I had a very nice summer in the arctic this year and I thought I would share it with you.
Some background first: I`m a biologist, and I went to Svalbard together with 13 other biologists from nine countries. The arctic I interesting to study because we still do not understand the majority of ecological processes going on there. Arctic areas also receive the full blow of climatic changes with possibly dramatic consequences. Every summer there is a lot of research activity going on in Svalbard. The season where you can do fieldwork is very short and hectic.
Svalbard is a group of islands between 74 and 81 degrees northern latitude and 10 and 35 degrees eastern longitude. Svalbard was a no-man’s-land until it became a part of Norway during the Versailles negotiations after WW1. The islands have the highest latitude permanent settlements on earth. Total land area is 61022 km2, and the population is around 2600 people. There are three settlements on the islands. Longyearbyen is largest with around 2000 people. Barentzburg is a Russian mining town with a few hundred people, and Ny-Ålesund is a research settlement with only scientists.
Due to the climate, most of the life here is on the microbial scale, but you can still find lots of beautifull flowers if you look closely. It is amazing how this white desert comes to life in the short summer.
This is one of the places where humans are not on the top of the food chain. You should never leave the settlements unarmed. In the summer there are more polar bears on Svalbard than people. These bears normally avoid people. Their main food source is seal which they catch on the ice. The bears found on Svalbard in summer time are the once that were trapped on land when the polar icecap retreated. They have trouble finding food and can get desperate. They are very likely to attack humans (easy prey as we are). These signs are found on the (two) roads leading out of Longyearbyen.
Coal mining was the major industry in Svalbard, and the only roads are built to get to the coal mines. Today research activity is more important and most of the mines are closed down.
Svalbard has its own subspecies of reindeer. They are well adapted to the arctic climate with short legs on a barrel shaped body. They are not afraid of people because they have never learned to be.
A group of females in the valley Bjørndalen.
Manny do not survive the winter
We measured temperature of soil, carbon dioxide release from the ground and nitrogen fixation in a lot of different places.
The soil is generally very nutrient poor in the arctic. The exception is areas like this bird cliff called Alkhornet. Guano from the birds fertilizes the soil.
This nice green color is only found beneath bird cliffs.
In the summer season boats is the only effective way to get around. The few kilometers of roads won’t get you far, and walking would take months.
My vintage 300T in front of one of the manny glaciers. The guy you see below was watching me curiously when I took the watch picture.
The water temperature is just barely above freezing point, so a survival suit is an essential part of equipment when you are traveling by rubber boat.
The German research icebreaker Polarstern is used by scientists from all over the world. It is a fantastic tool for polar research.
Most of Svalbard is covered in snow and ice year round. The problem in the summer season is the heavy snowmelt. This makes the rivers hard to cross. Usually you don`t get just a single river, but a river valley with lots of smaller rivers. With a water temperature of just above freezing it is not a pleasure to wade across.
A typical river valley.
The terrain can be quite unfriendly and what you see here is a very typical terrain for Svalbard.
The great white of the arctic. Only 1300 km to the geographic north pole.
The great thing about the arctic summer is the constant sunlight. This picture is taken around midnight.
Self portrait on a sunny day.
This is definately not how you normally get to see the arctic ocean. We were extremely lucky and got three days like this. Picture taken from the crows nest.
This is more normal for the season.
These birds are related to the albatros and were constantly folowing the boat. This is a hatchling of the year. The adults are completely white.
There are two abandoned mining towns on Svalbard. Grumant was abandoned long ago and there I not much left of it. Pyramiden on the other hand was abandoned in 1998, and is still intact. It was a Russian town with about 2000 people. The town was modernized in the early nineties, but in the mid nineties the mine suddenly and unexpectedly ran empty and the city was abandoned. The city is still there looking like it did the day its citizens left. The furniture is still in place, the library full of books and long dead plants in the windows. It really is a strange place to be.
My girlfriend in the central sqare of Pyramiden
Lenin is still overlooking his deserted city. The doll is just one of the things left by the former inhabitants of the city.
The ball is stil laying on the field, waiting for the players.
The huge crane on the docs tell the tale of a once profitable industry.
In the background you can see the mine on the mountain Pyramiden.
The buildings have turned into bird clifs.
At first this looks like a dead dessert. But if you take a closer look you find lots of beautifull flowers.
These reindeer antlers can be found all over Svalbard. In the arctic climate it can take centuries for them to decay.
This is by far the longest forum post I have ever done. If you survived this fare I hope you enjoyed it. Even if I only included one watch picture. Thank you for your time, and remember; life is fragile, take good care of it.