Student - February 13, 2014

‘My own Mount Doom’

Who? Christian de Kleijn, Earth & Environment student
What? Research internship with the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland
Waar? Gunnarsholt, South Iceland

‘The part of South Iceland I was in was a barren plain 40 years ago. Now it is an area with lots of trees where all sorts of things grow. That is thanks to the Landgræðsla ríkisins soil institute, an impressive result. There were two parts to my research. One part concerned the interaction between lupin plants and a caterpillar species (Lepidoptera). The tough lupin plant was introduced 50 years ago to combat soil erosion. Since the 1990s they have been on the menu for caterpillars and I was investigating the effect of this. My second study concerned carbon storage in the Icelandic soil. Because of the Kyoto Protocol, Iceland wants to store CO2 in the form of organic materials. I took soil samples to see whether that was having any effect. 

My biggest adventure was when I’d only been there a fortnight and decided to climb one of Europe’s most notorious volcanoes, Hekla, on my own. That turned out to be more of an ordeal than I had envisaged. To reach the top, I had to get through quite a young lava field with incredibly sharp rocks. Progress was slow, while the evening mist and dusk was turning the place into a scene from Mordor. The wind was bitterly cold and the toxic gases from the volcano made the place seem even more surreal. In the end, it took so much longer than I’d expected that I couldn’t get back. Fortunately I found a tiny seismographic station where I spent the night surrounded by batteries that had frozen and broken. I drank melted snow and ate moss and berries to keep going. But I made it in the end. When I got back, my Icelandic colleagues split their sides with laughter, and my adventure even made the national newspaper.’’