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WKU Students Study Climate Change in Iceland

WKU Students Study Climate Change in Iceland

Drs. Leslie North and Jason Polk of the Department of Geography and Geology and Ms. Heather Thomas from WKU Housing and Residence Life recently led a group of 15 students on a journey around Iceland! This Faculty-Led Study abroad course focused on how the land of fire and ice experiences climate change and the diverse responses and resiliencies to these changes. During the 15-day adventure, students explored glaciers, lava fields, geothermal energy plants, lava caves, black sand beaches, hydropower plants, glaciers, and much more. The group even took a ferry ride to Grimsey Island and crossed the Arctic Circle. Students and faculty in the course also had the opportunity to meet and work with counterparts at the University of Akureyri (UNAK) and the Icelandic Arctic Cooperation Network. While visiting UNAK, students and faculty visited the Tree of Change, an apple tree planted in 2014 to symbolize the collaboration between WKU and UNAK and their commitment to educate about climate change and Arctic issues.

During their two-week adventure, students were tasked with creating a unique way to communicate the realities of climate change in Iceland. Their projects included a documentary on food security in Iceland, a documentary on realities and perceptions of climate change, an ESRI story map on Icelandic locations impacted by climate change, and a Garmin Adventure containing climate change-themed geocaches around the country. Students successfully presented these projects in front of an audience at the University of Akureyri at the end of the course. All of these communication materials are available to the public for future use through various website and social media outlets.

The Icelandic outdoor classroom proved to be both adventurous and educational when discussing how this isolated island country is both experiencing climate change and evolving its practices to adapt to the impacts from changing climate patterns. With their new knowledge, students on the trip are now poised to begin conversations on climate change at WKU!

Dr. Jason Polk commented, “Iceland provides a natural classroom in which students can experience both the impacts of climate change by visiting glaciers that are literally melting away in front of their eyes and the positive ways in which societies can adapt to changing conditions through the use of clean energy sources and improved communication. This group of students really learned a lot and brought their own perspectives to the course and project, while practicing resilience as they dealt with the rugged landscape and weather conditions at times- it’s truly a full immersive learning experience and we’re proud of them all!”

Students on the trip included, Audrey Alexander (geography and environmental studies), Bryan Artymiuk (geography and environmental studies), Arinda Davis (undeclared), Max Goldstein (agriculture), James Graham (geoscience graduate student), Rachel Kaiser (geoscience JUMP student), Natalie Kincheloe (geography and environmental studies), Bonnie McCallister (geology), Logan Mitchell (meteorology), Allison Quiroga (geoscience graduate student), James Troxell (geography and environmental studies), Alexandra Vincent (geopgraphy and environmental studies), Cara Walters (geography and environmental studies), Elizabeth Willenbinrk (geoscience graduate student), Amber Woods (geography and environmental studies).

The tentative schedule for the summer 2018 Iceland program is being finalized and promises to offer more great adventures and learning opportunities to the next group of WKU students. To learn more about the 2017 program, or if you are interested in participating in the 2018 course contact Dr. Leslie North at or Dr. Jason Polk at

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 Last Modified 3/6/17