Land of Fire and Ice

Program Dates: July 22, 2024 - August 6, 2024

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 all along Iceland's southern coast and up into its remote volcanic highlands. We will visit (if possible) the recently erupting fissure on the Reykjanes Peninsula. We will see spatter cones, lava tubes, hot springs, black sand beaches, glacial bays, waterfalls, and alpine canyons. We will witness and discuss how the dynamic environment has shaped the Icelandic landscape and people. We will visit sites of cultural and historical significance, including Þingvellir, the site of the first parliamentary seat, and Eyjafjallajokull, the ill-tempered volcano whose eruption in 2010 shut down air traffic over Europe for more than two weeks. We will be camping at developed campgrounds for the majority of the field session. As part of the course, we will be day hiking long distances and backpacking the Laugavegur Trail; a 5 day trek through some of the most rugged and beautiful terrain in Iceland. 

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

This course will be physically and mentally demanding, so be prepared. Iceland's weather is unstable and can change rapidly. Average high temperatures for July in Iceland are in the mid 50's with lows dropping into the upper 30's. In the highlands, blizzards are a possibility. Winds can be severe. Our backpacking trip involves trekking with packs weighing 40 pounds or more for up to 12 miles up and down significant topography in a day. We will climb mountains. We will ford glacial rivers. It will be a challenge, but also very rewarding. 

While prior backpacking / camping experience is not required, we do require that all participants meet a minimum level of fitness and be capable of high level physical exertion and mental stamina. This is a matter of safety for the entire class. The fitness assessment will involve hiking with a loaded backpack to the top of a nearby summit and back within a predetermined time frame. The offered date(s) and location of this assessment will be chosen once the course begins to populate. If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to Brian Zimmer,



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 have the option to add 2535 (4-6 credits).

Course Prefix

Course Name



GES 1103-145

Land of Fire and Ice


Brian Zimmer & Scott Marshall

GES 2500-145

Land of Fire and Ice Independent Study


Brian Zimmer & Scott Marshall

GES 2535-145

Field Logistics and Expedition Support


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: $4325

Program cost includes airfare, most meals, and lodging.  All fees associated with tourist site visits and activities.

Please note - Students are responsible for the total program cost upon submitting the application and deposit. Refunds are contingent upon meeting the minimum enrollment of the program. If a student decides to withdraw before departure, that student may be eligible for a refund if the program has met minimum enrollment and is therefore viable. 

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

Remaining balance due




Estimated Additional Expenses


Tuition - Resident

$153 / credit hour

Tuition - Non-Resident

$173 / credit hour

Summer Fees




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 your program leader with instructions to apply.
  3. Apply to the program following the instructions from the program leader.
  4. Print, sign and drop off your application at the Office of International Education and Development at Plemmons Student Union (PSU), Suite 321 ( 3rd floor), 263 Locust Street Boone, NC 28608. Your application will be considered complete when you have submitted your digital application, paid the $300 deposit, and dropped off your printed and signed application. 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.