Here Comes the Sun

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. – Ferris, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off


There’s quite a bit to catch up on! Here it goes…

During one of our Radar Diagnostics lectures, Anja arranged for us to go back up to the EISCAT Svalbard Radar during the day. And if revisiting EISCAT wasn’t good enough, we also got to stop by the polar bear sign, the Sousy Svalbard Radar and SuperDARN.

First stop, polar bear sign! We were told to make this the best geophysics group photo that she’d seen, so Eicke climbed the sign and we all looked super happy. I think we win.

Arctic Geophysics Masters 2016 (or Ice Nerds). Photo credit: Anja Strømme.
The Sousy Svalbard Radar (SSR).

Next stop, Sousy!  It’s a “mesosphere-stratosphere-troposphere” (MST) radar located about 10km outside of Longyearbyen in the Advent valley (Adventdalen). We stopped here, learnt a little about it (which I managed to miss because I was too busy nearly falling over the whole time) took some pictures and got back in the cars.


It was now on to SuperDARN. The Super Dual Auroral Radar Network, a set of more than 30 coherent scatter radars. The Svalbard SuperDARN radar is located quite near the EISCAT (an incoherent scatter) radar. It doesn’t look quite as full on as the EISCAT radar, it is made up of arrays instead. Below is a photo of us attempting to all jump at the same time in front of the SuperDARN radar and kinda failing.

We tried. Photo credit: Anja Strømme.

We then got to go back to EISCAT and play in the 42m dish again. It was even better this time round with it being daylight! The first thing we all did was climb up in the snow to one corner of the dish. We were only able to climb up where there was snow as the dish is too slippy when there’s no snow on it. Once we had a couple of photos up there and a look out at the view, we all took it in turns to slide, roll or fall down the dish.

All up a top edge of the dish before it all got a bit chaotic on the slides down. Photo credit: Anja Strømme.

This trip took place after the Sun had risen above the horizon but before it had made it to Longyearbyen city over all the surrounding mountains. Every so often, as we were driving up to EISCAT and SuperDARN, it looked like we were going to cross paths with the Sun. But unfortunately, today was not the day.

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The hospital steps in the Sun, finally!

Tuesday 8th March was the day the Sun returned to Longyearbyen. I had labs at 9:15 that morning, and as I arrived at UNIS at 9am, the Sun was just hitting the UNIS entrance. This was the first time I had physically seen the Sun since I left the UK on the 7th January. Just over two months later, I could feel the Sun on my face once again. This wasn’t the official return of the Sun to Longyearbyen, though. Tradition stands that the return is official once it hits the old hospital steps. And it really is just the steps, the hospital is now gone and the steps are all that is left. I also made an upbeat video with some of the videos and photos taken that day, Longyearbyen Sun Festival 2016.

After I stood outside for a few minutes in the Sun before going in to get ready for labs. I sat down in the computer room, and all the electricity went off. When Anja arrived and the power wasn’t showing any signs of coming back on soon, she said we might as well go outside if we wanted to as we couldn’t do anything in the computer lab without power. Some of us went down to the fjord and had a lovely walk in the Sun. The power eventually came back on at about half 11, just in time for us to get ready to go out to the Sun festival! We didn’t manage to start any work ’til after the festival, but everyone did get all the work done for the next day and we all had a great day out celebrating the return of the Sun.

That evening, we had some incredible aurora! We’re now running out of time that we will be able to see the aurora, as we edge closer to the midnight Sun. I don’t have a camera that can take aurora photos, but luckily the aurora was so strong that evening that it was very easy to see! The aurora never looks quite like it does in the photos to us as our eyes aren’t good enough to see it, but this evening we really could see quite a lot of it. And, if the return of the Sun followed by one night of auroral substorm wasn’t enough, we were treated to a second night in a row of it! Both evenings, I took out my mat to sit on and a minty hot chocolate and just sat and watched the incredible display. It was so beautiful!

So happy to be skiing again!

During this time, Heather’s parents had also come to visit. The weekend before the Sun had arrived, we went up Larbreen both days and the second day we made it all the way up to Trollsteinen. I had skis from student equipment for both days but unfortunately I didn’t have skins so they had to be carried uphill. Luckily I have strong friends who were kind enough to carry them up for me! I finally got to ski for the first time in about 8 years! It was so much fun! The conditions were great. I even managed to land a couple of jumps 🙂 We also all signed the book at the top of Trollstenin (something I wasn’t aware existed previously). All round fantastic weekend. I imagine a video will soon follow of this weekend along with other photos and videos of Larsbreen and Trollstenin.

