My decision to undertake an Earthwatch expedition arose through my desire to make my first overseas travel experience one that would take me out of my comfort zone, allow me to explore my interest in environmental issues in a practical fashion and take me to a place that was unusual and not well known, especially to many Australians!
After studying the majority of the expeditions available on the Earthwatch website I was pulled in all directions wanting to do them all! However, after some thought, I finally settled on Icelandic Glaciers because it best matched my reasons for travelling overseas.
I had never been overseas before I decided to make the long trip from Australia to Iceland to assist Dr Fiona Tweed, Dr P. Jay Fleisher and Tim Harris in their investigations on glaciers to further enhance understanding of formation and evolution of Iceland's landscape.
Eight months later, and after lots of planning, I found myself on the plane heading for Iceland. Let me tell you, I was very excited going to this little-known place that only had just over 300,000 inhabitants. After studying the detailed information pack provided by Earthwatch, I finally met all the other volunteers. I was excited to meet a range of people with such a diverse range of personalities and backgrounds.
After our initial meeting with the Principal Investigators (PIs) Fiona, Jay and Tim, we were transported to the camping site at Skaftefell National Park. The Icelandic landscape was breathtaking as we drove along the road to the camping site. It looked like a moonscape with craters and mountainous peaks on the horizon. It felt quite surreal.
One of the things that intrigued me most about Iceland was its pristine landscape and unique land formations. I learnt later that glacial movement contributes to future landscape formation. This was fascinating to me because the movement of glaciers would impact on the future development and use of land and would obviously have a major impact on present inhabitants who live within the vicinity of glacial activity. What also is fascinating in Iceland is the amount of volcanic activity which is present due to the country's position on the mid-Atlantic ridge. Therefore, this combination of activity makes Iceland a major location for glacial outbursts.
Upon arrival at the campsite we were allocated a tent each and were shown the camping facility hut where we would cook in teams each night and prepare our meals for the day. We were then allocated to a team, which would rotate each day between cooking the evening meal, preparing breakfast and cleaning. I thought this was a fantastic way to promote moral and get to know everyone on the team. Each team was allocated each day to assist either Fiona, Jay or Tim with their investigations regarding glacial processes and landforms.
For example, Fiona's objectives related specifically to the investigation of "glaciohydraulic supercooling" sites. In short, supercooling is the process of water under pressure remaining liquid at temperatures below freezing; this can occur as water travels out of over-deepened glacier beds. As it reaches the surface, the confining pressure is released and the meltwater expands and freezes, forming what is termed 'frazil' ice. Sediment is often trapped in the water as it freezes. Consequently, this movement of sediment entrapped in the meltwater contributes to the formation and evolution of the surrounding landscape. This, along with other processes, may then have a potential impact on the occupants of the area and future land use.
We assisted Fiona in revisiting previously studied supercooling sites to see if the processes were still occurring and investigated routes to potential vent sites. We also collected samples of frazil ice and took notes on various observations made, such as where there was an absence of frazil ice and where upwellings were identified.
Due to the significant activity which has occurred on the glaciers of interest there were many areas we couldn't access; on one day in particular, high winds made access very tricky. It was quite amazing standing out there beside the glacier and almost being blown over. You certainly realise the power of nature! This is probably one of the most significant lessons I gained from the whole expedition in that, in order to gain the most out of our environment, we need to respect nature and the force that it has on our world. In this context, it is glaciers, and if we further enhance our understanding of their impact and influence on the formation and evolution of the landscape, then we can be better prepared for the hazards that they may create.
I must not forget to mention the passion and enthusiasm that Fiona, Jay and Tim all had for their particular field of glacial research. They were so willing to share their knowledge and expertise which further enhanced the whole experience! It created an environment where you felt very much involved and part of what they were each individually trying to set out to achieve. This was also very significant and important to me as it was one of the main objectives that I had for choosing the Icelandic Glaciers expedition.
Now that I am back home I am already planning where I would like to go next with Earthwatch. For me personally, Earthwatch provides an opportunity to be involved in environmental impact studies on a global level and then be able to implement the experience and knowledge gained at a local level. I believe that it is extremely important for future generations to have an understanding of the environmental events that are happening in areas all over the globe.
The experience I have had has been unforgettable and I cannot wait to venture out again to further enhance my understanding and appreciation of the natural world.
- Rebecca Mangan, Earthwatch Volunteer