Notes from a glacier – Finally getting out into the field…

Like many physical geographers, fieldwork plays a very significant role in my PhD.  This is not in any way a problem, I absolutely love fieldwork and it’s one of the primary reasons I do physical geography and have continued on to do a PhD.  So as I’m currently embarking on my first bit of PhD fieldwork it’s a pretty exciting time!  I’ve spent the last several weeks doing a variety of odd jobs for the team which has helped increase the anticipation of the trip, so it’s good to get on a plane to Keflavik and finally get the trip underway.

The latest Glacsweb probes under construction. Photo: Alex Clayton.

As I’ve previously written about, I’m part of a research group called GLACSWEB whose research is currently based on a Skala… in the South East of Iceland.  Each summer the group heads out to Iceland to deploy a variety of equipment on, in, and under the glacier.  We then follow up the trip with shorter visits in September and May. These have been coined ‘rescue missions’ after a unfortunate episode in the past where we lost a lot of quite expensive kit into a lake after the glacier melted rather quicker than expected , but thankfully they generally just involve collecting data from various devices and making the odd fix to hardware.   The August trip is where the meat of the work is done though and involves 10 people, four vehicles and several tons of kit that gets shipped out a fortnight beforehand.

I’ll be in Iceland from the 25th July until the 10th August so over that time I’m going to put up a few blogs covering the variety of tasks that we’re doing on the glacier.  This will include the deployment of our wireless subglacial probes, the setting up of differential GPS on the glacier surface, the use of ground penetrating radar and on a more mundane note, the collection of some gravel…I’ll also do a bit of writing on how day to day life pans out when you’re out in the field, although I’ve got a feeling that this expedition could be a-typical. Rather than roughing it in tents we’re staying in a hut that has proper beds, fresh bread every morning, and best of all there are five(!) hot tubs set at varying temperatures. I guess that’s the benefit of working with electronics people who need nice dry areas to do their work! I’m going to have to do my best not to get soft over the course of my PhD!

Another slightly unusual aspect of the fieldwork is that this year we’ve received a rather substantial lump of cash from National Geographic.  Obviously getting additional funding is great, but one downside is that they pretty much own anything visual I do for the entire trip.  We’re not allowed to use and photos or film ourselves until they’ve decided what they want. So unfortunately it may not be the most visually stunning blog initially!  It is exceptionally cool to be linked with Nat Geo though having read the magazine for years, and with any luck we’ll get some coverage from them in the publication and/or online.  I’ve actually been tasked with doing some filming of the fieldwork which was initially just for departmental promotional and personal use, but will now potentially be used by Nat Geo too.  Having completed all of two days filming training I am under no illusions that I’ll produce anything like the standard of their usual stuff, but hopefully I can do a half decent job! You never know, maybe we’ll be making ‘Glaciers live’ in next to no time.

First of all though we’ve got to get to the field site, so tomorrow will involve an 8 hour drive around the south of Iceland.  With any luck we’ll get the decent weather that the forecast is predicting and there’ll be some spectacular views. I’ll be sure to post up some pictures sometime in mid-November…

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One comment

  1. Despite what my latest blog post might tell you, that does sound awesome! Hope all goes well. Looking forward to reading about day-to-day life on a glacier

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