I even revisited Trollstenin (almost) for a third time yesterday. We were getting very close to the ridge when we hit complete whiteout conditions which was really sketchy. Once it began to clear we made a quick return down the mountain. It also turned out there was a high avalanche risk at the top, probably the best idea to turn around where we did. We did get the change to have another go at bum sliding. Unfortunately, the conditions were no way near as good as a few weeks ago, but the bottom bit was still insane because it’s so steep and icy.

I have absolutely no idea what is planned for the next week. I finish uni for a week on Friday so there could be a fair few adventures in that time!

Here are some other photos from recently…

Ski huddle!
General playing in the 42m dish.
Belt wagon just sitting pretty like
32m dish
What I could fit of the 42m dish in the shot
Hiking up Larsbreen
The Sun just over a week before it made it to Longyeabyen.
Freezing at the SuperDARN radar. Photo credit: Anja Strømme.
Another group photo in the 42m dish. Photo credit: Anja Strømme


Under Pressure

Two week fieldwork special, as promised.

Week 1: The Kjell Henriksen Observatory (KHO).

The Geophysics Masters 17 squashed into the back of the belt wagon. Photo credit: Mikko Syrjäsuo

KHO is an optical observatory which contains more than 25 optical instruments and also has more non-optical instruments on site. The instruments here study the middle to upper polar atmosphere and monitor the aurora. It’s located at an altitude of 520m some distance from town. The last bit of the journey had to be completed by belt wagon due to the conditions further up the mountain. This was done in two shifts due to the size of the group, but we obviously all tried squeezing in after the last trip of the week.


It wasn’t that bad, we had a sofa to chill on whilst we were waiting for the second belt wagon shift. Photo credit: Lloyd Woodham.

We learnt how to use the ACE data to predict the time it would take for an aurora to reach us after the necessary criteria were fulfilled in the data chart. The main criterion we look for is the Bz component to turn South i.e the red line at the top dips below the dotted line (to see the data more clearly, change the duration to 2 hours). Monday and Tuesday were spent touring all the equipment in the observatory and learning all about them and how they work and monitoring the aurora in the downtime (amongst other activities, eg: hangman).

Me predicting aurora (maybe). Photo credit: Jack Jenkins

Wednesday was calibration day. We had the daunting task of helping to calibrate 3 of the instruments at KHO, a job which is only done once a year on these instruments! This also meant lots of outside time on the roof moving a big white board (it was a little more sophisticated than simply a white board, but I can’t remember the correct name) over the instruments in need of calibration. It went well though, the report back from Pål was that the numbers indicated a good calibration (thankfully, as they told us before that a calibration had never had to be redone thanks to student’s incompetence, something we didn’t want to buck the trend on). The meridian scanning photometer (MSP) was calibrated on Thursday. We didn’t have too much to do with this one (and it’s calibrated once a week anyway). We then got to look at pretty aurora and eclipse pictures and videos.

Team photo under the aurora. Photo credit: Mikko Syrjäsuo

During the week, we saw aurora 3 out of the 4 nights we were there (all pretty much correctly predicted after our practice on Monday night). Tuesday night, it began to cloud over later on and we unfortunately missed a pretty would-have-been spectacular auroral substorm, but we still had some pretty good views up at the KHO anyway. We also got some incredible sightings of the Milky Way from up there. Due to equipment sensitivity, we weren’t allowed to use headlamps and there are no outdoor lights so there was no light pollution from out immediate surroundings.

Week 2: EISCAT Svalbard Radar

The European Incoherent Scatter (EISCAT) radar in Svalbard, one of 10 incoherent scatter radars, and one of three highest standard facilities operated by the EISCAT Scientific Association. The EISCAT Svalbard Radar has a stationary 42m diameter dish which is field aligned and a movable 32m dish.


We were able to get to EISCAT by car only, so this cut the travel time down as we could all get straight there in one go. For this week, we had to split into groups of 3 and decide on an experiment. Throughout the week, everyone got to run their experiments for two hours using the radar. One group would always be in the control room with the group doing to experiment to run the computers controlling the data, whilst everyone else would stay in the kitchen and watch analyse the data coming through (and cook pizza).

It was cloudy all week so we didn’t see any aurora, but my group experiment was to point the radar South and monitor the auroral oval and we managed to pick up the expected data for an aurora during our two hour experiment through the clouds. Getting to choose an experiment to run, then use this radar to collect our own data was a really incredible experience. I felt so lucky to have been given that opportunity whilst I am here.

I got to move that 32m radar during my experiment, I felt powerful (if not also slightly terrified). I also got to turn off a couple of the transmitters (it involved turning a switch and pulling a big leaver, this also made me feel powerful).

We would always arrive about an hour before transmitting begun (the radar would run between 18:00 and 22:00 UT every evening). On one of the evenings, we were allowed to go and climb inside the 42m dish!

