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What I Did This Summer – Ange Leone ’20 in Iceland

What I Did This Summer – Ange Leone ’20 in Iceland

By Ange Leone ’20

This summer, I had the amazing opportunity to study geology in Iceland. I’ve never traveled before. This would be my first time ever on a plane, a boat, or even camping! This trip was to be a huge moment in my life for multiple reasons. I spent 11 days hiking, camping and driving around the perimeter of Iceland. Those 11 days pushed me to explore the physical earth around me and challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone. I learned so much first-hand that I know I wouldn’t have been able to learn anywhere else.

Iceland is known as “the land of fire and ice,” where you can travel from volcano to glacier in less than an hour. It’s the only part of the mid-Atlantic oceanic ridge that is above the ocean, which is why the geologic features are so prominent and amazing. We landed at the Keflavik at 4:45 a.m., definitely feeling the early morning start to our day. We took a van down to the Reykjanes Peninsula, stopping at a lighthouse on the coast for our first stop. The water was the most amazing aqua-navy mixture that slammed into the coastal rocks with the wind. We could see how old, eruptive lava flows had come across the landscape before flowing into the water. The rift valley between the North American and European plates was right before our eyes. It was an incredible way to start the trip.

We spent the next day exploring the Golden Circle, which is formed by three features: Thingvellir, Geysir, and Gulfoss Waterfall. Thingvellir was where Iceland’s parliament met from the 10th to the 18th century. Geysir is a large geyser and is where the name for the geological feature originates. The Gulfoss Waterfall is one of the most well known in the world. Here we were able to see the many layers and columnar joints as the river had eroded the surface. We also visited a building that was built over the site of an earthquake. During construction, the earthquake occurred and left a rift underneath. They just put a piece of glass over it and continued construction.

Our third day was spent on the island of Heimaey, off the southern coast of Iceland. Here, we learned about the 1973 eruption of Eldfell, the hill of fire. It almost caused the permanent evacuation of the island due to the lava flow entering the city. The eruption caused the largest coordinated effort of that time to slow lava flow. Barges sprayed water on the moving lava to prevent it from blocking off the harbor, Heimaey’s source of food and economy. We climbed the 660 foot tall Eldfell that day, and it changed my life. I was able to see a very recent eruption in geological time while realizing that I can accomplish anything. We saw the different colors and sizes of rocks produced in eruptions. We felt the still-present hot spots all the way at the top. We saw the difference in the rock and lava down near the ocean surface, including where the lava entered the water and increased the size of the island. I now have a tattoo of Eldfell on my arm to remind me of my accomplishments, the trip and the amazing power of the Earth.

I had countless other amazing experiences. I slept at the base of the Skulgafoss waterfall, near the mountains in Hofn and next to the lake of Myvatn. On my birthday in the middle of the trip, we went to a Viking Café on the southeastern coast where I had the best hot chocolate and apple pie while petting two chocolate Labrador retrievers. My amazing group also bought me a cake. I traveled through and under a fjord, places where glaciers used to be which are now giant u-shaped valleys sometimes filled with water. I drove over an outwash plain where floods from heated glaciers atop volcanos occur. I rode on a monster truck tour bus into the highlands near Askja, a large collection of calderas that looks as barren as the moon. We ended the trip relaxing in the beautiful nature baths of Myvatn which are heated by the immense amounts of geothermal heat present in Iceland.

My education at Otterbein is an important part of shaping who I am and the knowledge I gained in Iceland extended it and will be with me forever. I’m incredibly lucky and thankful to have been able to learn hands-on in Iceland and without Otterbein or Professor Kevin Svitana, I never would have been able to go. Professor Svitana has constantly pushed me to do my best and has given me opportunities to explore careers in my field. He traveled to Iceland with me and was the one that told me about the trip. Iceland pushed the limits of what I thought I could do and I hope to go back with an Otterbein class in the future to complete research for my honors senior thesis.


Learn more about Otterbein’s environmental science program in the Department of Biology and Earth Science.