return for diving. This is where the N American continental plate is moving apart from the Eurasian plate in a rift valley part of the mid-Atlantic ridge, a diverging plate boundary going from almost Antarctica in the south, up through the centre of the Atlantic, through Iceland and continuing north towards Svalbard. The water in Silfra is mostly glacial, thus we could drink it, very clean and pure right to the bottom.
I went with a group and the owner of Dive.is, and that day was snowy! Once sucked into a dry suit from head to toe, I snorkeled thru the peaceful, pure water looking way, way down to the bottom of the ridge with snow silently falling above. Strange neon-like microbial mats floated, which grow a lot in the summer months. Very magical, I was in awe. It is a geologists dream to witness this natural wonder. The owner told stories like when Tom Cruise was in Iceland last year during the filming of new movie, Oblivion, he took Tom and his son diving at this spot in Silfra. Cool! Iceland and this diving spot have been in many big films, it's just simply a natural wonder of the world. If you ever come here, get in touch w dive.is and go - I don't think you'll
In case you want to learn more of this place, Þingvellir (Icelandic pronunciation: [ˈθiŋkˌvɛtlɪr̥] or "thingvellir") is a place in southwestern Iceland near the peninsula of Reykjanes and the Hengill volcanic area. Þingvellir is a site of historical, cultural, and geological importance and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. It is the site of a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It is also home to Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland. Parliament or Alþingi was established at Þingvellir in 930 and remained there until 1789. It i the oldest extant parliamentary institution in the world.
Urqhart Castle, N Scotland on Loch Ness.
The morning following my last day of lectures, we flew to Glasgow, Scotland - I had arranged it for Niall's birthday to take him to see REAL castles with REAL King's, Queens, Knights, swords and battles rich in history not so long ago. Back in Jan, airfare was very, very cheap from Iceland so 'grabbed' the opportunity. Here's a little summary of this brief interlude from home in Reykjavik...
Fri Apr 19: 7:30am flew to Glasgow direct on IcelandAir. It felt like we'd landed in Florida it was sooo warm & sunny! We relaxed in the city square, took a Glasgow city bus tour sitting on the top open area - learned a lot about the place! Caught a train to Edinburgh mid-afternoon to Haymarket station, settled into Eddie's home (an online booking thru Airbnb, a way that people can host travellers in their home, very affordable, comfortable & treated amazingly well with full Scottish breakfast, fruit salad, smoked salmon, porridge, etc) well...look at the pictures u won't believe how good it was!! We walked towards downtown Edinburgh along the cobble stone streets & had dinner at Nando's - so good! Walked past a massive old church with gravestones all around it with a view of Edinburgh castle in the background.
Sat Apr 20th: went by bus to the Royal Mile, which is High St that's a beautiful old cobblestone street leading up to the majestic Edinburgh Castle. 11am, we arrived perfect timing for a march we didn't know about - the Scottish soldiers were returning home from Afghanistan & everyone welcomed them as they marched down the Royal Mile from the castle, some w swords. We spent an amazing day at Edinburgh castle - saw the crown jewels, watched the one o-clock gun go off, joined a tour guide sharing stories behind and outside those castle walls, had afternoon tea w scones. Niall literally searched out every nook n cranny of that massive, beautiful castle, from where King James was born that 1st translated the bible from Hebrew and made it available. His mother, Queen Mary of Scots gave birth to him in the one room. It's a large castle rich in battles and history of many Kings. At one pt, the King was both King of Scotland and King of England! Just outside Edinburgh castle, there's a shop where a young girl (19) is a swordsmith, well, Niall and I visited to her for at least an hour. It was fascinating how passionate she was of battle tactics of especially her Scottish clan. How a shield and sword could work together and she's the only woman left in Scotland crafting swords, the rest are men. Later, we hung out in a place called Games Workshop, where people can build models, paint and play strategy games. HIgh St is really old, mysterious and beautiful; during the month-long Edinburgh festival in Aug it's bustling with all kinds of artists, music, plays, shows yet it was just as majestic for u to feel how old it is.
Sun Apr 21st: walked to Sun morning meeting, met with friends there, very nice. Afterwards, watched a soccer game on the walk home, and relaxed & studied the rest of the day. Later, we went back to Games Workshop on the Royal Mile by Edinburgh Castle, so Niall could learn how to paint his first model piece and play a strategy game - learning fun for Niall! We joined a 'Ghost Walking Tour" of the haunted underground Edinburgh vaults - very spooky! They have names for all of the ghosts that live down there, by their character and what they look like from the many, many sighting. The woman who gave us the Haunted Tour, asked the group, "is there anyone brave enough to stay til last and make sure the door is such before going down into the vault?" To the group and my own shock, Niall spoke up loud n clear with his hand up, "I will!!!" It was quite a chuckle cuz he was the only child in the group, seemingly having no fear. He kept asking, though, if the stories are real. Someone even caught a ghost in a photo, and the vaults are supposedly the most haunted place in Europe. Yikes!
