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Picture Library catalogue: Cambridge Expedition to Vatnajökull, 1932

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Cambridge Expedition to Vatnajökull, 1932

The Cambridge Expedition to Vatnajökull took place during the summer of 1932. The party consisted of six members: B.B. Roberts (leader and ornithologist); F.W. Anderson (geologist and zoologist); J.A. Beckett (surveyor); P. Falk (botanist); W.L.S. Fleming (geologist); W.V. Lewis (seismologist and surveyor).
The two main objectives of the expedition were to try to ascertain the thickness of the ice of Vatnajökull, the largest ice cap in Iceland and to carry out an ecological survey of representative areas, both in the desert region to the north of the ice and the coastal belt on the south.
The expedition sailed from Hull on 20 June 1932, aboard the trawler 'Lord Balfour of Burleigh' and four days later, landed at Hornafjördur, in south east Iceland. A small motor boat assisted in transferring the men and all their equipment to the small quay at Höfn. Travelling by pony transport the expedition then went along the coast to Stadardalur and up a steep route to the ice cap. They crossed several wide and fast flowing rivers between Hornafjördur and Staddardalur. Streams from the ice-sheet with a distributary pattern being a feature of this part of the coast. At the edge of the ice, at an altitude of 3300ft, the expedition made their first camp and the ponies were sent back. One of the objects of the expedition had been the measurement of the thickness of the ice by seismic methods, but a mechanical breakdown of the instrument caused this plan to be abandoned. The party therefore, began their crossing of the ice cap to Kverkfjöll by sledge, with bad weather delaying their progress. On Brúarjökull, a northern lobe of the ice cap, they encountered further obstacles in the form of extensive thaw streams and pools of slush, which hindered the movement of the sledges. The crevasses on the edge of the ice and the countless glacial dirt cones, a main feature of Brúarjökull, made the progress of the last part of the journey very slow, and they had to relay the equipment. A base camp was set up on 14 July on the marginal moraine close to the eastern scarp of Kverkfjöll, and overlooking a small ice-dammed lake. Part of the expedition spent fifteen days mapping the country around the base camp. They also carried out geological and ecological surveys in the area, and discovered hot springs in a gorge near the base camp.
During this time, Roberts and Falk made a journey of twenty miles to Hvannalindir, an oasis in the lava desert of Odadahraun, to the north of Vatnajökull. They carried out ecological work at this and other oases, and found them to be unexpectedly fertile.
Rain and snow delayed the return of the expedition across the ice cap, because the continued thaw made the surface of the ice cap difficult to travel. Making it necessary again to relay the equipment until they reached higher ice two miles from the edge. Fine weather then enabled the expedition to return across Vatnajökull and they then spent a week at Stadardalur, a valley stretching from the ice margin to the sea. Here they carried out an ecological survey, which created a basis for comparison with fauna and flora of the central desert region. The expedition returned to England via the Westmann Islands, where the by S.S. ‘Godafoss’ picked them up, and they reached Hull on 22 August 1932.

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Data in this catalogue was last updated on Tuesday, 13th June 2023.