So, the first official post from 78°! Here is the first post of what are hopefully many updating you on the wonderful things we get to see and do here.
First of all, the journey. Well, it was long and involved a lot of hanging around in airports and biting nails at the luggage belts but we got here, in one piece and will all equipment! Even the polar bear on top of the luggage belt couldn’t stop us from piling it all up on ourselves and a cart and rushing to the bus.
This being the land of eternal summer sunshine the first thing that greets you at 1:30am is, well, sunshine. Brilliant, beautiful, Arctic sunshine, reflecting of the glaciers in the distance. You already get a feel for it on the plane is as you fly into the sunshine and you can clearly see all the glaciers beneath you. On the one hand absolutely great, on the other hand it instantly wakes you up and makes getting to grips with what time of day it is pretty difficult. Essentially, I wake up with daylight and go to bed with daylight and it doesn’t change much in between.
Our host is UNIS (University of Norway in Svalbard) who have so far been nothing short of great. They give us a little flat each with a kitchen, a place to hang out and a windowless bedroom (oh sweet sweet darkness). Yesterday was spent checking out downtown Longyearbyen, getting our groceries at the Svalbard Buttiken (we’ve been eating a lot of reindeer so far, yum!) and sorting out paperwork at UNIS.
We then got down to some work, exploring Adventdalen and getting coal samples from the local power station for the fly ash project.
One of the most wonderful sights here has to be the giant Santa letterbox though! Being one of the northernmost settlements in the world, this would be a great place to post your letter to Santa since it’s most of the way there already. Luckily, Longyearbyen provides a letterbox you just can’t miss:
Day 2: Now this is adventure!
Today was pretty much entirely dedicated to safety training; polar bears are a big problem around here and while they usually don’t go in for the kill they are curious beasts who like checking out things that weren’t there before (such as perhaps some scientists working in the field). The last thing anyone would want to do is kill a polar bear; these majestic creatures own the landscape here, are endangered and are facing a touch future thanks to our habit of pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. A lot of training is therefore geared towards ‘how not to run in to a polar bear’. The day started with a lecture on safety hazards in Svalbard; glaciers, rivers, local wildlife, weather. We then were driven up to the shooting range. And what a treat it was! You can’t beat polar bear rifle training with a view like this:
Getting down to business, we did more training on half loading a gun, loading it fully and target practice. While a fun game, we had to use some serious ammunition (it has to be able to take a bear down in one shot) and the guns had quite a lot of rebound, resulting in some very sore shoulders. But you might be relieved to know that yours truly is a good shot and perfectly capable of shooting a polar bear.
After shooting training came what turned out to be my absolute favourite part of the day; survivor suits!! They are essentially giant onesies that are waterproof and will buy you a good 15 mins of life in the freezing water so your crew has a chance to fish you out before hypothermia sets in. So of course the only option was to put us in a suit, drive us down to the harbour and chuck us in the fjord.
Turns out that ‘the snake’ is one of the most efficient ways of waiting for rescue, you all clip on to each other and make a leg-in-armpit chain. Thankfully a lot of laughing and chatting made what could have been a bit awkward a brilliant experience.
That’s probably enough excitement for today, tomorrow fieldwork starts and the reports from the field will commence! Night night, sleep well!