Educational Expedition to Iceland

Glasgow University Exploration Society

Skálanes Nature and Heritage Centre, a remote scientific research station located on a peninsula on the East Coast of Iceland, is situated in a 1250-hectare nature reserve, surrounded by rocky cliffs and steep mountains covered in rushing waterfalls. The reserve sits at the mouth of a vast fjord, which stretches out endlessly to what feels like the edge of the world, and its deep blue and green tones are highlighted by the endless purple fields of Alaskan lupine. Its secluded location, completely isolated from the noise pollution of our home city of Glasgow, would make it almost completely silent; if not for the constant sounds, screeches, cries and wing beats of the 47 bird species supported by this habitat. Under the continuous daylight and midnight sun of Icelandic summer , this beautiful and practically pristine environment is what we were lucky enough to experience every day as part of the University of Glasgow Iceland Expedition 2021.

Under the banner of our university’s Exploration Society, we lived and worked at Skálanes for 6 weeks throughout June – July 2021. Our self-organised team is made up of 6 undergraduate students of different disciplines: Avery, Lotta and Abi from Zoology; Clara from Genetics; Bethan from Physics; and myself (Emma) from Environmental Science. Despite coming from different fields of study, we were united by our interest in the outdoors, and in exploring and studying sub-arctic environments and the species within them. These species are fragile and highly vulnerable to environmental changes, and we designed our own research projects that focussed on monitoring the health of the local populations.

Full report can be found here.

Iceland was the perfect destination for our expedition, and the East Coast in particular ideal place for us to combine our research goals with our desire for adventure, to explore, and to learn about the culture and heritage of the country from the perspectives of the different people we met along the way. Through conducting our own research projects, we were able to develop our fieldwork and data analysis skills and learned many valuable lessons about the unpredictability of fieldwork, particularly in such a wild and unpredictable climate such as in Iceland, and how important it is to be able to adapt: the only certainty is that nothing will go according to plan! The expedition allowed us to develop a multitude of transferable skills which will be invaluable to us in presenting ourselves as strong, experienced candidates for research opportunities, employment, and hopefully for other exciting expeditions in the future. Our research will also be published on the International Network for Terrestrial Research and Monitoring in the Arctic, and so we hope that the projects we did here will aid in the conservation and future management of these species in Iceland and wider sub-arctic areas.

It is strange to look back on the days when our team were strangers; our expedition was such an incredible and inspiring experience for us all, through which we have bonded as scientific colleagues, team-mates, and most as importantly friends for life. We are so grateful to the Neil Mackenzie Trust for making our expedition possible, especially in such uncertain times, through the Educational Expedition Grant. As fellow Glasgow students it was a great honour for us to continue Neil’s legacy of combining scientific research with a love of adventure. It was hard to say goodbye to Iceland and our new friends after all the amazing memories we made, but I have no doubt we will back as soon as we can.