Mon Apr 22nd: went to Fettes College, a Harry Potter-like school that's a castle. I was curious how children are educated and taken care of in such a place. Originally, some of you know I had such difficulty choosing btwn Edinburgh vs. Iceland university for my exchange studies. I'd considered the Fettes college for my children to attend school, so it was good to see it - wow, pretty posh and just like Harry Potter. Looked around Edinburgh University, then relaxed and mostly studied for final exams.
Tues Apr 23rd: train to Stirling Castle, spent most of day there. This is a castle also rich in history as it strategically sits at the top of a hill and overlooks half of Scotland. King James IV, and other King James', King Charles' and Queen Mary lived and visited here. The village of Stirling is very quaint, again cobble stone streets, old beautiful stone buildings & gates. In early evening, we got on the ScotRail train to N Scotland (3 hrs) to Inverness. Stayed at a guesthouse w scottish breakfast.
Wed Apr 24th: took bus to Findhorn EcoVillage, enjoyed a 2-hr tour. In one of my sustainaable development classes, we'd studied about this place being one of the first eco-villages in the world. Stayed in one of the original bungalows.
Thurs Apr 25th: Went on a boat ride up the Loch Ness ("loch" is gaelic for the english word "lake"), to Urquhart Castle. It's mostly ruins but beautiful and rich in Scottish and English battles and history. Went thru a Lochness monster centre that teaches about the viewings of the creature. Took a 3-hr train ride back south to Stirling & stayed at a comfy guesthouse.
Fri Apr 26th: took the train to Glasgow and flew home! I watched the movie "The Bucket List" on the flight, which finished just before the almost 2hr flight landed - the film gave me some tears because the two characters in the film dared to do the most outrageous things they'd always wanted to do in their life, once they found they only had months to live. I couldn't help to feel completely amazed at what we can do, the people we meet & places we can see that touch us forever. I hope Scotland has done that for Niall. I think so - when I got him two (plastic) swords at Stirling Castle he desperately wanted, he played and played with them at the castles, on the train, in the park, walking down the street, waiting for a bus or train - people would smile as he was completely active in his imagination of his experience. I know being able to take him to Scotland and feel the warmth of the old country I very much wanted to do while I was in Iceland - it would have been more perfect if Alexis & Kai were with us, completing it, but I know that things are always as they are supposed to be, seeing them very soon! Yeah!!! As the plane headed for landing in Iceland and I could view the beautiful landscape, it felt so good to be coming home. Even tho it's not really home like Canada, it has been home and there's nothing like that.
Easter break began this week, very welcome indeed. Since this may well be our last opportunity to see a little more of Iceland we took a look at the weather map, www.vedur.is for road conditions, weather & aurora levels, which pointed us in the direction of the west and north for sunnier skies. A traditional music festival in the far north west fjords, in Ísafjörður, also calls because we haven't ventured that far north yet.
Wed, Mar. 27th: Drove west thru Borgarnes, hiked over a lava field & found small caves in the lava. An afternoon soak in a hot pot in a field where Icelandic horses were grazing was ahhh so relaxing. We ate apples & peanut butter while marvelling at what seemed to be a green algae microbial mat on the geothermal pool & sulfurous hardened surface around the steam. Passed Snæfellsjökull volcano and glacier, on the south rd along the ocean (instead of the mountainous rd we all took last August). A huge, tall hallowed out volcano crater on the beach called for another amazing hike. Niall tried to climb as far up as possible, lots of coastal birds hanging out on the cliffs (crater rim remains). At dusk, the most incredible hues of blue, grey and sunrays finding their way thru the clouds on the calm ocean were a photographer's dream. Iced waterfalls beside the rd...Niall got very excited once, he said "there's the Ice God!!", noticing an especially massive one. He'd learned about Ice Gods in school, how they created winter - I got to learn all about it. We stayed in Stykkishólmur for the nite, a smaller ocean-side village.
