Imaggeo on Mondays: In-tents Icelandic sunset

Imaggeo on Mondays: In-tents Icelandic sunset

This photograph was taken at the campsite near lake Mỳvatn during a field trip to Iceland. Every year a group of students from Wageningen University travels from the Netherlands to Iceland for a weeklong excursion as part of a course on catchment hydrology. The aim of the trip is to provide students with real life examples of the processes they learned during their lectures.

After a rainy morning that day, tents and equipment were packed away as quickly as possible in order to escape the wetness. The drive took the group from the campsite in Höfn, at the foot of the Vatnajökull glacier in southeastern Iceland, along the coastal highway up north towards Myvatn. Iceland is famous for its raw and beautiful nature, with waterfalls seemingly around every corner and the imposing presence of the glaciers and volcanos in the distance.

Upon our arrival at the campsite in the evening, people begrudgingly noticed that the tents were still wet from the morning rain. The campsite was situated at the bottom of a formidable hill, which provided stunning views over the lake and landscape. Not wanting to sleep in a damp tent, a few students picked up their tents, dismantled them, went up the hill and let the evening breeze do the rest, all amid the backdrop of a stunning sunset. The desire for dry covers even outweighed the very real danger of being eaten alive by masses of midges, a known pest and hazard in these parts.

When camping there is always things that can go wrong. But for places like Iceland it is the only way to truly appreciate and experience the country’s stunning beauty and wilderness. Gazing up at the northern lights from your sleeping bag is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. While waking up in the middle of the night and having to put on boots and jacket to run to the bathroom is vexing, you might be rewarded with views of the top of the glacier that has been shrouded in clouds all day, making it seem like Zeus himself is taking a peek down from Mount Olympus to see what is going on. Iceland has to be experienced, not from a cosy hotel bed, but from a tent put up in the evening and taken down the next day. As Albert Einstein once said: “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better”. Even if that means hiking up a hill and holding your tent up into the wind to dry.

By Maria Warter, PhD student at Cardiff University


Imaggeo On Mondays: Reservoir in the Italian Alps

Imaggeo On Mondays: Reservoir in the Italian Alps

Mountain natural streams and reservoirs have a relevant hydrological and ecological importance since they represent reliable sources of freshwater supply to lowland regions and high-quality habitats for fish and cold-water communities. Moreover, streams in mountain environments are of significant importance for users in several socio-economic sectors, such as agriculture, tourism and hydropower.

Given the vulnerability of mountain streams and catchments to the impact of climate changes and the increasing concern about water supply in mountain regions, there is the urgent need for scientists to face integrated, multidisciplinary catchment-scale studies addressing implications of climate change on water resources management and flow regimes.

Description by Daniele Penna, as it first appeared on

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GeoTalk: Fishing meets science with waders and smartphones

GeoTalk: Fishing meets science with waders and smartphones

Dutch and American researchers have developed waders equipped with temperature sensors that enable fly-fishers to find the best fishing locations while collecting data to help scientists study streams. The research is published today (29 February) in Geoscientific Instrumentation Methods and Data Systems (GI), an open access journal of the European Geosciences Union. In this GeoTalk interview we talk to Rolf Hut, a hydrologist at the Delft University of Technology, and lead author of the paper, as well as with Tim van Emmerik, co-author of the paper and also a hydrologist at Delft University of Technology, to learn more about this unique invention and its application for both hydrologists and fly fishers!

What was the motivation behind this study? How did the idea to use temperature sensing waders for environmental sciences come about?

Rolf: The idea originated during a discussion between Scott Tyler and I at the 2014 AGU Fall Meeting . We were discussing the difficulty in calibrating DTS (Distributed Temperature Sensing, see Selker et al., 2006) in streambeds and suddenly the thought popped in our heads that we are wearing waders when installing DTS cables, why not equip the waders with temperature sensors? When we started to further think this idea through (beer may have been involved), we realised that fly-fishers walking in streams with temperature sensing waders would make a great source of data for scientists studying hyporheic exchange (the study of groundwater-streamwater interaction).

