Running Across Iceland

At Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, we are lucky to work with elite athletes doing incredible adventures around the world. Distance runner Pavel Cenkl is one such athlete. This summer, during his run across Iceland, he gathered samples for the ASC Microplastics Project. Here’s Pavel’s story:

Cenkl heads downhill into the Norðlingafljót Valley. (Photo by Jill Fineis)

If you trace Iceland’s south coast along the Atlantic Ocean to its beautiful north coast on the Greenland Sea, you’ll make a 150-mile (240-kilometer) arc across the western Icelandic highlands.

I ran that arc over the course of three days this summer, as part of an independent project called Climate Run. I followed trails, gravel roads, faint paths, and sometimes no paths at all, running along rivers, over snowfields, beside waterfalls, glaciers, and thermal springs, and across the open tundra.

The road hugs the coastline near Reykjavik. (Photo by Orion Cenkl).

Over the three weeks both before and after the run, I collected ASC microplastics water samples from five locations in Iceland—from the southwest urban center of Reykjavik, to the isolated Westfjords in the northwest, to the harbors of the north coast. Although the coastline outside of the few cities and large towns in Iceland is remote and sparsely settled, it is not immune from the ebb and flow of global commerce and our imprint on the oceans and coastal regions.

From high on the Þverfellshorn, it’s difficult to see where the right path down is. (Photo by Pavel Cenkl)

My goal with Climate Run is to bring attention to the relationship of outdoor enthusiasts with the changing climate, encouraging our community to serve as role models and as stewards of the planet. I chose Iceland because the Arctic is among the places on Earth where climate change is most apparent and pronounced.

Recent years have seen open water at the North Pole, melting permafrost in Siberia and Alaska, polar bears losing their habitat, and coastal villages imperiled across the Arctic. Iceland itself has seen some glaciers retreat nearly more than half a mile (1,000 meters) in the past 20 years, and the island nation loses more than 10 billion tons of ice annually.

Will there be microplastic in this water? At the start of Climate Run on the beach at Hraunsskeiði, we had many questions but knew one thing for sure: microplastics accumulating in our oceans are just as much an indicator of our impact on the Earth as the changing climate. (Photo by Jill Fineis)

I am honored work with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation as part of the marine microplastics sampling program. I believe that all of the parts of this planet’s ecological system are inextricably interwoven; the microplastics accumulating in our oceans are just as much an indicator of our impact on the Earth as the changing climate.

Learn more about ASC on our website, the Field Notes blog, and by following us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Google+

Changing Planet

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Gregg Treinish founded Adventure Scientists in 2011 with a strong passion for both scientific discovery and exploration. National Geographic named Gregg Adventurer of the Year in 2008 when he and a friend completed a 7,800-mile trek along the spine of the Andes Mountain Range. He was included on the Christian Science Monitor's 30 under 30 list in 2012, and the following year became a National Geographic Emerging Explorer for his work with Adventure Scientists. In 2013, he was named a Backpacker Magazine "hero", in 2015, a Draper Richards Kaplan Entrepreneur and one of Men's Journal's "50 Most Adventurous Men." In 2017, he was named an Ashoka Fellow. Gregg holds a biology degree from Montana State University and a sociology degree from CU-Boulder. He thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2004. Read more updates from Gregg and others on the Adventure Scientists team at adventurescientists.org/field-notes. Follow Adventure Scientists on Instagram @adventurescientists, on Facebook @adventurescientists, and on Twitter @AdvScientists.