Alumni trip showcases Iceland's geological highlights

  • Jan 12, 2017
  • alumni, event
  • Alumni, Faculty & Staff, Research

Trip participants get ready to descend into the magma chamber of Thrinukagigur, a completely dormant volcano in Iceland.

Trip participants get ready to descend into the magma chamber of Thrinukagigur, a completely dormant volcano in Iceland.

Iceland is called the “Land of Fire and Ice,” and for alumni of the MSU Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (EES)—formerly the Department of Geological Sciences—that nickname came alive in the form of volcanoes, geysers, lava fields and massive glaciers during their trip there Aug. 22 - 27. The department organizes an alumni trip every two years, but this was the first time the trip ventured outside of the United States.

Michael D. Gottfried, EES associate professor, teaches a three-week study abroad program in Iceland.  So Gottfried was tapped, assisted by Warren Wood, visiting professor of hydrology and an MSU geology alumnus himself, to organize a week-long trip for alumni that featured “the cream of the crop” of Iceland’s geological highlights.

 “The group ranged from alumni who had graduated in the 1950s to a 2014 graduate,” Gottfried said. “Most had worked in some aspect of earth science that reflected their geology degrees.”

Alumni paid for their airfare and the trip’s ground portion. In addition to Gottfried and Wood, David Hyndman, professor and EES department chair, accompanied the alumni.

 “A trip to Iceland has been on my bucket list for years,” said Lisa Bouda (B.S., ‘84), a geoscience teacher from Grosse Pointe South High School, Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich. “I finally got to stand on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, eat a piece of a glacier, see the original Geysir and descend into a volcano.”

Trip highlights included:

Thrinúkagigur – This is the only place in the world where visitors can descend into the magma chamber of a completely dormant volcano. 

Thingvellir National Park – This is the best place to see the fissure zone that marks the boundary between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. Iceland is the only place where such a plate boundary can be seen on land.

Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon with views of the Vatnajökull Glacier – Here pieces of icebergs grind together in the still, deep waters of the lagoon, which is one of the most photographed sites in Iceland.

Geothermal greenhouses – Iceland has effectively used geothermal energy. Ninety percent of the homes are heated by geothermal energy, and greenhouses—warmed by geothermal energy—make it possible to have fresh vegetables all year. The alumni visited an electrical generating plant and a geothermal greenhouse, where they feasted on freshly made tomato soup.

“People ask me to name the one best thing about the trip, but I can’t,” said Cheryl Kehres-Dietrich (B.S., ’80; M.S., ’84), principal consultant with SME from Northville, Mich. “The whole trip was fantastic, from the amazing geologic features and spectacular landscapes to the great comradery with MSU geology alumni.”

Steve Tilmann (B.S., ’72; M.S., ’74), from Charlotte, Mich., who owned a computer software business and is now retired, gives credit to the trip leaders.

“The trip was a job well done by the excursion leaders, and the travel logistics were great,” he said.

The groups’ enthusiasm may lead to other alumni trips outside of the United States.

“We are thinking about elements from this trip and how to apply them to the next alumni trip in two years,” Wood said.

For more information about other research and activities happening in the MSU Department of Earath and Environmental Sciences, visit its 2016 newsletter.