Today was my last day in Iceland. Exhausted after a long night of staying up with the other students in the hostel, we woke up, packed up our things, and headed towards the heart of Reykjavik where we would be spending a few hours exploring before heading to the airport. There I found a coffee shop that served wine during breakfast and although I thought it was a bit unusual, I appreciated the culture that was embedded in Reykjavik. I was surprised to see graffiti and street art all over, it gave the city a different aesthetic and feel than the rest of the country. Being right by the water front I saw a lot of ships and ports where boats would dock. I really didn’t want to leave Iceland. Around 12PM we headed towards the airport where we would board our flights back home. Finally at around 5P.M my flight back to NYC was boarding. I remember a slight feeling of sadness coming over me. Being from the city its hard to realize how beautiful the world truly is, and I knew I would miss the fresh air, beautiful mountains, and the welcoming vibes in the culture. As I headed home thousands of feet in the air, I realized that no matter where you are on planet Earth, there is a way of using the resources around us efficiently, in a sustainable manner, to minimize waste and optimize energy usage. This experience truly made me want to raise awareness in sustainability and renewable energy systems back home and in other highly populated areas and cities throughout the world.
Archives for 2016
Day 9: Capstone Project Presentations
Today was our final day at Reykjavik University. We had spent the entire time learning about the different designs, thermal kinetics and implementations of geothermal energy plants, as well as the different designs of hydropower turbines. It was finally time to present our capstone projects before the panel of judges and bring together all the data we had collected. My group specifically focused on diversifying the energy economy in Iceland and making it more sustainable by using byproducts of an already existing industry as the energy source for a new industry in order to minimize waste. Iceland has a very predominant chlor alkali industry that by-produces huge amounts of hydrogen. We suggested that recycling this hydrogen for usage in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as a source of “gas” would be an excellent way of minimizing waste and integrating a new and sustainable energy source in Iceland’s economy. Being that most of the emissions in Iceland come from the use of petroleum and diesel engines, we hope to reduce those emissions by substituting the public transportation buses with hydrogen fuel cell buses for a cleaner transportation system, and eventually introducing private hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in Iceland for individuals that drive cars. This idea immediately sparked an interest in the judges as we were being asked to predict how this will benefit other countries and other economies as well. After the presentation was over, we took our final examination and successfully completed the classes at Reykjavik University. Afterwards, we visited our last hydropower plant about 10 minutes away from the University and then headed straight to one of the best ice cream spots in town!
Day 6: Ralf Kalwa
On the drive out of Kruger we took the rode frequented by rhinos. We saw so many, and all of them were really close to the car. They looked so serene in the early morning sunrise, surrounded by dew and mist.
I think in total we saw 16 rhinos on our drive out.
Once we left Kruger, we drove to Ralf Kalwa’s house, a former senior ranger at Kruger. He spent many, many years at Kruger and retired on the Crocodile River, the river that runs alongside Kruger’s southern border.
Map of Kruger. It’s just slightly smaller than New Jersey. The city circled on the left, Pretoriuskop, was the main campsite where we stayed. Skukuza was the major tourist stop in Kruger that we visited. The arrows show where the Crocodile River is.
Ralf was a very interesting person. He lectured us on the history of Kruger, on the geology, on climate, rainfall, terrain, and vegetation. He described the past and current projects that Kruger is working on, such as the water hole project, rhino poaching, elephant management, and fire control. He was extremely enthusiastic and fun to watch.
I’ll just include a quick summary of his main points.
Geology: Kruger has a very interesting geology of different soil types that add to the diversity of plants and therefore animals.
This is his rough sketch of Kruger. The left side is quick draining and more desert like, while the right is more nutrient-rich soil, bordered by mountains on the right. Geology is crucial to successful conservation and wildlife management because it impacts every aspect of plant and animal life, including animal rotation and sources of water.
Rainfall: The southern part of Kruger gets much more rainfall than the north, resulting in another factor that greatly affects diversity.
Water management: At one point, the Kruger management team realized that many plants and animals were dying due to the lack of water in the park. This was caused by periods of drought which is typical in the area, and by the fact that the rivers that drain into Kruger must first pass through all of South Africa, resulting in low levels and slow moving waters. So the team decided to monitor which areas had low amounts of water, and over the course of a few years, installed over 200 water holes. Unfortunately, many years later, it was observed that this introduction of watering holes severely disrupted the environment, which “dead zones” of no vegetation around watering holes because the animals trampled everything in the area. Animals also moved around the park in greater concentrations due to the high levels of water sources, resulting in trampling of plants and of the disruption of the food chain. After the problem was realized, the water holes were all evaluated and those deemed harmful were closed.