Furthermore, fly fishers themselves could benefit from knowing local stream temperature to find optimal fishing locations. Therefore, we set out to, as a first test, prove that temperature sensing waders could potentially provide this information. The result of that test is presented in our current paper.

What data do you hope to collect with your waders and what applications, both for the scientific community and the wider public, would the data have?

Rolf Hut testing the temperature-sensing waders in the field. Credit: Tim van Emmerik

Rolf Hut testing the temperature-sensing waders in the field. Credit: Tim van Emmerik

Rolf: As scientists, we hope these data help us better understand where groundwater enters streams and where stream water drains away to the groundwater. Hyporheic exchange (groundwater-streamwater interaction) is a complex field of study, with very local places where groundwater enters small streams. Understanding this is vital in understanding stream-water ecology: which species live where in the stream. Ultimately, good understanding of stream dynamics helps us advise policies that better balance multiple use of stream water: as a natural habitat for plants and animals, and as a human drinking resource and place for recreation.

However, measurements of streamflow dynamics, including stream temperature, are usually labour intensive and at the same time, stream dynamics vary highly between different streams. For better understanding, more measurements are needed, but scientists are (rightly so) budget constrained in this. Therefore, we believe our temperature sensing waders, when applied at large scale, can be very beneficial to our understanding of stream dynamics.

Tim: In just the USA alone, an estimated 27 million recreational anglers regularly fish in freshwater streams and lakes. Imagine if they were all equipped with a temperature sensing wader! This would mean a constant supply of new, accurate data, which can be used to estimate water quality and quantity, fish ‘hotspots’, and overall state of the ecosystem.

How did you show your idea of using waders and smartphones to measure water temperature was feasibility?

Rolf: In this paper we only wanted to test whether a sensor in the bottom of a wader would be able to detect (large) differences in stream temperature so we could pinpoint locations of groundwater-streamwater interaction.

We tested this in two ways. First, we tested it in the field by walking in a stream where we knew a localised influx of cold groundwater was present. I was wearing the waders and also used a reference thermometer to measure water temperature. Secondly, we tested how long it takes for the waders to change temperature when exposed to a drop, or rise, in temperature. We tested this in the Water Lab of Delft University of Technology by preheating the waders and then exposing it to the colder water of the flume in our lab. We differed the flow velocity in the flume, and also tested what the influence of having a (warm blooded) human leg in the wader was to the temperature it sensed.

Could you clarify what advances you’ve made since you first presented this research at the EGU General Assembly last April?

Rolf: After the initial idea, I submitted an abstract to the General Assembly. In the abstract for the GA I merely promised to “show a prototype”. Because of other academic deadlines, and my own chaotic mind, this meant that the prototype demonstrated at the General Assembly was made the Sunday before the GA started, in our AirBnB apartment in Vienna. My poster had an explanation of “the idea” in it, and my phone showed the real-time temperature of the wader. I had to calibrate it on the spot, so I needed both a hot and a cold reference temperature. We used the ice intended for the beers during the poster session as cold calibration. If people are still wondering why the beer was not as cold as it should have been that day: now they know. Hooray for last minute science :-s. However, walking around in waders during the poster session drew the attention of journalist who covered our work. Which was, honestly, at that point at a very early stage. For the work presented in this paper, we took the time to be more precise and did a proper calibration in our lab.

Tim: The presentation at EGU got a lot of enthusiastic reactions, from scientists, professionals, journalists, and many others. We used the momentum that was gained at the GA to very effectively do our lab measurements, fieldwork campaign at a beautiful Dutch windmill-filled site, and wrap up the study in a concise paper.

Location in the Dutch country side where researchers tested their prototype waders. Credit: Tim van Emmerik

Location in the Dutch country side where researchers tested their prototype waders. Credit: Tim van Emmerik

Do you have any plans to actively engage the fishing community and get members of the public to use the waders?

Rolf: Now that we have demonstrated first feasibility we want to discus with producers of waders to find the best way to easily incorporate sensors in many waders. Once that is sorted out, we want to reach out to communities with interest, such as (fly-)fishing groups, local conservation groups and schools. After the press coverage that the GA sparked, several of these groups already reached out to us. I have kept that at arm’s length for now, because we wanted to be sure that the ideal would hold up to a first test, which we now have demonstrated.

