UNU-GEST Fellows Witness Climate Change: Field Trip to the Southeast of Iceland

UNU-GEST fellows at the Glacier Lagoon
UNU-GEST fellows at the Glacier Lagoon

Last week, the UNU-GEST fellows, together with Dr. Irma Erlingsdóttir, the director of UNU-GEST, travelled to the southeast of Iceland as part of the module "Gender and Environment". The module opens with a theoretical introduction to the relationship between gender and environment and gender and climate change. It then brings in practical tools for integrating gender in the planning, design, implementation, and evaluation of projects and investments in response to climate change. The field trip is made annually with the objective of witnessing climate change in Iceland and to put the learning into a global perspective.

The road to Höfn offers great sightseeing opportunities – and these were not missed by the fellows who visited the 60-meters high waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skógarfoss, the black sand beach Reynisfjörur and hiked for two hours in the national park Skaftafell for the visit of the waterfall Svartifoss, the Black-waterfall, named after the black basaltic columns surrounding it. The road also runs through enormous lava and sand fields with spectacular views over several glaciers. But what struck the students most was Jöksulsárlón, the glacier lagoon, that touches both the glacier and the sea, with its drifting icebergs, seals and great variety of wild birds.

Dr. Þorvarður Árnason, the head University of Iceland's Research Centre (UIRC) in Höfn has welcomed UNU-GEST fellows for the past seven years together with colleagues in the knowledge center Nýheimar in Höfn. This time he was joined by three experts Kristín Hermannsdóttir, a meteorologistand and the director of the South East Iceland Nature Research Center, Snævarr Guðmundsson, a glaciologist and Hugrún Harpa Reynisdóttir, the director of Nýheimar. The three-day stay in Höfn included indoor lectures and outdoor field visits, culminating in a walk on Vatnajökull glacier. Once again the fellows returned to Reykjavík greatly inspired by the professionalism and generosity of our hosts.

What deeply affected the fellows was to witness, simultaneously, the beauty of the landscape in the southeast of Iceland and the evidence of the melting of the glacier. One described this experience in the following words: “I have been for the last days surprised by mixed feelings of sadness and affection. I feel as I have changed“.  The key to action in the fight against climate change is perhaps to find in the nexus where these feelings meet.