Iceland

Geology, Climate Change, & Renewable Energy
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Smithsonian Student Travel  |  Iceland

Witness volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls, thermal pools, and other geological wonders as you explore the magical landscapes of Iceland, where both climate change and successes in renewable energy are fast-moving and highly visible. On this high school summer program, travel from Reykjavík to the remote Westfjords as you gain an in-depth understanding of the country’s unique cultural heritage and witness firsthand the challenges to the Icelandic way of life presented by a changing climate. Meet with fishermen to hear about impacts on traditional fisheries, learn about the potential of geothermal energy from geologists, straddle two tectonic plates at Þingvellir National Park, and seek out Arctic fox pups while hiking in one of Europe’s last true wilderness areas. Gain insight and knowledge about clean energy, climate change, and possibilities for adaptation as you begin to envision the future of our changing planet.
June 25, 2024–July 9, 2024 (15 days)
July 10, 2024–July 24, 2024 (15 days)
Students completing grades: 8–12
Tuition: $9,290 + airfare
Typical Group: 16–18 students + 2 leaders

Highlights

  • Go behind the scenes at a geothermal power plant

  • Don crampons for a trek on Snæfellsjokull glacier

  • Scout for puffins, whales, and seals as you kayak pristine fjords

  • Speak to local fisherman about warming ocean temperatures

Itinerary

This itinerary represents our plan for the program. However, we may implement changes if we identify opportunities to improve the experience, to take advantage of unexpected events, or to accommodate local schedule changes.

Departure • Travel Day • Meet your student travel group and one of your trip leaders in New York City, and fly together to Keflavík, Iceland. 

Reykjavík & the Golden Circle • 3 days • Start off your journey with a relaxing soak in the famous Blue Lagoon. Then head to Reykjavík, the world’s northernmost capital, to begin your program with an in-depth program orientation, where you’ll get to know your fellow travelers and group leaders. Explore Reykjavík’s eclectic cafes and visit the ruins of a Viking household excavated downtown. Then head east into the interior highlands and travel the iconic Golden Circle. Go behind the scenes with geologists at the Hellisheidi Power Plant to learn how Iceland harnesses geothermal energy for sustainable living. Visit the thundering Gullfoss waterfall, walk between two tectonic plates at Þingvellir National Park, and witness the steaming eruptions at Geysir. 

Snæfellsnes Peninsula • 3 days • As you journey north, explore the black-sand beaches of Djupalon and Dritvik to learn the stories of the ancient lifting stones. Ride Icelandic horses along the ocean and visit the unique museums and beautiful harbor in Stykkishólmur. Don crampons and ice picks to trek on the Snæfellsjokull glacier with expert guides. Then, compare this terrain to the nearby site of Iceland’s first “extinct” glacier, and learn why Icelanders foresee a future in which all glaciers might follow this path.

Breiðavík • 2 days • Travel farther north by ferry and explore the southern peninsulas of the Westfjords from our base in the town of Breiðavík. Climb the rocky outcrops alongside Dynjandi waterfall and soak in geothermal hot springs overlooking the ocean. Hike between cairns that once connected ancient settlements, and photograph puffins nesting along the Látrabjarg peninsula, the westernmost tip of Europe. Actively participate in one of Iceland’s key industries as you meet local fishermen and visit newly emerging fish farms that dot the water. See firsthand the incredible variety of species of the north Atlantic and learn how fish stocks are changing with the warming currents along the coast. 

Ísafjörður • 4 days • Continue on to Ísafjörður, the largest town in the Westfjords, situated just 35 miles from the edge of the Arctic Circle. Kayak pristine blue waters scouting for playful seals, whales, and seabirds, and spend an afternoon at the Arctic Fox Center, which conducts research on this special species. Travel by boat from Ísafjörður to the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, considered one of the last true wilderness areas of Europe, known for its thriving Arctic fox population. Scout for pups as you hike through fields of wildflowers, along picturesque seaside cliffs, and on rocky plateaus dotted with glacial lakes. Take in the views of the harbor at the “Troll’s Throne” and reflect on tourism’s role in the current Icelandic economy and landscape.

