Land of Fire and Ice

Program Dates: July 22, 2023 - August 6, 2023

This intensive, 16-day course (4 to 6 credits) will introduce you to geologic hazards and environmental science through the active, boots-on-the-ground, exploration of Iceland. Our journey will take us along Iceland's southern coast and up into its volcanic highlands. We will visit (if possible) the recently erupting fissure on the Reykjanes Peninsula. We will see spatter cones, lava tubes, hot springs, olivine  beaches, glacial bays, waterfalls, and alpine canyons. We will witness and discuss how the dynamic Icelandic environment has shaped the landscape and the people. We will also visit sites of cultural and historical  significance, including Þingvellir, the site of the first parliamentary seat, and Eyjafjallajökull, the ill-tempered  volcano whose eruption in 2010 shut down air traffic over Europe for the better part of two weeks. We will be  camping at developed campgrounds for the majority of the field session. Showers will be readily available, but  internet access is more sporadic. As part of the course, we will be hiking the Laugavegur Trail. It is a 5-day  backpacking trip through some of the most rugged and beautiful terrain in Iceland.  

We will begin with several meetings during the spring semester at Appalachian State, where we will describe many of the geologic processes and features that you will come face to face with in Iceland. These  meetings will be arranged based on the schedules of the students that sign up and may have to take place in  the evening. The lectures will be tailored specifically for this program so that you will have significant contextual  knowledge surrounding each site we visit. Each student will be asked to research one of the features /  processes we will see in Iceland. This report will become part of our field trip guide and you will be asked to  present your work and lead a class discussion in the field.  

This course will be physically and mentally demanding, so be prepared. Iceland's weather is fickle, even  more so than Boone's. Average high temperatures for July in Iceland are in the mid 50's with lows occasionally dropping into the 30's. In the highlands, blizzards are a distinct possibility. Winds can be severe. Our backpacking  trip will take us through recent volcanic areas where the ground is still warm to the touch. We will ford glacial  rivers. It will be a challenge, but it will also be very rewarding.  



A geologically young land, Iceland is the surface expression of the Iceland Plateau, a large igneous province forming as a result of volcanism from the Iceland hotspot and along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the latter of which runs right through it. This means that the island is highly geologically active with many volcanoes including Hekla, Eldgjá, Herðubreið, and Eldfell. The volcanic eruption of Laki in 1783–1784 caused a famine that killed nearly a quarter of the island's population. In addition, the eruption caused dust clouds and haze to appear over most of Europe and parts of Asia and Africa for several months afterwards, and affected climates in other areas.

Iceland has many geysers, including Geysir, from which the English word is derived, and the famous Strokkur, which erupts every 8–10 minutes. After a phase of inactivity, Geysir started erupting again after a series of earthquakes in 2000. Geysir has since grown quieter and does not erupt often.

With the widespread availability of geothermal power and the harnessing of many rivers and waterfalls for hydroelectricity, most residents have access to inexpensive hot water, heating, and electricity. The island is composed primarily of basalt, a low-silica lava associated with effusive volcanism as has occurred also in Hawaii. Iceland, however, has a variety of volcanic types (composite, shield, and fissure), many producing more evolved lavas such as rhyolite and andesite. Iceland has hundreds of volcanoes with about 30 active volcanic systems.

Surtsey, one of the youngest islands in the world, is part of Iceland. Named after Surtr, it rose above the ocean in a series of volcanic eruptions between 8 November 1963 and 5 June 1968. Only scientists researching the growth of new life are allowed to visit the island.

On 21 March 2010, a volcano in Eyjafjallajökull in the south of Iceland erupted for the first time since 1821, forcing 600 people to flee their homes. Additional eruptions on 14 April forced hundreds of people to abandon their homes. The resultant cloud of volcanic ash brought major disruption to air travel across Europe.

Another large eruption occurred on 21 May 2011. This time it was the Grímsvötn volcano, located under the thick ice of Europe's largest glacier, Vatnajökull. Grímsvötn is one of Iceland's most active volcanoes, and this eruption was much more powerful than the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull activity, with ash and lava hurled 20 km (12 mi) into the atmosphere, creating a large cloud.

A great deal of volcanic activity was occurring in the Reykjanes Peninsula from 2021-2022, after nearly 800 years of inactivity. After the eruption of the Fagradalsfjall volcano on 19 March 2021, National Geographic's experts predicted that this "may mark the start of decades of volcanic activity." The 2021 eruption was small, with no major impacts to any population centers, and a second brief eruption in the same area in 2022 also produced no significant impacts to populated areas. (Source: Wikipedia)



All program participants will be enrolled in either GES 1103 or GES 2500 and HPC 3538 (4-6 credits).

Course Prefix

Course Name



GES 1103-145

Land of Fire and Ice


Brian Zimmer & Scott Marshall

GES 2500-145

GES Independent Study


Brian Zimmer & Scott Marshall

GES 2530-145

Expedition Support and Logistics


Brian Zimmer


Faculty Leaders

Mr. Brian Zimmer
Senior Lecturer
Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences


Brian has been with the Geology Department since 2008 and has taught a myriad of labs, introductory lectures, and freshman seminar. He researches volcanoes and volcanic deposits and is currently working on a set of ancient human footprints preserved in volcanic ash in northern Tanzania. He won the 2015 Teaching Excellence Award (non-tenure track) in the College of Arts and Sciences as well as a 2021-2022 Board of Governors Teaching Award. 


Dr. Scott Marshall
Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences

Dr. Marshall's research utilizes mathematical modeling, computer programming, and data analysis to better understand our planet and its processes. Since arriving at Appalachian State, he has worked on research in fault and fracture mechanics, satellite geodesy, near-surfance geophysics, and several other Earth science data analysis projects. Much of his research has been funded by the Southern California Earthquake Center as well as other agencies. Dr. Marshall currently serves on the Science Planning Committee of the Southern California Earthquake Center, and is the co-leader of the Community Modeling Group.


Program Cost: $4,322

Program cost includes airfare, meals, lodging, in-country transportation. 

Estimated Additional Expenses


Tuition - Resident

$152.54 / credit hour

Tuition - Non-Resident

$172.54 / credit hour

Personal Expenses




Please note that non-billable costs are estimates only and will be affected by personal spending habits, currency fluctuations, etc. Prices listed in USD unless otherwise noted. Students are encouraged to start planning for their study abroad program costs well in advance. 

Payment Schedule





 Upon receipt of application

Payment 1



Payment 2 



Payment 3



Appalachian reserves the right to cancel or alter the program format or to change costs in case of conditions beyond the university's control.  Further details about Appalachian's withdrawal/cancellation policy can be found at this link.


Application Process

  1. In order to apply for this program, you will need to contact one of the program leaders and provide your Banner ID and email address. Program leaders may request additional information or a meeting to discuss the details of the program and your interest.
  2. When permission to apply for the program is granted, you will receive an email from the Office of International Education and Development with a link to the application and further instructions.
  3. Your application will be considered complete when you have submitted it and paid the $300 deposit fee. The fee cannot be paid until it appears on your student account. Please note that it may take 2–3 business days for it to post to your account. You will receive an email with Instructions for paying the deposit fee. Instructions can also be found in the application.