Category Archives: Bardarbunga

Iceland – Land of Ice and Fire has a release date!

first off, apologies for the lack of activity on here for so long, many reasons, main one being that its been very time consuming going through the post production process! its not the most dynamic thing to watch either, a computer screen, but I will do a post on all the tech workflow in due course.

Anyway, the good news is that we have our transmission date set!!!!

…..fanfare/drumroll……

It will be broadcast in the UK on May 1st, BBC2 at 9pm

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There will of course be a US release in due course on Animal Planet, as soon as I get it I’ll pass it on. in the meantime, here is a link through to The Natural World BBC website

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qnnh

and the BBC Earth website is always a good place to visit

http://www.bbc.com/earth/uk/sections/on-location

The Natural World is one of the gems in the BBC’s Natural History Unit, its the longest running series from them in fact, making a dozen or so films every year on a huge range of subjects To them variety is the key, its not restricted to looking at one habitat, species or animal. Anything goes really, as long as it makes a decent film! Hopefully our film will live up to the high expectations, only the viewers can decide that, so tell all your friends and make a date for friday night BBC2 9pm!

You’ll meet the fox family, some very cute ducklings being trained by Thor and his family, the iconic and special Icelandic Horses with Halldor and Snorri, and of course the spectacular Bardarbunga eruption in all its nightime glory.

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more details about extra clips coming soon!

Gunnhuver’s new Geysir – the waking witch?

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Well we’ve just about recovered from the awesome experience that was filming the eruption! We’ve got some fantastic footage from the ground, the night footage is unbelievable…but…you’ll have to wait until it airs (BBC2 and Animal Planet, next spring) to see it, sorry to those of you who have asked! So again a hearty thankyou to Thor and True North for getting us there and the SAR teams who are doing such a great job in keeping everyone safe out there.

We’ve had a great time over the past 10 days or so, all a bit varied and involving lots of dashing around the island, north, south, east and west we’ve done a whistlestop tour.

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We started off doing some work in Reykjavik, and as usual we stayed at our favourite spot in town, the 1912 Guesthouse (http://www.1912guesthouse.is) It’s a lovely place, right next to the Parliament building. Clean, comfortable and reasonably priced The owner is quite a character too, full of good stories and extremely helpful, it’s a definite top recommendation from us!

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We were after filming some nightlife, clubs and urban material, largely to cut into a sequence on how Icelanders use the power that they generate (in a very green fashion) from the rich Geothermal sources under the ground.

(ED note – It also gave a us a great excuse to sample some of the nightlife for which Reykjavik is gathering a worldwide reputation).

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Many timelapses later, we got some great shots around the town so should make a dynamic little sequence! And of course it gave Ian a chance to express his monochrome skills as only he can, it never ceases to amaze me the talents of this man.

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We returned to the Big Laxa river as a guest again of Orri Vigfusson. As Ian was in Hornstrandir with the foxes when we came here last time (he hasn’t forgotten the fox blog btw, it is coming soon!) and he had the high speed camera with him, we needed to do some pick up shots of casting.

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Orri had arranged for David L. Goodman to be our casting star, and what a star he was! Not only was he a superb fisherman he was also a supremely elegant double handed caster. He is a devotee of the underhand cast (ed note this is a revolutionary method of fly casting, pioneered by the great Swedish angler Goran Andersson http://www.salmonfishing-norway.com/goran%20andersson%20biographie.htm)

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To see David put this cast into practice was a wonderful experience, its such an elegant and precise way to fish and he was quite simply brilliant at it. As an added bonus, we caught and returned a lovely 20lb cock salmon and laughed….a lot. I have to say that David is one of the funniest and most entertaining contributors I have had the pleasure of working with. I wont repeat the stories told for lots of different reasons but I think its safe to say that we all learnt a few things! Of course you’ll have to wait and see the film to see him and Goran Andersson’ technique in action, but here is a shot of Ian giving it his best. A good job he did of it too, his usual dogged persistence paid dividend

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After a few more days back in town, some more interviews beckoned. Ester, Our fox scientist was kind enough to invite her to our lab and show us some of the new research she has been doing into the Arctic fox. Ester has been brilliant for the whole of this project, we couldn’t have done the filming in Hornstarndir without her.

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We also met a nice lady called Inga-Lisa and her daughter Asta, who were kind enough to talk to us about trolls and elves, and what they represent to everyday Icelanders.

We filmed them down to the sea stacks (or trolls petrified in the light of dawn) at Reykjanes, which we had recced back in May, a lovely spot down by the sea on this dramatic coastline.

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Very close by are the hot srings of Gunnhuver that we wrote about back in May (https://footstepsofgiantsblog.wordpress.com/2014/05/10/an-icelandic-ghost-story/) where according to local legend, the witch Gunn met her end by being tricked into a boiling mud pool, leaving her ghost to haunt this area to this day.

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In geological terms, these boiling, spitting mud pools are down to water coming into contact with hot rocks deep below, boiling and liquefying mud, then forcing its way to the surface as mud springs. (ed note, there is actually one such example, a cool one, at Wooton Bassett in Wiltshire). Here at Gunnhuver they have been active for many years and the whole area is dotted with vents, drifting steam covers the area and creates quite an atmosphere. In the past few weeks there has been a marked increase in activity here, (perhaps related to the 20,000 earthquakes that have happened in Iceland in the last month!) with old mud springs becoming more vigourous and others dying down.

Im not sure anyone expected a new Geyser to form though!

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Now a geyser is a peculiar phenomenon that need very specific conditions to occur. Its basically a funnel going down through the ground to an area where water (and/or mud) meets the magma. When this water reaches boiling point (its held there under pressure from the water above, becoming superheated) a bubble of steam surges up through the funnel forcing the water and mud ahead of it to be shot up into the air (in the case of Icelands famous Geysir, about 30m up in the air, and 80m for Old Faithful in Yellowstone US) the cooler liquid then falls back into the chamber to be boiled and the process repeats on a regular, timeable basis. It’s a bit like boiling a kettle really.

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Though Iceland has a handful of active geysers, (including the most famous one at Geysir, its where the name came from funnily enough) most are very small, and they are pretty rare worldwide (roughgly 1000)

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The biggest ever recorded was in New Zealand, the Waimangu Geyser, which got to heights of an incredible 460m , but that died out in 1904 http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/6497/waimangu-geyser-the-worlds-largest

Old faithful gets to 70m, and Strokkur (the active one next to Geysir) gets up to about 20 m. So any new geyser forming is a welcome addition to the list, particularly if it gets to any height.

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News broke on Tuesday 16th Sept that a geyser had been spotted out amongst the vents at Gunnhuver. We got staright in the trusty bus and got back out there on the Wednesday morning. Despite the rain it was pretty spectacular, a freshly formed mud hole some 6m across and 2m deep, surrounded by copious quantities of mud spatter, was bubbling away merrily. After a few minutes, the bubbling increased and with a roaring and hissing, great gouts of mud, steam and water shot up 8-10m into the air. The eruption only lasted about 20-30 seconds before dying away again, leaving the water pouring back down the hole to start the kettle boiling again. Now obviously a kettle needs time to boil, and as the saying goes “a watched pot never boils” but sure enough 10 mins later, off she went again! It seems that the witch Gunn has woken up, whether shes been dallying with her friends at Bardabunga we’ll have to leave to the spirits to decide, but its certainly a spectacle worth watching. One point to bear in mind here of course is that you must take great care when walking in this area. There are countless vents and mud holes all with scalding hot mud and water to trap the unwary, so if you don’t know where you should go, get a guide!

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With that, we set off east and north.

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We are heading up there to film a horse roundup in the next week, but its always worth picking off a few shots on the way. As chance would have it, we bumped into our good chum and all round great mate wildlife cameraman Warwick Sloss who is over here pursuing his great love of stills photography (ed note – his stuff is well worth a look, sublime portraiture all done on analogue film, developed and hand printed by his good self, check out his website here http://www.slossphoto.co.uk)

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Weather was pretty grim but we  caught up with the spectacular waterfall Dettifoss….

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and an off chance wildlife highlight was a lagoon on the southeast where many hundreds, perhaps thousands of whooper swans were gathering before their migration south.

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A sure sign that autumn, and the harsh winter, are on their way.

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Til next time…

Bárðarbunga – A Giant Awakens?

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When we first got this film commissioned as a Natural World for the BBC last year, very high up on wish list was filming an eruption if one happened, if being the operative word!

In geological terms, everything that happens with erosion, tectonic plate movement and rock formation takes place over an absurdly long time in our timescales. These things take millions of years to do their thing. The exception to this of course are the sudden, dramatic and often catastrophic events of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, which is exactly what is happening under the ground at Vatnajokull.

We’d had a little break in filming for a few weeks in August, the boys returning home to see loved ones and catch up on life, so when the scientific news channels started reporting increased seismic activity under the Vatnajokull glacier we pricked up our ears.

Iceland has lived with massive geological activity for its whole life. its actually a very young country in world terms, lying directly on the northern edge of the Atlantic rift joining The US and European land masses, Iceland is slowly growing as the two plates move apart with fresh material forming the land as cooled magma.

Its no surprise then that it has a brilliant system in place for dealing with earthquakes, eruptions and glacial floods. Check out the met office here http://en.vedur.is and you’ll get an idea of how comprehensive their coverage is, one thing you can be sure of is that the Icelanders know their countryside and its little (sometimes world changing) tantrums.

So, earthquakes started going off around Bárðarbunga with some startling frequency and size, up to 5.7 on the Richter scale…which is substantial. Amazingly, the scientists can predict what exactly is happening underground through a network of measuring stations and GPS locators. It appeared that a substantial quantity of magma from the gigantic Bárðarbunga magma chamber was trying to break free. The fears (liberally expressed throughout the worlds media) were of a repeat performance of 2010 when air traffic was effectively knocked out over the atlantic for a period of time when the Eyjafjallajökull eruption burst out from under a glacier.

We were due to return on the 31st August and were on tenterhooks when the eruptions started the week before, especially if flight was going to be affected. Neil had already returned (to take his young lady Rachel on holiday, we just cant stay away from here!).

In the great way of these things, Lady Luck smiled on us and left the big eruption til the morning of our arrival on Sunday. We met up with our Eider friend Thor and his wife Erna for a spot of lunch and then got on with trying to film a volcano erupting.

Now getting to the site of an eruption is not an easy task. Quite rightly, the Icelandic authorities had taken the step of evacuating both the immediate vicinity and the flood plain down towards Dettifoss. Bárðarbunga is under the northern edge of the Vatnajokull glacier (the largest in Europe) and right slap bang in the middle of the deserted but beautiful highlands. Flying in was out of the question (all overflights were banned, though a couple of “intrepid” local pilots did some fly bys).

We were very fortunate to have the assistance of the brilliant Thor from True North in Reykjavik (http://truenorth.is)

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Thor, Rafnar and the rest of the team there have been our on the ground help for the whole of this project (we couldn’t do it without them to be honest) and by great good fortune, Thor is also a team leader for the Icelandic Search and Rescue organization (http://www.icesar.com) so was the right man to get us in place safely. Part of his role is to investigate eruption sites, establish safe zones (if any!) and where possible collect any samples relevant. He and his colleague Freyn located the 2011 eruption site at Grímsvötn (the weather was so appalling no one could get or find an erupting volcano, though instruments told scientists it was happening).

We met up with Thor first thing on Monday morning, he outlined the plan for how to get there (superjeep was the only option for the last stretch) so it was straight off to the other side of the country by road. 7hrs later we headed off road into the highlands by the one route allowed, quite rightly access at the moment is only for scientific teams and the SAR, all other roads have been closed into the area. We stopped by at a lonely little SAR manned outpost to log our BBC ids and passports, and continue our journey into the darkening skies. It always amazes me the power of BBC id cards, but like alcohol and cigarettes, they must be used responsibly!

We managed to take our trusty 4wd van most of the way, but had to call it quits at a river too deep for us. A rapid debuss and all our filming, sleeping (ha!) and eating kit transferred across to the Superjeep and we were off again.

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A couple more night time river crossings, weaving in and out of old lava fields (expertly handled by Thor and the Superjeep) and we were getting close…

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Our first inkling that something was fundamentally different in our environment was when we spotted a red glow in the clouds….to the south, not the afterglow of sunset. The cloud itself of course wasn’t really a cloud, it was the huge column of steam, sulphur dioxide and a bit of ash (not anywhere near enough to affect anyones flight plans I hasten to add!) pumping out of the ground.

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To say we were excited would be an understatement….not in a million years did we expect to be in this position.

It was now nearly midnight as we approached this massive red cloud belching and flickering like some devils breath. It was vital we approached from the right direction as the cloud contains very high levels of Suphur Dioxide, deadly in high doses. Thor checked the route visually and for any signs of the gas, as we crept closer across the flat sandy terrain.

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The eruption is a fissure eruption, basically the force of the magma has opened up a huge crack in the ground (1.5km long) right next to the flood plain of a river draining the Vatnajokull glacier. Its actually the site of a previous eruption from the 18th century. This is not fire coming out of a perfectly conical mountain in the Hollywood sense of a volcano, it’s a huge gaping open crack going straight down to boiling, angry magma. Sounds benign doesn’t it, and it certainly gives food for thought as you get close. Thor was happy with it being safe so we stopped the jeep and got out to the most incredible sight.

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The noise was incredible, a pretty much constant rumbling and banging as more explosions rocked the place. The wind was pretty strong too, whipping up sandstorms that are so common in the highlands. If you’ve ever been blasted by the fine pumice that gets carried by the wind here, you’ll know that it stings, and clogs the eyes pretty quick. Keeping behind the truck helped though and of course when there is a sight like this in front of you, you forget any discomfort pretty soon.

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We had to work fast, not least because of the speed at which the lava was coming out and flowing along the ground, around 3m per minute.

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Now bearing in mind that Usain Bolt runs 100m in under 10sec, 3m per minute doesn’t sound very fast, but hot as Usain may be, he’s not the same as a wall of molten rock, 500m across simmering away nicely at 1200c! keeps you on your toes I can say

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Time seemed to stand still really, it was so strange being next to this living breathing beast for hours on end. It was both awe inspiring and humbling at the same time. Theres nothing better to my mind than being made to feel small by nature, its does the soul good to know that some things cannot be changed or even fully understood.

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Sitting down you could feel feint rumblings underneath, and every few seconds a mighty explosion would thunder out

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Volcanoes are obviously spectacular during the day, but the seeing this beast of a fissure spewing forth millions of tons of molten rock at night is extraordinary!

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You can feel the heat of the lava fountains from a few hundred metres away, and when we were rigging our gopros and timelapse rigs (you’ll have to wait til next year to see those in the finished film on BBC2 im afraid!) to get the advancing wall of fire, you had to keep a close eye on the cameras in case the glass elements in the lens pop.

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On a technical note, its worth remembering (for anyone who finds themselves filming volcanic eruptions) that heat haze plays havoc with focus, particularly autofocus, my advice, don’t use it! trust your eyes.

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The night went by in a flash, and it wasn’t long before the first tinge of pink was in the eastern sky.

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We did a quick reposition further away from the eruption and set ourselves up for a timelapse of the sun rising through the ash cloud. It seemed the right time to have a quick coffee and a quiet moment of reflection,attend to any ablutions and maybe a bit of food. Those regular readers out there will know that we have been using a lot of dehydrated food whilst we’ve been here, its been a godsend but not for long periods, perfect for here though we thought. Thor though surprised us all by whipping out a small bar-b-q and preparing hotdgs and lamb fillet. Unbelievablly good at 5am in front of an erupting volcano!

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(Ed note. Andy looking like a chimney sweep! But thats a hard days and nights work right there….Ash and debris from the fissure finds a new home on Andy’s face)

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The sun coming up through the dust and heat haze was extraordinary, the colours in the sky were just to die for and no camera can do them justice.

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Once we were happy with the wides and lapses we returned to the lava wall and fissure.Ian even had time to break out the Leica once the sun was up, as usual his results were superb

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It was amazing to think that areas we had been walking on, only a few hours previously, were now covered in new land, and that’s partly the story of Iceland and what makes it so special. Its a tough place, made vibrant and beautiful by the force of nature.

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That’s one of the incredible things about this event though, I think I am right in saying that Iceland grows about 20mm a year as the plates pull apart, this event has in the few days since August 16th, grown 14 times that, astonishing.

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The rest of the morning was spent in the company of some of the scientific teams studying this. For them it’s the chance of a lifetime to increase their knowledge base and understanding of whats going on under our feet. For some, this is the first view of an eruption in their entire career, good people all of them.

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We’ll obviously be keeping an eye on proceedings at Bárðarbunga, Vatnajokull and Askja as there seem to be a number of possible outcomes at the moment, varying from a full stop to procedings to either subglacial eruption and massive flood or Askja going bang,

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Im neither a Geologist nor a crystal ball gazer so cannot guess what will happen, but I do know we’ve been forever humbled by the power and majesty of Bárðarbunga and the Holuhraun fissure.

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Suffice to say that the power of the planet is an extraordinary thing, It’s a part of Icelanders make up to work with nature and not against it, so whatever happens, this land will continue to grow

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Til next time

Editors SAFETY NOTE Friday 5.08.14

several people have been arrested trying to get into the eruption site this evening http://www.ruv.is/frett/arrested-near-the-holuhraun-eruption

We must point out that we had special permits to enter the area, were accompanied by 2 guides both SAR personnel, and obeyed police and SAR instructions at all times. If you choose to disregard official advice and permissions on entry to the area, you are not only endangering your own life, but the lives of the rescue services too.