We are a group of freshwater ecologists from the Biology Department at St. Catherine University in Saint Paul, Minnesota studying the effect of temperature and nutrient availability on metabolism and nitrogen fixation in geothermally active streams in the Hengill region of Iceland. This is a collaborative research effort with our partners from Montana State University, the University of Alabama, the University of Iceland, and the Institute of Freshwater Fisheries in Iceland. See links to our collaborators labs below.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Adventures on an island off an island

Yesterday was only my 4th day in Iceland but we were already off on our first field trip excursion. It was a beautiful sunny day and we headed to Haimey, one of the Westman Islands, an archipelago off the southwest coast, for some hiking, sight-seeing, and birding. We had an early 7 am start from Reykjavik (which wasn't too bad considering the sun had been up since 3) and headed south to catch our ferry. After a scenic drive through Iceland and a short 30 minute ferry ride, we arrived at port. 

The small city is home to around 4500 residents and is surrounded by cliffs and two volcanic mountains, Helgafell and Eldfell. After a quick stop at Krónan to grab lunch, we began our hike up Eldfell. Eldfell last erupted in 1973 and is the youngest volcanic mountain in the world. The hardest part of hiking a volcano is the loose soil resulting in a two steps forward, one step back effect. At the top of the mountain we had a panoramic view of the island with cliffs on one side and the city on the other.

After Eldfell, we followed a random trail and discovered a cave! After taking some photos and pretending to be in Lord of the Rings, we began the most anticipated part of our trip, the search for puffins! Iceland has the largest population of puffins in the world and the Westman Islands are home to some of the largest colonies as well. With this in mind, we had high hopes. 

After a few hours of walking along the coast and peaking over cliffs we finally spotted our puffins! Small relative to the gulls and massive cliffs, the puffins zipped around the waves as tiny black specks. We spent the next couple hours sitting by the cliffs and enjoyed the scenic views. Once we returned to town, we followed the loud music coming from the center of the city and stumbled upon a celebration of Sjómannadagurinn (Sailor's Day). Celebrated throughout all the coastal towns of Iceland, the first weekend of June is dedicated to honor those who work at sea and in fisheries. My favorite event during the festival was the pillow fights. Historically used as a test of manhood, the pillow fight involves stepping out onto a plank overhanging the port and fighting until one of the players falls into the icy cold water below. 

Once we arrived back to the mainland, we had a quick drive before we arrived at our next site, the Beglengd Seljalandsfoss Waterfall. Standing at 75 meters, the waterfall cascaded over the edge of the plateau. The best part of this waterfall was that we could walk behind it! Following the path along the side, we ventured behind the waterfall for amazing views of the waterfall, rainbows, and some splashes of water. Overall, we had an amazing day exploring the island and experiencing the local culture. I can't wait to explore more of Iceland throughout the rest of the summer. 

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