New field study course offered this spring and summer: Iceland

Mon, 12 Jan 2015 12:46:00 CST  — by: Rachel Petropoulos

puffin_sqaure‚Äč‌Sustainability and Global Environmental Change is a new class at Sewanee that, through both classroom seminars and field excursions, will expose students to a variety of issues related to climate change and other examples of our dynamic global environment.  The on-campus portion of the class is a half-credit seminar that meets once per week to discuss readings and issues relevant to the field site that will be explored during the summer.  The seminar will meet at a time that fits the existing schedules of the registered students and will end before finals week begins.  The second portion of the class, also a half-credit, takes place during the summer and involves immersive travel to a remote field site.  The specific destination will change from year to year.  Trips will take place at the beginning or end of the summer, and will last between one and two weeks.  Students must participate in both the on-campus seminar and the field excursion to receive full credit.

other_picThis year’s inaugural edition of Sustainability and Global Environmental Change will examine the effects of climate change and natural hazards in Iceland.  Following the once-per-week seminar during the Easter 2015 semester, we journey to Iceland in early August.  In Iceland, themes of natural resource use and conservation, geothermal and hydroelectric energy policy, volcanism and glacial dynamics, and human adaptation to a stark, volcanic, sub-Arctic environment will be emphasized.  During a guided hike on a glacier (with crampons, ice-axes, and safety lines), we'll witness firsthand the effects of climate change and natural hazards.  A day spent on the remote island of Heimaey will provide the backdrop for a lesson in one of history's most dramatic cases of human-environment interactions:  the 1973 volcanic eruption that threatened to destroy the island’s only port, until the collective effort of the villagers to pump seawater onto the lava actually changed the direction of the flow itself, sending the lava safely out to sea!  During an amphibious journey to a small island in a glacial floodplain, students will witness the scale of one of the most powerful landscape altering events on earth:  the jökulhlaup, or glacial outburst flood--an event that is triggered when a sub-glacial volcano erupts, instantly melting millions of cubic meters of ice.  The class will discuss the power of geothermal energy, both as it applies to the urban development of Reykjavík and as it drives the movements of the tectonic plates that gave Iceland its unique geography.  The field portion of the course takes place in early August, leaving time for work, research, or internships during midsummer.

sheep_thngAbout the instructor:  Russell Fielding is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Sewanee.  He earned his Ph.D. in Geography at Louisiana State University, based in part on a study of traditional whaling societies in Scandinavia.  Fielding has traveled extensively in Iceland and has taught field courses there previously.  The class size will be limited for more effective travel.  For more details, email Professor Fielding at or stop by Spencer Hall 250 to discuss the course.

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