Spring trip to Vatnajökull 2021
Written by Erik Sturkell
Finally a spring trip with the Icelandic Glaciological Society (JÖRFI) after the limited tour in 2020, which I did not take part in. Due to the covid situation only a few participated in the spring trip 2020. In 2021, there was a high demand to take part in the tour. This together with a corona-adjusted expedition that resulted in fewer persons than the capacity, two succeeding trips were made. Each group consisted of 17–18 people and everyone was covid-tested before departure. Thus, it was two negative groups going up on the glacier. I took part in the later expedition, starting early Sunday morning (6th of June) from Reykjavík. The departure was delayed for both groups due to bad weather. We went to Jöklasel at Skalafellsjökull where we embarked the glacier. Benni O. from the Icelandic Met Office travelled with the first group and he deployed two GPS stations; one in the northern end of Esjufjall and the second next to Pálsfjall. Eyvi from the University of Iceland and I travelled from Jöklasel on skidoos to retrieve the Esjufjall instrument. The weather was poor with limited visibility so the great view from the GPS site was not experienced this year. We arrived first at Grímsfjall and at 7:50PM we put the lasagnas in the own. At the arrival of the group the food was ready. On Monday (7th of June) the weather was even worse and we spent the whole day indoors. But the next day it was splendid weather and we used the day to 120%. We got up at five in the morning and left the huts at seven. We all went north to Gjálp and Bárdarbunga doing several projects such as: ice radar, gravity, accumulation measurements, sampling, and installation of seismic stations. I took samples from the 15.5-meter-long drill core (fig. 1a) at every 0.5 meter. This drill core penetrated three seasons of snow (fig. 1b). My next project was to test how to melt large quantiles of snow for the hunt of micro plastic. The idea is to melt snow on site and sieve the water. By this large quantities of snow can be sampled and only the sieves need to be transported to Sweden. A pot, burner, gas, and sieves are brought to the glacier (fig. 2). During the late afternoon 250 liters of snow was melted generating about 100 liters of water which was sieved. A more powerful burner is needed as this took four hours complete. We returned late from Bárdarbunga about 10PM (fig. 2), all the different projects in that part of the glacier were now done. On Wednesday the weather turned bad again but in the evening, we went to the GPS site located near Pálsfjall. The weather prediction on Thursday was good so we all got up at 5AM to get an early start. When we set out before 9 o’clock AM the morning from the houses there was no visibility at all. But as we got down into the Grímsvötn caldera all cleared. Again, I took out the snow melting kit and melted 250 liters of snow (fig. 2). I was very fortunate to have enthusiastic people around, helping and patiently waiting for the snow to melt – thank you! In the afternoon we visited the eruption site from 1998 directly under Svíahnúkur vestri (fig. 4) and the drainage threshold under Svíahnúkur estri where the water table could be observed. Later that day the GPS station on Svíahnúkur vestri was restarted (fig. 5). On Saturday the 12th we left Grímsfjall in the afternoon. At the glacier edge at Jöklasel we were hit by a snowfall. That evening we stayed at Vagnsstaðir in Suðursveit until Sunday. We returned to Reykjavík on Sunday afternoon. If was again a fantastic trip struck by difficult weather, five out of seven days, but with such fantastic group, all work went very well.
Figure 1. sampling at Bardarbunga 8823 & 8821. At 1900 meters elevation on the volcano Bardarbunga several projects were made. The photographs show coring of the snow for accumulation measurements. The normal annual snow cover is 4–5 meters at the site. a: A 15.5-meter-long core was retrieved covering three years of accumulation. b: I got the possibility to collect samples of the whole core.
Figure 2. melting at Grímsvötn 8911. The snowmobile dug almost 2 meters down and 250 liters of snow were dug out and melted. The pot was filled with molten snow and the water sieved. The meltwater was collected in the cylindric bucket, just measure the water level and the volume can be calculated.
Figure 3. returning late 8867. The snowmobile returning very late on Thursday 8th of June to the huts. In the background the caldera is hidden in clouds only some nunataks are visible.
Figure 4. Svíahnúkur vestri. 8924 At the base of Svíahnúkur vestri was the 1998 eruption site. Today only some plies with ash that remains.
Figure 5. The GPS site on Svíahnúkur vestri has a permanent monument and is planned to collect data until the autumn.