Most of AGF-304 standing inside the 42m dish. Photo credit: Lloyd Woodham.

It was a pretty special two weeks, filled with Physics and fun (and pizza and partybrus).

Here’s a group photo at the EISCAT Radar control room with Kjellmar and and Anja:

Ice nerds with Anja and Kjellmar. Photo credit: Anja Strømme.

Next time, hear all about my last two weekends of trips. I don’t want to overload too much in one post!

For now, enjoy my incredibly cheesy video of my time so far in Svalbard. Svalbard: The Journey So Far.


On Top Of The World

“Keep focused on that tiny ray of light because that is the beginning of magic”- My wonderful mother

We made it! A journey which included 4 take-offs in only 16 hours (London, Stockholm, Oslo and Tromsø). We managed to cause drama before even reaching Svalbard, by getting slightly confused in Oslo airport and turning up at the wrong baggage collection point when we only had 1 hour to find our bags, check them in again and get on the next plane. Turned out the flight was already slightly delayed, but the whole plane was informed of a delay also caused by some late luggage (which I then spotted arriving on a truck straight after the announcement and recognised my bags on the top, oops). 

Ready for take off from Tromsø!

From Oslo, we flew to Longyearbyen with a stop at Tromsø on the way, where we had to get off the plane for a passport check and reboard in half an hour. It was then onto Svalbard. During this section of the flight, we plunged into 24 hour darkness and arrived at Svalbard at about 2:30pm in complete darkness. See my full time lapse video of us flying into the darkness 24 hour darkness of the arctic circle at about 1pm (local time) on 8th January here.

We were now in Longyearbyen and were taken to our accommodation. On the way over I had found out I had been temporarily moved our of my original block to a different block in the same accommodation. This is only for a week due to water damage in the flat. The barrack I was moved to is lovely and spacious, it’s unfortunate I can’t fully unpack and settle down until I’ve been moved back.

Welcome to Svalbard!

We had the weekend to get settled and work out where everything was and began to meet other people we were living with. On Saturday night, the group of us along with one of my new flatmates went across the road the “Coal Miners Bar & Grill”. It was absolutely incredible food and a lovely relaxed atmosphere (plus the local beer is only £1.80 for half a litre). The food prices at the supermarket are very high, something we’re all still struggling to deal with. But meals out seem to be similar to prices at home. 

On Monday, we began our safety training course. Monday consisted of a day of lectures which were from 9am – 6:45pm with short breaks dotted about the day. We learnt a lot of theory which will be applied later on in the week as we do rotations on the practical side of the safety training. We were told that we will have to face a few mental battles this week, so much truth. I have been struggling with the constant darkness here, my first mental battle (which I still don’t feel I’ve come out the other side of yet). I can’t pinpoint exactly what the problem is, I just want to see the Sun during the day! It’s just normal. Every day, at about midday (lasting for about an hour), there is a faint ray of light emerging over the mountains. This light is getting ever so slightly brighter each day as we edge towards the first sight of the Sun on the 16th Feb.

On Tuesday, my first course was the rifle training. I managed to cause a scene by going into (and coming out of) my second mental battle. I won’t go into full detail, so the short story is that I worked myself up about the rifle training (having never held a gun before and being nervous for the test) into such a that state I nearly passed out. (I also had very cold toes after seeing a number of graphic photos of frost bite the day before, not helping the situation.) 10 minutes later I stood up and passed the rifle target test allowing me to carry a UNIS gun. The rifles are, of course, a last resort. We have also been taught all about how to scare the polar bear with flares. After lunch, we had emergency camp training. We learnt how to light the gasoline stoves provided in the emergency boxes and set up the tents and trip wires outside in the snow. During the session outside, we managed to spot a beautiful and very clear aurora over our heads.

Wednesday was the first aid training followed by a lecture on UNIS general information and tours. The first aid training is something I was a bit on edge about, being slightly squeamish in some situations. Overall it wasn’t that bad, and we practiced some of the emergency situations outside in the dark and cold for two hours. I was lucky enough to be a demonstrator for the hypothermia wrap, and so I was cocooned in a sleeping mat, blizzard blanket, sleeping bag and windproof bag. (Photos below from Miriam Hogg). 

Still to come this week, I will be learning about avalanche and glacier safety, GPS equipment and I’ll be jumping into a pool of water in the ice. Saturday will be an early start to travel up to the glacier to practice all of our new skills followed by an exam to complete the AS-101 safety training course (also followed by drinks). 

Unfortunately, I also have two exams next week and so have been attempting to try and fit in revision every evening after a long, tough day out on the course. This time next week, it’ll all be over and I’ll be beginning my new modules here in Svalbard, and heading closer to the Sun reappearing over the mountains.