Hello from 78°N – the northernmost blog post so far. Here in Svalbard is the northernmost everything: chocolatier, swimming pool, university… The latter is why I’m up here and get to write about a non-traditional field work experience. Longyearbyen – the town on Svalbard (a Norwegian archipelago UP there) which I’m in – hosts the University of Svalbard where a few hundred students at a time take practical Arctic science, technology and logistics courses. It is a gorgeous facility. Everything here is gorgeous. The buildings, the scenery, a hot cup of tea after your chilly walk home at night…
We’re a week and a half into our glaciology course, though I left home two weeks ago due to a loooong 36 hr journey over here. It may take a full day and a half, but a round trip flight can be one third of the price of flying to a town in the central Canadian Arctic (that still gets me). The first few days were filled with our practical trainings – including how to properly balance a sledge when loading up for a snowmobile trek, how to drive said snowmobile (both up and perpendicular to slopes – that was fun!), how to properly take care of someone in the event of hypothermia and how to shoot rifles and flare guns in case of a close polar bear encounter. We think that the trembles caused by the chill may have been useful for mimicking the shakes we’d certainly have if that encounter was to ever happen!
That weekend was more than exciting as we were hit with a full gale on Sunday. The kilometer trek to the gym was a workout in itself for the three brave, dedicated soles who ventured there. Unfortunately the front brought in a bout of warm weather, including rain. This re-configured the town into a skating rink, which was fun only for those who could still efficiently make the 30 minute walk uphill to our hostel barracks.
Our first week of class was dedicated to studying the mass balance of glaciers. Think of it as studying your bank account: you put a certain amount away each month but your balance is also possibly affected by taxes, fees, interest and your own withdrawals. A negative or positive balance down the road depends on all of these things.
Between a few days of lectures we squeezed in a day trip to a local glacier. It’s amazing to have such experiential learning less than a 45 minute snowmobile away (and that isn’t near to the closest glacier to town). We were on Scott Turnerbreen (breen = glacier), therefore Scott Turner must have been a real high-ranking coal miner back in the day to warrant having a glacier named after him. We dug our snowpits, figured out what recent weather events would have effected certain snow layers (post gale rain = ice, again), and explored an ice cave 15 m under the surface which is a melt water stream with the roof closed over. Really cool!
What was REALLY cool, or downright frosty, was a group hike yesterday up a mountain on the edge of town. The local reindeer were just fine on the plateau up top. I’m pretty sure our hike from yesterday is just a neighborhood stroll for the locals as well. The enthusiasm for all things Arctic, and active, is invigorating here. And I count myself lucky for having three more weeks to explore it!
Stay warm everyone!