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


Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

“I don’t even know if you have a tweet account” My technologically challenged mother

I’m still having to pinch myself, this place is incredible. And it just seems to keep getting better.

Thanks to my nocturnal sleeping pattern during field work, I wasn’t always in town during the middle of the day. It came to a rifle collection day and I had to be in UNIS by midday and during the walk down, I suddenly noticed the street lights had been switched off! This wasn’t the first day of this happening, but it was the first time I had noticed it. It is finally light enough for a few hours during the middle of the day to switch off the street lights.

Ice cave fun!

During my last two weeks of field work, I’ve also kept pretty active at the weekends. The first weekend, I revisited the ice cave with a few different friends. It is such a remarkable place to be! And a beautiful hike not too far from town.

The following weekend, we went all out and hiked both days. The first day was the Trollsteinen hike. About 820m in altitude (with a small horizontal distance, making bits of the hike quite steep). Tuesday 16th Feb was the day the Sun officially crossed the horizon, but thanks to Longyearbyen being surrounded by mountains, we won’t see the Sun for about 3 weeks. The aim of the Trollsteinen hike was to see the Sun, but it was a bit cloudy by the time we reached the top at about midday. It was still a beautiful hike up and we had a lovely, still day so weren’t hit my freezing cold winds as we made the last bit of the hike to the top.

The trip down Trollsteinen was where all the fun began.  Time for ultimate sledging!!! UNIS lend out those fantastic little bum slides (or bum shovels, as the Aber-7 like to call them).Two of the group (Heather and Noel) were on skis and a few of us walkers had the bum slides. On the way down the ridge, we hit a massively steep section which was also powdery snow making all the snow collect right underneath you as you slid down. I also managed to sadly lose my bum slide after stopping once. Luckily it flattened out so the slide stopped, but I missed out on half a slope. Decision made, lets walk back up and slide down again! Me and Jack headed up for another slide whilst Heather and Noel headed up to ski again. The rest of the group went to visit the ice cave which we’d passed on the way up. I wasn’t too fussed about visiting it for the third week in a row.

Before the second slide began, due to the speed of the last run I decided I needed to kit up better for the next run. I had an ice climbing helmet which I decided was necessary considering the speeds we were hitting on the way down, and the ski goggles were absolutely necessary due to the amount of snow flying around. The next run down was much more successful, the extra kit meant I could continue sliding the whole way down and I didn’t lose the bum slide this time!

Post bum slide round 1 when fully kitted up. So much snow!

Now to continue on down… Two weeks ago, after our first trip to the ice cave, this section of the walk was not bum slideable. No matter how much we tried, the snow was far too powdery and the slope wasn’t steep enough. But after two weeks of tourist trips picking up and people skiing more now that it is possible to see without a headlamp in the middle of the day, the snow was much more compact. This made for pretty perfect sledding conditions, and we had an absolute blast whizzing down the glacier on the bum slides. I even ended up sliding down one section and hitting an ice lump so hard it chucked me off face first into the snow (luckily a very soft and hilarious landing). As you approach the bottom of Larsbreen, the channel gets steeper and narrower, with high rocks either side (helmet = good call!). This was quite intense, but still so much fun! I also managed to slide off at one point and I just continued sliding down the slope on my stomach thanks to the steep slope and compact snow.

As if this day wasn’t already good enough, Heather then let me hitch a ride on her skis along the last, slightly flatter bit back to the barrack. It had just started snowing big beautiful snowflakes.

Ski for Two. Photo credit: Noel Potter
At the bottom, high on life after an epic day skiing and bum sliding.

I then got to watch Wasps win away at Bath and then go and get an amazing burger from Coal Miners Bar & Grill. This is definitely in the running for best day ever!

And this was all on Saturday…

A reindeer looking suitably fabulous.

Sunday was a trip to Adventdalen. We headed out the front of town and straight across the valley. We passed the fjord (but didn’t go fully around the other side of it). It was a pretty laid back hike following the mad Saturday. We went via one of the husky kennels and admired them for a distance. Just as we walked passed we got to see a group getting ready to go out on a trip and saw them setting off down the valley. We also got to see quite a few reindeer out on our trip! They are regularly spotted in town, but there were a few more out in the valley. Ryan also found some antlers! We reached the other side of the fjord and wondered around for a little bit before heading back across. From the bottom of the valley, we managed to spot the EISCAT radar which we also saw on Saturday from the top of Trollsteinen. We could also see the top of Trollsteinen from the other side of the valley.

The valley we crossed, Longyearbyen town on the left. Trollsteinen can be seen left of centre of the picture, the mountain with the little peak.

Did we take another group photo?

Of course we did!


We got to revisit EISCAT in the daylight last week week and also went to see Sousy and SuperDARN, that’ll all come in the next blog post 🙂