Vegetation: Ralf also gave us an in-depth look at the different vegetation that grows in Kruger and just how important different types of plants are. Grasses are crucial, and fall into three categories: Tall, medium, and short. Different animals eat different grasses, and many very picky animals, like the Sable antelope, are becoming endangered because their preference of grass is unavailable. A good balance of these plants, and of high quality and low quality grasses, is crucial for animal management.
Fire control: This is one topic that Ralf really emphasized. After a multitude of fires occurring in Kruger, it was decided that a comprehensive fire plan needed to be in place. After years of studying fire patterns, lightning, and dead material, a fire plan was put in place that called for a fire every 2-4 years. Kruger was divided into different blocks depending on the roads and natural barriers, and those sections would be evaluated every year to gauge the amount of dead material. If the amount of dead material was sufficient for good burning, that section would be lit and burned overnight. One mistake that occurred was the fire of Pretoriuskop in 2001. The fire plan had been in place for years, but due to tourism and precautions, the areas around the Kruger towns were never burned. When lighting struck a dead tree near Pretoriuskop, the high amounts of dead material that were never burned away lit immediately, raging in a fire that killed 19 people, including a lot of local village women.
Elephant control: The overpopulation of elephants in Kruger is one of its biggest problems. It’s one that we heard a lot about on our trip and one that I spend a very long time thinking about. I think I’ll leave my full review and summary of this issue for the end, because if not I’ll just be repeating myself every few entries. It’s an incredible problem though, and a very delicate matter.
That night, we travelled to Marepe lodge, which was really beautiful and peaceful. We had a nice dinner of pizza before heading to bed.
Day 8 (again) – Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla (1856-1943)
The area that we are passing through today is a birthplace of a famous Croatian scientists Nikola Tesla who lived and worked in the US for most of his life. He was born in a small village of Smiljan that we are zooming by on our way to meet our host in Gospic. His name and work is inspiration for Tesla Motors. The house that he was born in is turned into a museum and a memorial.
I am not too happy about not stopping at the memorial. This is a missed opportunity as Tesla is my hero, so I will leave some links here as a way of paying respect to this great mind and an inspirational personality.
More info: http://nikolatesla.hr/
http://www.mcnikolatesla.hr/izumi-nikole-tesle/ (original patents filed with the United States Patent Office)
A quick rest stop in Rastoke with great views, but one must be on a look out for poisonous snakes (collected here for the antivenom production).
Day 8 – Velebit
As the sun sets we are leaving Continental Croatia behind. In order to get to the Adriatic Sea, we have one last obstacle to face, the mighty Velebit mountain range (5700 ft. at its highest peak). Desolate and beautiful it was finally conquered some 15 years ago, when Croatian Highway A1 was built, and a 3-mile-long tunnel was drilled through its heart allowing passage to all regardless of the weather or the season.
We are ignoring the highway and crossing Velebit the old fashioned way, across the saddle using the scenic route first built in 1850s during rule of the Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I. Dramatic route slithers like a serpent up the south side of the mountain that is completely barren, with only its limestone insides exposed. It connects the crystal blue sea to the green forests and pastures, where we came from. Some of the best examples of karst topography can be seen here.
Rugged and desolate, Velebit mountain range is a Nature Park with two National Parks within its range, safeguarding many species of diverse plant and animal life. Park is a very popular hiking ground for numerous international and domestic tourists, but we will not have time to explore it. We take a brake at the saddle and try to take in all of the grandeur that Velebit is commanding on us. I try to take away with me its stillness and permanence that at times I miss so much.
As we take pictures, excitement over the view quiets down, conversation becomes obsolete, sun disappears and we are slowly wrapped in a blanket of dusk. Quietness and the coolness of the night surround us as we look at the Island of Rab, our last destination. I can now tangibly foresee the end of our journey and a wave of sadness washes over me.
More about National Park Sjeverni Velebit: http://www.np-sjeverni-velebit.hr/
More about National Park Paklenica: http://www.np-paklenica.hr/en/
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