Thurs, Mar 28th: relaxed in Stykkishólmur, at the bakery, the geothermal pools for a swim, then hiked a cliff to a lighthouse before taking the ferry to the West Fjords, via Flatey Island. Leave it to Niall, he found his way to the captain on the ship where we spent most of the trip while the captain & his shipmate drove the ship. The captain owns 21 islands out of the 2700 islands that sit in the bay. When a glacier sheet covered all of Iceland, it carved canyons as it retreated which left islands and canyons gorged all in the same direction. A beautiful sunny, calm day was perfect for handy binoculars to see all the birds, seals, dolphins that played on the sides of the ferry and on islands. The captain (sorry, I don't know his name), was born on Flatey Island where only two families live and the oldest library in Iceland exists where the ferry stopped briefly. They hunt and eat seal, many birds & eggs I'd never heard of, and fish. A drive across the mountains felt like driving on the moon with only snow, rock in deep canyons - the rd is usually closed yet weather permitted access. A village, Þingeyri, had a cafe with warm soup, coffee & hot chocolate - a welcome site after such an isolated feeling in the highlands. The young couple that own the cafe, from Denmark & Belgium, bought the old house for $30, fixed it up & made it cozy for travellers.
Fri, Mar 29th: Woke up to huge snowflakes falling down so hit the road early in case they closed roads! There were no tracks in the road - just white on white. The only color were high yellow pilons on each side of the rd. My life in Canada and driving hundreds of times thru the rocky mountains in the winter prepare me to not make a big deal of this, but I felt so good when finally another pair of tracks on the road appeared! Then came a tunnel, the longest I'd ever seen (6km), in the middle at the 3km mark, there was an intersection with highway signs going to different towns! Upon exit of the tunnel, what d'ya know? A little ski hill was opening up in the early morning beside the road on the mountainside - one t-bar lift but lots of powder! Reached Ísafjörður while it was still 'sleeping' in the snowfall. Music festival was a fun event Fri and Sate nite, altho we just stayed for a couple hrs Fri nite before heading south to Reykjanes by dusk.
Sat, Mar 30: Drove to a remote hot pot (hot spring) that I'd been told of that's not marked on a map, just following a very deep fjord. It was like finding diamonds, to find such a place in the wilderness - a farm was not too far away. The snow=ice crystal covered grass was right next to green grass surrounding the hot pot. Beautiful!!! Ahhhh...relaxing. After freezing our butts off getting re-dressed (it was about -8 C), we stopped in Hólmavík, the home of the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft The Westfjords are well-known for its magic done by witches, sorcerers & vikings over hundreds of years - watch this video to get a feel for what that was like. Magic such as making oneself invisible, getting rid of ghosts, stirring up storms, accumulating wealth by objects such as necropants (the skin of another man), raising the dead, stones for mixing blood from sacrificial practices are to name a few. A beautiful drive of white-on-white snow and ice valleys followed until we made to it to Budadalur did it feel we were nearing civilization again. Our favourite dairy farm, Erpstadir, was fun as Niall jumped on the trampoline, played with their farm dog and cat, watched their new baby chickens and purchased four flavours and almost 3 litres of fresh farm-made ice cream (mint, vanilla, licorice & chocolate). Further south, we hiked through three volcano craters that erupted only 3000 years ago. Driving thru Borganes and under the ocean thru the 6-km tunnel just before Reykjanes peninsula and arriving home to Reykjavik completed a wonderful 4-day journey of the W and NW Iceland. So good to be home!
On weekends and evenings, there are always things to do in Reykjavik that we've enjoyed:
1) The geothermal pool on the beach, Nauthólsvík, was fun and relaxing - especially watching the locals polar swim in the icy Atlantic then warm up in the hot pool. It's a way of life, most wear black swimming socks & mittens and only a bathing suit. One Icelandic woman shared that it is a social activity that helps to prevent depression and cultivate happiness. I think she's right. The strength to overcome the mind and jump into the icy water and swim, just accomplishing it and feeling the rush of blood and energy thru the body brings anyone to exhileration and life!
2) One other Sat afternoon, Niall rode his scooter and I jogged along the beach, then by surprise saw a group of young men (and one woman) dressed in traditional Viking attire, dualing and playing Viking games with their swords, shields, helmets & one man wore chain mesh. The two teams had to get the rounded ball into a cup on the other team's side, dualing each other to get there. Niall said it is a game in the Harry Potter film. These kids were playing it like a regular Sat. activity.
3) Yet another Sat., it was University Day. There were chemistry shows, blowing up all kinds of things with many colors. Some things just disappeared and reappeared again - very fun to watch. One band was playing Icelandic music with a young man in a suit playing a beautiful cream-colored cello while others played accordian, guitar & drums. Haskalatorg (the main bldg) had dental, medical faculty stations where we could test our blood (hypo or hyper glycemic) and see how they learn on fake bodies. The Askja (natural sciences & engineering) building had all of its labs open, so Niall could look under microscopes and see a living egg develop, other microbial living things move, and old fossils from whales, butterflies, etc. He had lots of questions :) A robotic team showcased various robots under development. Free hotdogs topped it off.