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Oxford University Expedition to Iceland, 1947

A silent documentary film produced, directed photographed and edited by student member of the expedition, Charles Swithinbank.

Amateur film 1947 8 mins Silent


This film records an expedition undertaken by the Oxford University Expedition Club on the margins of the Skaftárjökull, one of the southwestern outlet glaciers of Vatnajökull, some 800m above sea level. Charles Winthrop Molesworth Swithinbank (1926-2014) was a student of Pembroke College; he would later become a British glaciologist and expert in the polar regions whose academic success led to six places in the Antarctic named after him.

The main purpose of this expedition was to study soil ecology in a sub-Arctic area and of geological and glaciological problems in the Grímsvötn region of Vatnajökull. The group consisted of F.H. Whitehead, the Leader and Botanist, C.W.H. Swithinbank, Geographer, A. Treloar, Surveyor, P, Phizackerley, Geologist, P. Beckett, Chemist and H. Morris, Assistant Botanist. The film records the party loading scientific equipment and supplies on to the trawler Kaldbakur at the Port of Selby, before setting sail and landing at Akureyri at the end of July 1947. Arriving at their base camp, a farm called Kálfafell, south-west of Vatnajökull, the film shows work on soil ecology and survey as well as panoramic shots which include the distant ice-cap of Grímsvötn to which some of the party set out. The lava flows of Hekla – one of Iceland's most active volcanoes are featured - over 20 eruptions have occurred in and around the volcano since 874. The volcano is known as the "Gateway to Hell".