Timetable information in the Course Catalogue may be subject to change.

University Homepage
DRPS Homepage
DRPS Search
DRPS Contact
DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Geosciences : Geography

Undergraduate Course: Physical Geography Fieldwork: Iceland (GEGR10072)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Geosciences CollegeCollege of Science and Engineering
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course develops practical skills in Physical Geography through original environmental research in Iceland.
Course description This course is based in Iceland because it is one of the finest areas of the world for the study of geomorphological processes, and landforms shaped by volcanism, past and present glaciation, rivers, catastrophic floods, and human impacts. Uniquely within the Old World the timing and cultural context of the first human settlement, by the Norse in the ninth century AD, is known in detail, and can be dated in the field by reference to a clearly developed layer of volcanic ash (tephra) deposited at the same time. Iceland was one of the last new places on Earth settled by people, yet human impacts exacerbated by climate change have stripped the land of about 20,000Km2 of soil cover- it is the most eroded country in Europe.

Iceland has the best-developed tephrochronology in the world, and this powerful dating technique offers a remarkable aid to understanding Earth surface processes, environmental change and human-environment interactions in the fieldwork. Virtually every type of volcanic activity on Earth takes place in Iceland. The island occupies a strategic location close to the atmospheric and oceanic Polar Fronts, and so it is a globally significant place for the study of climate change and glacier fluctuations. Icelandic case studies have wide significance because landscape processes active in Iceland today shaped large areas of the Northern Hemisphere during the Quaternary glaciations. In addition the characteristics of the island's biota provide fundamental tests for theories of island biogeography and glacial refugia that in turn are important to the understanding of evolution and continental scale biogeographical patterns.

To give context to your case studies of environmental change, historical, cultural and economic aspects of Icelandic society are also discussed because these human dimensions are vital to the wider understanding of drivers of change over the last millennium, and offers unique insights into the interplay of culture and environment in marginal areas.

There are three pre- excursion lunchtime meetings in late March (S2 week 10) and attendance is compulsory.

Ten days are spent in Iceland in early September, five of which are devoted to your small group project work. A series of structured activities are used to add deep context to the project work; these structured activities include hikes on mountain trails and through gorges, work on a glacier, and a visit to the off shore island of Vestamannaeyjar where we climb the crater formed by an eruption in 1973. Ground transportation will be in Land Rovers and a significant time will be spent travelling on gravel roads. Our accommodation at an isolated community centre is very simple, living is communal and we self-cater.

Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Students MUST have passed: Research Skills in Physical Geography (GEGR08012) AND The Nature of Geographical Knowledge (GEGR09012) AND Key Methods in Physical Geography (GEGR09018) AND Physical Geography Year 3 Field Course (Spain) (GEGR09019) AND Research Design for Physical Geography (GEGR10131)
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  30
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Fieldwork Hours 100, Feedback/Feedforward Hours 2, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 94 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Feedback - During the project formulation stage you choose a general subject to tackle; detailed feedback and guidance is given on the initial project outline as it evolves during introductory meetings.
- During the field course, you are required to make two intermediate oral group presentations and one final presentation about their projects; feedback is given on work progression and ways the project can be further improved at each of these.
- A number of individual project meetings are held in the field, and in the field centre. These provide you with the opportunity for discussion and to reflect on project design and progress.
- Oral feedback will be given to you on the initial data report, and this is followed up by individual project-group tutorial discussions.
- Written feedback will be given on the final individual report.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. acquired knowledge of: Quaternary environmental change in Iceland, the processes and landforms of glaciation and volcanism; the strategic importance of Iceland to the study of global change; case studies of environmental monitoring and reconstruction
  2. gained experience of: How theory in physical geography can developed through research; scientific field excursions, project implementation, data collection and analysis, team working, and oral presentation.
  3. developed skills in: Team working, project design and implementation, autonomy and initiative; the use of data sets, data identification, location and retrieval; critical assessment, project execution, note taking in the field, peer assessment.
  4. acquired the ability to design and execute research shown by: The identification of a research title and the creation of a research team; developing, presenting and executing a group research design, meeting plans and making progress, gathering data, writing and presenting a group data report; writing and individual research report of up to 4,000 words for a summative assessment
Reading List
Recommended reading
Baynes E.R.C., Attal M., Niedermann S., Kirstein L.A., Dugmore A.J. and Naylor M. 2015 Erosion during extreme flood events dominates Holocene canyon evolution in North - East Iceland¿, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112, 8, 2355 2360
Björck, S., 1995. A review of the history of the Baltic Sea, 13.0-8.0 ka BP. Quaternary international, 27, pp.19-40.
Buckland, P., Dugmore, A., 1991. ¿If this is a refugium, why are my feet so bloody cold?¿ The origins of the Icelandic biota in the light of recent research. In Environmental change in Iceland: past and present (pp. 107-125). Springer, Dordrecht.
Church, M. J., Dugmore, A. J., et al., 2007 ¿Timing and mechanisms of deforestation of the settlement period in Eyjafjallsveit, southern Iceland. Radiocarbon 49(2): 659-672
Dugmore, A.J. and Sugden, D.E. 1991 ¿Do the anomalous fluctuations of Sólheimajökull reflect ice-divide migration?¿ Boreas 20, 105-113.
Dugmore, A.J., Newton, A.J., Larsen, G. and Cook, G.T. 2000 ¿Tephrochronology, environmental change and the Norse settlement of Iceland¿ Environmental Archaeology 5, 21-34.
Dugmore, A.J. and Newton, A. 2012 ¿Isochrons and beyond- maximising the use of tephrochronology¿ Jokull: The Icelandic Journal of the Earth Sciences. 62, p. 39-52
Dugmore, A.J. and Vesteinsson, O. 2012 ¿Black Sun, High Flame, and Flood: Volcanic hazards in Iceland¿ In Cooper, J. & Sheets, P. (eds.) Surviving Sudden Environmental Change Answers from Archaeology. Boulder, Colorado, USA: University Press of Colorado, p. 67-90
Dugmore, A.J., Gísladóttir, G., Simpson, I.A. and Newton A.J. 2009 ¿Conceptual models of 1,200 years of Icelandic soil erosion reconstructed using tephrochronology¿ Journal of the North Atlantic 2, 1-18
Dugmore, A. J., Newton, A., Smith, K. and Mairs, K-A. 2013 ¿Tephrochronology and the late Holocene volcanic and flood history of Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland¿ Journal of Quaternary Science 28, 3, 237¿247
Kirkbride, M.P. and Dugmore, A.J. 2003 ¿Glaciological responses to distal tephra fallout from the 1947 eruption of Hekla, Iceland.' Journal of Glaciology 29,166,420-428
Dugmore, A.J., Sugden, D.E., 1991. Do the anomalous fluctuations of Sólheimajökull reflect ice¿divide migration? Boreas, 20(2), 105-113.
Dugmore A.J., et al. 2020. ¿Continuity in the face of a slowly unfolding catastrophe: the persistence of Icelandic settlement despite large-scale soil erosion.¿ In P. Sheets and F. Riede (Eds) Going forward by looking back: Archaeological Perspectives on Socio-Ecological Crisis, Response, and Collapse Berghahn Books
Evans, D.J., Ewertowski, M. and Orton, C., 2017. Skaftafellsjökull, Iceland: glacial geomorphology recording glacier recession since the Little Ice Age. Journal of Maps, 13(2), pp.358-368. J
Jakobsson, M., et al., 2007. Reconstructing the Younger Dryas ice dammed lake in the Baltic Basin: Bathymetry, area and volume. Global and Planetary Change, 57(3-4), pp.355-370.
Johnson, B. G., et al. (2017) A chronology of post¿glacial landslides suggests that slight increases in precipitation could trigger a disproportionate geomorphic response. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 42, no. 14: 2223-2239.
Kjartansson, G., 1967.The Steinholtshlaup, central-south Iceland on January 15th, 1967. Jökull 17, 249-262.
Kirkbride, M.P. and Dugmore, A.J. 2008 'Tephrochronological dating of glacier advances AD 410-1947 in Southern Iceland.' Quaternary Research. 70, 3, 398-411
Streeter R.T. and Dugmore A.J. 2014 ¿Late-Holocene land surface change in a coupled social-ecological system, southern Iceland: a cross-scale tephrochronology approach.¿ Quaternary Science Reviews 86 (2014) 99-114
Streeter, R. and Dugmore, A. J. 2013 ¿Anticipating land surface change¿: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 110, 15, 5779-5784.
Streeter R. T., Dugmore A.J., Lawson I.T., Erlendsson E. and Edwards K.J. 2015. The onset of the palaeoanthropocene in Iceland: Changes in complex natural systems. The Holocene, 2015, 25, 10. 1662-1675
Nelson M.C., Ingram S E., Dugmore A.J., et al., 2015 ¿Climate Challenges, Vulnerabilities, and Food Security¿ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113, 2, 298-303
Száz, D. and Horváth, G., 2018. Success of sky-polarimetric Viking navigation: revealing the chance Viking sailors could reach Greenland from Norway. Royal Society Open Science, 5(4), p.172187.
Thirslund, S. 1997. Sailing directions of the North Atlantic Viking age (from about the year 860 to 1400). The Journal of Navigation, 50(1), 55-64.
Vésteinsson, O, Church, M. J., Dugmore, A.J., ,McGovern, T.H. and Newton, A.J. 2014 Expensive errors or rational choices: the pioneer fringe in Late Viking Age Iceland. European Journal of Post¿Classical Archaeologies 4, 39-69
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
Additional Class Delivery Information 3 x 2 hour lectures plus tutorials and a seminar series. 10 days field work in Iceland during the summer vacation
Course organiserProf Andrew Dugmore
Tel: (0131 6)50 8156
Course secretaryMiss Leigh Corstorphine
Tel: (01316) 502572
Help & Information
Search DPTs and Courses
Degree Programmes
Browse DPTs
Humanities and Social Science
Science and Engineering
Medicine and Veterinary Medicine
Other Information
Combined Course Timetable
Important Information