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Return to Vatnajökull

Univ Return to VatnajökullIn 1932, a team of scientists from the University of Cambridge made a double crossing of the Vatnajökull icecap in the south east of Iceland. In just over a month, the team used pack ponies, skis and their feet to travel unsupported over 120km on the icecap and then a further 60km into the volcanic desert to the north of the glacier.

On 14 April 2019, a team of three Univ Alumni – Oliver Vince, John-Henry Charles and Glen Gowers (matric 2012) – set off to conduct an expedition following in the ski trails of the 1932 Vatnajökull team from Höfn to Kverkfjöll.

In addition to the “simple” adventure of crossing the ice-cap, the team are focusing on conducting scientific (in-field, entirely off-grid genome sequencing) and historical study (re-photography).

The critical contribution of the work of the expedition aims to be as follows:

Firstly to re-photograph the Vatnajökull and the traverse 87 years on from original expedition, hoping to retake many of the 200+ photographs that the 1932 team took, to document how the landscape has changed over time. This will provide an interesting insight into any effect that our changing climate has had on the glacier’s size and shape.

Univ Return to VatnajökullSecondly to be the first expedition to conduct genome sequencing entirely off-grid in a polar environment. There are a surprising number of hurdles and moving parts in shifting a laboratory on to a sledge for polar-style environments as John-Henry explains: “This has been achieved through 8 months of collaboration with Dr Arwyn Edwards (RGS Arctic and Mountain Research Fellow 2017-2018), who has advised us that to his knowledge this would be the first example of an entirely off-grid and unaided sequencing effort in polar regions (no back up mains electricity, internet, or vehicles).”

He continues, “Our characterisation of the microbial diversity present at Gengissig Lake using in-field DNA sequencing technology would be a genuine methodological first, aiming for academic publication; results will be shared openly with the Icelandic Vatnajökull National Park with nothing reserved for commercial gain – in accordance with the Nagoya Protocol. Our work is being done in collaboration with Dr Arwyn Edwards (RGS Arctic and Mountain Research Fellow 2017-2018), and the University of Akeyuri, and has been approved by the authorities of Vatnajökull National Park.”

Thirdly, the expedition is supporting psychological research investigating human factors on expeditions, participating in a study to understand psychological factors that are linked to performance and health in challenging and demanding expedition environments in collaboration with researchers at the University of Aberdeen and the University of Manchester.

Finally, the team are documenting mountain climbing in the Kverkfjöll range, hoping to provide more updated English language descriptions and GPX coordinates of potential routes in the Kverkfjöll range.

Learn more about the expedition from sledgereport.com  and the video below.

Published: 25 April 2019

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