Reykjavík • 1 day • On your journey back to Reykjavík, stop in the town of Holmavik to gain perspectives on Icelanders’ relationship with elves and folklore. Enjoy a celebratory meal with new friends in the city and cap off your program with a final farewell. 

Return • Travel Day • Fly from Keflavík to New York City with your group and a trip leader, then continue on to your final destination.

Smithsonian Student Travel Expert

A Smithsonian Student Travel Expert will join the group for a portion of the itinerary. Our experts are professionals in their field and tie in their knowledge and experiences with the themes of the program. Throughout their time with the students—generally five days—they share their insights and passion for the region through talks and informal conversations, connecting with students in meaningful ways. Meet the experts who are joining the student trips below.

Michele Gualtieri looking up and smiling while wearing chef coat and standing against old brick building

Dan Dixon, Sustainability Director (joining the June 26 departure)

Dan is the University of Maine Sustainability Director and a Research Assistant Professor with the University’s Climate Change Institute. He initially trained as a marine engineer and ultimately received his Bachelor of Science in Geology and Oceanography from the University of Southampton, UK. For his undergraduate research, he studied the clay mineralogy of mud volcanoes and diapirs along the Iberian continental margin using x-ray diffraction techniques. Since then, he earned his MSc in Quaternary and Climate Studies and his PhD in Earth Sciences while working at the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute.

Dan’s graduate research was primarily focused on Antarctica. As a member of the United States International Trans-Antarctic Scientific Expedition team, he completed five Antarctic field seasons, traversing more than 10,000 km over the ice sheet and drilling more than 40 ice cores along the way. Dan continues to focus his research on reconstructing paleoclimate using the chemistry contained in snow and ice. He has also worked in Iceland, Southern Patagonia, the New Zealand Southern Alps, the Central Chilean Andes, the Olympic Mountains, the Saint Elias Mountains, the Island of South Georgia, and most-recently in the Peruvian Andes. Dan is a recipient of the United States Antarctic Program Polar Service Medal and has received a National Science Foundation Achievement Award for Traversing in Antarctica.

Michele Gualtieri looking up and smiling while wearing chef coat and standing against old brick building

Dr. Stephanie Sykora, Geologist (joining the July 10 departure)

Dr. Stephanie Sykora is a geologist, with a PhD degree in Geology from the University of Tasmania, Australia, and a BSc degree in Earth and Ocean Science from the University of Victoria, Canada. She has worked for over 10 years as an exploration geologist all around the world, including Australia, Papua New Guinea, Serbia, Ireland, Japan, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, USA and Canada. She has worked with various mineral exploration companies, universities and published scientific articles. Currently she is a consultant geologist based out of Canada. She had led and participated in various field trips globally, focusing on geology and natural sciences. Stephanie is also an avid scientific communicator for earth sciences, having been involved in outreach programs, such as Young Tassie Scientists, and written numerous online, publicly accessible articles about geological sites around the world.

What to Expect

Physical Activity • This is a physically active summer travel program. Walking, hiking, glacier trekking, horseback riding, and kayaking are all activities in which you might participate. You do not need to be at peak fitness, but it is essential that you have a desire to be physically active, and that you are excited about trying all activities.

Accommodations • Our accommodations in Iceland range from youth hostels to small, rural guesthouses and farmsteads. Many of our residences are run by welcoming Icelandic families who live in town or on the premises. Leaders stay together with students throughout the program.

Climate • Summer days are long at the edge of the Arctic Circle (averaging 19 hours of daylight per day!), with brisk temperatures around 50–60°F (10–16°C) and occasional rain and wind.

Meals • We eat meals either at our accommodations, on-the-go during our daily excursions, or at local restaurants. Oftentimes, we form cooking and cleaning crews to help with meal preparations and cleanup.

Cuisine • Fish, lamb, potatoes, skyr (Icelandic yogurt), vegetables, and fruit are typical in the Icelandic diet. 

Language • Icelandic is the official language of Iceland; however, English is widely spoken throughout the country.

Sign up for two programs & save $500!

$300 tuition discount + no application fee