Ocean Drive

“Everything is fine”

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I’m now in my last two days here on Svalbard. It’s been pretty quiet recently, the snow is melting and I have exams to sit before I leave. The exams are the only contribution to this semesters results, and they make up 60 credits of a total of 120 for my final year at uni – stress levels are extremely high!

On Monday, I sat one of these two exams. Since I have 10 days until the next exam, this called for a celebration. A number of us went down to the fjord to take a nice, refreshing dip in the freezing water. It was quite something! This was then followed by burgers and drinks, of course! Tuesday was a relaxed day, we were taken to see KSAT, a ground satellite station service for polar orbiting satellites.

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Now that the snow is melting, there isn’t really any opportunity for the usual trips. However, 4 of us decided it was a good idea to drive over to the east coast for one last big trip and stay in a cabin for two nights. I was very nervous about the trip before the departure and nearly bailed last minute because I was panicking, but I knew once we got going this would be a fantastic trip and I wouldn’t want to miss out. The snow conditions were quite bad close to Longyearbyen, but somehow we made it out of Adventdalen! Just as we were clear of the water and slush, the visibility dropped very rapidly. We were driving through a hideous storm – strong headwinds and lots of snow. It continued nearly the whole way, and we had a couple of nervous stopped as scooters got stuck in deep snow and we had to dig them out. Keeping polar bear watch in this low visibility was very challenging!

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Slightly low visibility…. Photo credit: Daniel Nilsson

5 hours later (10pm), we made it to a beautiful (and reasonably clear) east coast! About 100m from the cabin we crossed some polar bear tracks coming from the sea ice, and then we saw more around by the cabin. I did get slightly worried that the bear might be sheltering from the wind behind our cabin, but we were safe! As it was snowy and windy, it was clear these tracks were very fresh. We unpacked the scooters and got the fire going in the cabin. We had a small room on the way in for firewood, scooter kit and boots and then the rest of the cabin had a small stove, a small fire burner, a single bed and a bunk bed. For the more mathematically able of you (i.e., not my mother), that is 1 more person than available beds – Katie and I spooned for two nights (it was glorious). We had a late dinner and eventually went to sleep, falling asleep to the sounds of the fire burning and the wind hitting the from of the cabin as it came off the sea.

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Our beautiful east coast home.
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Relieved we survived the storm!
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Our first stop to hunt for the invisible polar bears.
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Cabin and scooters
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Taken from the window in the cabin – our east coast sea ice view!
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Complete view – cabin, scooters and sea ice.

We woke up late the next morning (probably afternoon) and had breakfast. We then went out for a walk along the coast and saw yet more polar bear tracks, again very recent due to continued snow. We walked up higher and looked out on the sea ice but there was no sign of the bear. After taking the scooters for a short drive along the coastline, we headed inside for some lunch and revision. It was quite something, 4 of us revising in a small cabin in the arctic looking out onto the sea ice, no electricity or running water, no towns nearby, occasionally checking for polar bears, only heat source was the fire burning in the corner of the cabin. During this revision period, we did spot a Walrus on the sea ice! It was a fair distance away, the camera doesn’t show it very clearly but I can promise you that is a Walrus (or at least a seal). The binoculars showed it more clearly, we could see the animal moving around and decided it was probably far too big to be a seal.

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That little black dot is a Walrus!

When we arrived, we had a few litres of water with us. This ran out reasonably quickly with 4 of us drinking and cooking. We had to start boiling snow for drinking and cooking instead. This was quite something, being out in the arctic filling up my water/cooking pasta etc with boiled snow.

That evening we had another late dinner, had a few drinks and played cards. It was a pretty late night, and meant a very late late start the next day. We didn’t get up til gone 1pm, so by the time we’d eaten and packed up to head back to Longyearbyen, it was already nearly 5pm. We had a particularly long route planned for the way home as well in an attempt to both make the most of this trip and avoid driving back through Adventdalen.

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Whisky served on glacier ice.

We began making our way South along the coast to find another area of coast line and sea ice. It was absolutely stunning, and after finding a pretty great spot to sit and eat, we went for a drive along the coast line. At one of the stops along the coast, Kristian and I decided to chill on a floating block of sea ice. It seemed like a good idea at first, the ice was stationary and seemed perfectly safe. Soon after the smiles quickly went, as the wave picked up and we were suddenly moving out to sea at a fast pace. We both managed to jump off it quickly and get back to the safe ground, but I was pumped full of adrenaline by then. We continued along the coast and found yet more polar bear tracks which we could see getting fresher as we followed them before they disappeared down onto the shoreline. Once again there no sign of the bear, but we did spot more walruses out on the sea ice!

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Views from our lunch spot
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Views from our lunch spot
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It’s all fun and games until you start floating away on sea ice. Photo credit: Daniel Nilsson

After this, we headed for Svea. But in our way stood a wind tunnel filled glacier. This was quite terrifying, we were travelling very slowly carefully trying to stay on Kristian’s track and it was just continuous sudden drops into wind tunnels. Kristian got stuck at one point, and we jumped off the scooter to grab spades, but as soon as we stepped off we were knee deep in snow. It was horrible! Soon after, the bearcat got stuck as we drifted away from Kristian’s track. After that we were managed to keep going and made it off the glacier and on to Svea. Once we reached Svea, we had phone signal to get hold of people that might have been worrying about us. It was now midnight, we were supposed to be back by 6pm…

Just past Svea and we saw yet more polar bear tracks, and still no polar bear (there’s a theme to this trip…). Reindalen was an interesting (and also fun) drive – a lot of slush in the valley mean we had to keep the speed up. And then it was pretty much straight back to Nybyen! There were a few moments of difficult driving again thanks to bad snow conditions, but by 2am we made it back to Nybyen with the same number of scooters and people as we left with. As we drove over Longyearbreen, there was a ray of sunlight shining down on Longyearbyen welcoming us home. It was pretty amazing that we did manage to make it to all the places we intended to see and get home okay. We risked it storms, high avalanche risk and polar bear territory but it was an incredible trip and we all made it home. Maybe not the smartest trip to have taken, but no regrets! I enjoyed every minute of it (even when I was quite scared).

