Frabaer! (that means “fantastic” in Icelandic). “Fantastic” is about the only way to describe our recent field trip adventure to Iceland. I was lucky enough to be the Teaching Assistant for our environmental science undergraduate Field Camp with Professor Nick Eyles at University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC). Most of the 19 students were enrolled in Environmental Science; however, several were from other disciplines. All had a keen interest in learning about our planet and how it works.
Our trip was led by Dr. Eyles and Icelandic geologist Kristinn Gudjonsson. Kristinn appeared with Dr. Eyles in the Geologic Journey II series in the Tectonic Europe episode featuring Iceland, which is airing this Thursday, July 14 at 8:00pm on CBC! We visited several locations featured in that episode, including Dr. Eyles’ research hut!
Iceland provides a unique opportunity for the study of environmental science and the processes that shape our planet. Known as the “land of fire and ice”, Iceland is positioned along the Mid Oceanic Ridge, located directly on the plate boundary separating the North American and European tectonic plates.
The students’ study of Iceland began long before they boarded the flight to Reykjavik. During the winter term, students selected their research topics. This research was a key component of the Field Camp curriculum. The work included producing a professional quality poster regarding their topic and providing an oral presentation in the field while in Iceland. Presentations were given outdoors at a variety of locations that included a glacial kettle hole, the terminus of a glacier and at the edge of a volcano. These poster presentations allowed students to learn not only about Icelandic environmental science, but also helped them to develop professional presentation skills valuable in both business and in future scientific research.
Our travels included visits to geothermal areas on the Reyjkanes Peninsula and also a visit to a geothermal plant to learn how geothermal processes are used to generate energy. We hiked through Skaftafall National Park in the area of the Vatnajokull ice cap. That one hike alone was a journey through an outdoor “textbook” of a number of disciplines such as fluvial geomorphology, glaciology and the study of slopes. However, most of us would agree that the highlight of our trip was our journey to the top of Eyjafjallajokull, the volcano that made headlines around the world last year for wreaking havoc on European airspace. Our trip to the summit began in specialized four-wheel drive vehicles that transported us across miles of snowpack and glacier. We then hiked across steaming fields of lava up to the edge of the crater. It was an exhilarating moment for us all as we stood in the strong winds under blue skies, looking down on newly created earth.
Our students’ enthusiasm was evident throughout the entire trip, reflecting their enjoyment and appreciation of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. The geological and environmental learning opportunity that Iceland provided us was unequalled. Really, there is no place on earth quite like Iceland. The learning experience extended beyond science and included both professional and personal development for students. For many this was their first time leaving Canada and for some it was their first time even going on a hike!
Kathy Wallace, Ph.D. Student