Thursday, 28 June 2012

The sample tour continues into the Highlands......

A well deserved chill out day on Sunday in Akureyri, Iceland's second largest settlement with a population of 16,000, involved hot tubs, swimming, more slide action, and a trip to the cinema to see Prometheus. Although the film is pretty awful it was interesting to see whether the parts of Iceland they filmed in made it into the final cut. Going by John's description of the site they filmed just north of Hekla, it looks as though the gravel tracks are the only thing of Iceland they kept in; the volcanoes and local environment were clearly not impressive enough!

Back on the road on Monday we headed West on Route 1 and then at Vatnsskard headed south down the mountain road towards the Kjölur region. This was my first outing into Iceland's interior and the van didn't disappoint in coping with the gravel roads and washboard ruts. A river crossing to access sites on Tuesday made me thankful we had four wheel drive.

Hot springs all the way

On the way down we stopped at Hveravollir which is a collection of hot springs similar to those we later visited at Geysir. The photos don't really do justice to the colours and smells you get from being up close to them. Being located in the middle of a mountain track means it doesn't suffer from an influx of tourists so it still feels fairly remote.  On the way back on Wednesday we managed a well deserved dip in Hveravollir's outdoor hot tub.

Hot spring at Geysir.

The weather has remained reasonable for the last few days although showers and cooler temperatures are far more regular as you would expect from a mountainous region. The two ice caps of Langjökull and Hofsjökull dominate the skyline as you head further west.

Langjökull ice cap with shield volcano on the right and and table volcano on left.

Ash galore

In terms of sampling, we originally found it difficult to find suitable sites to uncover the ash layers. With it being a far more hostile place there are no farms and associated ditches around and the soil is very thin due to constant high winds and lack of vegetation to consolidate it.  We hit hard permafrost in one sample pit whilst digging down. When we did fine a good site the changes in the profiles have been quite interesting with far more course tephra present particularly in the Hekla 3 layer we have been sampling (click here for reminder of the different layers). This isn't as surprising as we've been sampling much closer to Hekla than last week when we were on the north coast. John's colleague Thor Thordarson joined us on Tuesday and was an excellent guide providing really detailed and interesting explanations for a number of the harder to distinguish tephra/ash layers and material from other eruptions such as those from Katla.

A pit sample from the Kjölur region. You can see the black  ash layer from a Katla eruption mid way up the profile between the Hekla 3 (brown top white bottom) and Hekla 4 (light yellow) layers.

It's not all been sunshine and happy sampling though. The small black flies that inhabit the upland areas have been doing a fine impression of the classic midge swarms you often encounter in Scotland. Although these wee flies don't bite as much, their sheer numbers provide enough annoyance that when combined with Tuesday's mild and still conditions they were definitely pushing a category 5 on the Smidge forecast.

Fly survival suit
We're heading back across to Akureyri tomorrow (Thursday) with the intention of continuing the sampling down the East coast.

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