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Photo credit: Katie Herlingshaw

I have now finished my exams and hence finished my entire degree!! I have partied and I’m now in my last 2 days on Svalbard. It’ll be a bitter-sweet moment when I leave – I am leaving behind this wonderful place and the wonderful people I have met, but I will be reunited with my family and boyfriend, and I’m ridiculously excited to see them all again.

Oh yeah, I’ve also seen a Bill Bailey gig and swam in the fjord twice since the last post (it has to be done whilst you’re here!)

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Front row seats!
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Team fjord dip day 1. Photo credit: Kieran Davis

There will be at least one more post on surviving up here on Svalbard, do not panic 🙂

Skål!

 

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.

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Arctic Geophysics Masters 2016 (or Ice Nerds). Photo credit: Anja Strømme.
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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.

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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.

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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!

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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…

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

Skål!

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.

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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!

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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.

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Ski for Two. Photo credit: Noel Potter
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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…

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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.

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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!

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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 🙂

Skål!

Under Pressure

Two week fieldwork special, as promised.

Week 1: The Kjell Henriksen Observatory (KHO).

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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.

 

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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).

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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.

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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!

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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:

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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.

Skål!

Breathe Life

My first post dedicated to the lessons of Svalbard and tips for future Svalbarders.

To make for a fun filled two week field work special next week, I thought I’d make a blog of all about arctic life and lessons, with some tips thrown in for any future Svalbarders.

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Barrack 9 pictured from Barrack 11 window. Do not leave without appropriate clothing.

Lesson 1: Arctic life is tough. It is not possible to simply ‘pop over’ to the shops, or even to a friends barrack without having to fully coat up. You can’t (or at least, you should never) leave town without a rifle and flare gun along with people who can safely and confidently operate the two guns. For any trip, no matter how close to town, you have to think about avalanche rescue kits, spare clothing, food, first aid kits, headlamps, mats to sit on, hand and feet warmers, and the list can go on as the hikes can get more challenging (and all this is after you’ve fully assessed the weather and avalanche forecast.)

Lesson 2: Food is expensive. The daily struggle of trying to buy good but affordable food is not that achievable. It’s not completely impossible, but you have to pick and choose from time to time. Trying to get a weekly food routine going at fixed prices is also made more difficult by the massive price fluctuations here over short periods of time. Also, completely random items are actually cheaper here than in the UK, example: Philadelphia. Tip from personal experience: eggs are good, get some fruit every day and cereal is reasonably priced. If you eat crappy food every day, you’ll hate life. This is a place you definitely don’t want to be hating on life in.

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I’d managed to crawl in snow before this picture in only glove liners (stupid) and got them wet. So when I took my gloves off to do something (like here), my hands froze immediately. Photo credit: Miriam Hogg

Lesson 3: Glove liners are life. There are a number of times in these cold conditions that it is necessary to take off your gloves to do adjust clothing/operate a rifle/find something in your bag/take photos (and the list goes on). Doing this completely bare handed can be incredibly cold and painful. Glove liners (as well as making your hands warmer under the outer gloves) also allow you to perform these more awkward tasks with your hands still covered. Tip from a friend: buy glove liners from field and trek before you come out here, apparently you can pick them up for only £6!

I miss trees.

And all things green.

I meant the countryside, obviously. Don’t be gross.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful here. It’s just very, very white

Lesson 4: Looking out the window and seeing that it’s snowing is still magical. Or at least, it still is for me one month in. And the views never get old.

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A photo which includes family, Sun, heat and blue and green views. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love it here. It’s just the little things.

Lesson 5: A “lovely day” is about -5 degrees C, little to no wind, and either a beautifully clear day, or a day of big snowflakes (like the childhood dreams). These are the days we live for, the days that make life feel spectacular, without even having to leave town.

Lesson 6: Good headlamps for camping don’t necessarily make good headlamps for the arctic. It is pretty dark here during winter, headlamps with the ability to see quite far are particularly important (especially if you find yourself on a trip out of town in the dark, don’t want the polar bears sneaking up on you).

Skiing to university is normal.

Lesson 7 (for all Aberystwythers): We thought the Aber bubble was bad, try the Longyearbyen bubble. A town of just over 2000 people (as if 2013).

Lesson 8: Even though you’re only here for a few months, you’ll find yourself wanting to invest in certain things that will most likely only be useful here. Having spoken to my American friends, I know they use a lot of this stuff back home, but in the UK, it’s not so necessary. I have invested in some microspikes this week. They were about £25 so not too bad, and I will get a lot of use out of them here. But, once I leave here I probably won’t wear them again. However, this week I considered buying cross country skis. They were on offer for £200, but cross country skis are not the skis I would normally use on family ski trips to the Alps. They’re not so great for going downhill and so, beyond Svalbard, will not be so useful. I managed to talk myself out of that one…

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Welcome to the Arctic. Photo credit: Kieran Davis

Lesson 9: Frost bite and hypothermia are every day worries of life.

General tips for possible future Svalbarders:

1) You have an incredible variety of adventures right on your doorstep. Make the most of it.

2) Thermal layers and buffs are your friend. Wear them, always.

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Wind chill on the face. Frozen hair. It’s all part of the Svalbard charm. (Notice the buff – Friend). