Archive for the ‘Traveling’ Category

It Was Magical

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

rlbras.jpgRafael L. Bras
It was the last full day of the trip, and it was absolutely beautiful. After leaving very early in the morning we headed for Snaefellness Peninsula, northwest of Reykjavik. Our stops included a boat trip in the sparkling harbor of Stykkisholmur; a drive around the Snaefells Glacier, where Jules Verne imagined starting his voyage to the center of the Earth; a visit with a family dedicated to preparing shark meat that is essentially cured in the open air (and didn’t taste as bad as it sounds, although the ammonia did come through once in a while); a walk on a black sand beach within extraordinary lava flows; welcoming small fishermen to port and watching as they processed their daily catch; and taking a walk along spectacular cliffs full of nesting birds, which was somewhat nerve-wracking for some of us.

Twelve hours after departing, we were a hungry crowd descending on a small, isolated hotel by a river that caters to wild salmon fishermen during the summer. It was dusk; everybody was tired, yet awed by the sights we had seen.

But the students wanted more. “We don’t want to leave Iceland without seeing the northern lights,” they said. That is one spectacle we could not control. But as we walked back out into the darkness, there it was: the Aurora Borealis, at least a faint one. And 30 minutes later, the real show began. A cooperative—and extraordinarily good—bus driver pulled off the road so that 60 excited people could go out into the darkness to see the skies dance. The lights changed hues, appearing and disappearing in the starry night. At one point I looked and there were all the students in a circle, most standing, some lying down, all hypnotized by the overpowering sky that graciously answered their prayers.

Yes, the Icelandic gods were alive and well and provided a most fitting end to the adventures of our tribe. It was magical!

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Iceland Air Traffic Control Center

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

adambockelie.jpgAdam Bockelie
Free time! That was Wednesday afternoon’s motto. Ten of us chose to spend the afternoon at the Iceland Air Traffic Control Center, which manages aircraft over a large part of the North Atlantic. Though it would never be permissible in the United States, we were given a full tour of the center, including the control room. We got to watch and listen as controllers directed aircraft across the Atlantic Ocean.

The controllers sit at stations with advanced computer software that allows them to track and visualize each aircraft. When an aircraft is in radar range, it can be tracked on screen. I was surprised to learn that a large part of the center’s airspace doesn’t have radar coverage. The airspace immediately surrounding Iceland is the only area over the northern Atlantic that does. Over the rest of the ocean, controllers have to rely on updates from pilots to keep track of the aircraft.

Though I knew a little bit about the aviation system before the visit, I learned a lot about how aircraft are managed during trans-Atlantic flights.

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Why Iceland?

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

rlbras.jpgProfessor Rafael L. Bras
Some 40 freshmen, 15 upperclassmen teaching fellows and the faculty and staff associated with MIT’s Terrascope program are in Iceland for Spring Break (March 24-28) to study fisheries, the topic of study this year for this first-year program that focuses on learning about the Earth as a complex dynamical system. Iceland offers a perfect case study of a country with a large fishing industry and a culture with strong historical ties to that industry. An added attraction is Iceland’s geology and unique dependence on renewable energy.

Terrascope’s annual fieldtrip, although voluntary, is an integral element of the program. Over the past five years, destinations have included the Amazon rainforest, Alaska, the Galapagos Islands, the Pacific Coast of Chile, and New Orleans during the city’s recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

Students began the program last fall by analyzing the problem of global depletion of fishing stock and devising policies to solve it (course 12.000, Solving Complex problems). During the spring term, they’re enrolled in “Communicating Complex Environmental Issues: Designing and Building Interactive Museum Exhibits” (1.016). In this class they conceptualize, design and build a series of interactive museum exhibits. Their “museum” will be open to the public on the MIT campus in the Vannevar Bush Lobby (building 13) beginning May 12; it will remain open for several weeks. The Iceland trip will serve as a primary source of information for their exhibits. Several of the students enrolled in Terrascope Radio will use the trip to interview Icelanders and write and produce their own radio program that will be aired on MIT’s FM radio station.

The 2007-2008 Terrascope program and the Iceland trip are headed by Professor Rafael Bras of the Departments of Civil & Environmental Engineering and Earth, Atmospheric & Planetary Sciences.