On the final day of the Lent term, 33 intrepid Eastbourne College geography pupils departed for an Easter visit to Iceland and its amazing landscapes. As their flight neared its destination, the air, the glaciers of the ‘Land of Fire and Ice’ could be seen through the windows of the plane – the air was indeed filled with an audible “Wow!”
On arrival, a restful bathe in the geothermally heated, turquoise waters of the Blue Lagoon was the order of the day, before making tracks towards Selfoss, the base for the trip, to settle in for some rest before the adventures ahead.
The smell of waffles and anticipation of the geographic treats was enough to get everyone out of bed early on day 2. Thingvellir National Park and World Heritage site the first visit of the day, a rare opportunity to encounter a constructive plate margin. A walk through the rifting landscape of grabens, horsts and faults dividing the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates helped to bring the scale and power of tectonics to life.
A short onwards trip brought the group to Strokkur, a geyser spouting fountains of water and steam at regular intervals. This collection of geysers and fumeroles shed light on the power of the earth in these geothermally active areas. After a quick lunch, and a stop at a diversified farm selling delicious fresh milk and homemade ice cream, they headed to the roaring spray of the Gullfoss waterfall to see the power of glacial meltwater in carving great gorges into the landscape.
A quick stop off at Kerio crater, formed after the collapse of a volcano after its magma chamber emptied, provided stunning views and whetted appetites for some tremendous home cooking back at base. Dinner was followed by a review of the day and a quiz before bed.
Day 3 began with a trip to the 40 metre high Seljalandsfoss waterfall, a beautiful illustration of fluvial processes. The waters pouring from the falls undercutting as the breccia rock below the harder basalt cap was eroded, forming a wide and deep plunge pool.
The next destination was the Eyjafjallajökull visitor centre to hear the story of the local farmers living in the shadow of the volcano. Pupils were given the opportunity to ask questions about the issues and opportunities posed by the eruption and to meet some incredibly courageous and resilient people who made them feel very welcome. After lunch, they travelled on to Skógafoss, famous for its rainbows to see another great example of waterfall and gorge formation – an awesome sight as the tremendously powerful waters cascaded some 60 metres to the valley floor.
The imposing black Sólheimajökull glacier flowing down from the Myrdalsjökull icecap gave everyone an idea of the scale and erosive power of glaciers. It was also striking how quickly the glacier is retreating, an eye opening reflection on how humans may be impacting upon the global climate.
A final venture along to the black beaches at Vík, the most southerly town in Iceland provided examples of coastal processes and well as spectacular basalt columns, caves, arches and stacks. The evening provided a great opportunity for most to experience one of the geothermally heated community pools in Selfoss which are a big part of the local culture.
The last full day began with a trip to the Hellisheidi Geothermal Power Plant which generates both electricity and hot water for Reykjavík. The process of both energy and hot water production was outlined and we admired the scale and cleanliness of such industry.
After a brief stop to capture the snow-topped landscapes of the lava fields, the group headed on to Reykjavík. The most northerly capital in the world is home to 65% of the 330,000 people living in Iceland. They paused briefly at Volcano House to see a geological exhibition and presentation on both the Westman Isles and Eyjafjallajökull eruptions. This was followed by a walking tour of the city and the chance to pick up a few souvenirs. They had time for a short stop at the Perlan to see the spectacular views and to see where the hot water supply for Reykjavík is stored.
The next stop of the day was at the Fridheimar Tomato Greenhouses where cheap geothermal heat and electricity is used to warm and light greenhouses which are able to provide fresh fruit and vegetables to Icelandic markets all year round. The taste of these fruits was just incredible!
Before returning to base, they had the opportunity to experience what a 6.4 earthquake might feel like. In small groups the pupils and staff each somewhat apprehensively closed the door on a darkened room and waited for the shaking to start. The still Icelandic air was soon awoken by the shrieks of initial panic and subsequent laughter as this basic, yet highly realistic earthquake simulator brought the power of Earth again to life.
Back at their base the group enjoyed an early spring barbeque and then dared to dream that the trip could end on a perfect note and that we would be catch a glimpse of the Northern lights. Remarkably, during our post dinner stroll, the clear skies began to illuminate from the North, a perfect end to a memorable trip.