In your view, what are the most important results and implications of this study?

Rolf: it works!

Basically, we had a wild idea at the AGU Fall Meeting and demonstrated a prototype at the EGU General Assembly. We now have demonstrated that this prototype is capable of measuring the type of temperature changes we are interested in. With that hurdle taken, the road to citizen science campaigns is now open.

Tim: This work really is an example of how relatively simple measurement devices can be fused with existing equipment to actively involve communities in gathering scientific data. It’s becoming a trend to find ways to incorporate ‘alternative’ communities in science. Whether it’s school kids or fishermen, studies like ours demonstrate that everyone can be a scientist.

For more information about the research published in Geoscientific Instrumentation Methods and Data Systems (GI) you can read the associated press release issued today to accompany the publication. You’ll also find the open-access paper by following this link.

Imaggeo on Mondays: Home Sweet Home

Imaggeo on Mondays: Home Sweet Home

Can you imagine camping atop some of the highest mountains in Europe and waking up to a view of snowcapped peaks, deep valleys and endless blue skies? This paints an idyllic picture; field work definitely takes Earth scientists to some of the most beautiful corners of the planet. But, there often are two sides to one story. Kaspar Merz and André Nuber, researchers at ETH Zurich, who took today’s featured image, no doubt appreciated the wondrous beauty of their surroundings, but also experienced the perils of carrying out research in remote locations first hand. Be prepared to learn about some very interesting geoscience as well as reading about a true fieldwork adventure!

In this picture our basecamp on the Furggwanghorn rock glacier is shown, home to four researchers (Marco Bonamore, Dominik Zbinden and the authors) for almost a week in early spring 2012. From here we conducted geophysical measurements, trying to reveal the internal structure of the permafrost body below our feet.

Located in the Swiss Alps at an altitude of around 2700 masl, this rock glacier lies at the lower limit of the permafrost in the Alps and is therefore highly affected by increasing mean annual surface temperatures. It shows movement rates of up to 4 m/yr and deep crevices open as a result of this deformation.

Researchers from the fields of geophysics, hydrology and geotechnical engineering made an interdisciplinary effort to understand the mechanical principles that govern the behavior of warming, degrading rock glaciers. This knowledge is essential for assessing risks associated with thawing permafrost, like rock fall, landslides and other instabilities.

Field camp for geophysical investigations of permafrost at the Furggwanghorn rock glacier. Credit: André Nuber.

Field camp for geophysical investigations of permafrost at the Furggwanghorn rock glacier. Credit: André Nuber.

With our geophysical measurements we were able to describe the internal structure of the Furggwanghorn rock glacier in great detail. The most fascinating discovery was a shear zone located at around 20m depth below the surface, where almost all of the deformation takes place. This finding was confirmed by inclinometer measurements in boreholes, and lead to a novel rock glacier model. Based on thin-skin tectonics, this model explains the formation of different generations of rock glacier lobes and it can be used as a basis for mechanical modelling of the entire permafrost body and its deformation.

The field campaign got a bit more demanding than intended. Our plan was to stay for two days and one night but a sudden fog made it impossible for the helicopter to pick us up for return. We decided to stay for one more night and ski down to the valley the next morning. But 50 cm of fresh snow did not only make our tent collapse, but it also severely increased the avalanche risk preventing us from skiing down. We therefore had no other choice but to stay until the helicopter could fly again, which was three days later!

By André Nuber and Kaspar Merz researchers at ETH Zurich


If you pre-register for the 2016 General Assembly (Vienna, 17 – 22 April), you can take part in our annual photo competition! From 1 February up until 1 March, every participant pre-registered for the General Assembly can submit up three original photos and one moving image related to the Earth, planetary, and space sciences in competition for free registration to next year’s General Assembly!  These can include fantastic field photos, a stunning shot of your favourite thin section, what you’ve captured out on holiday or under the electron microscope – if it’s geoscientific, it fits the bill. Find out more about how to take part at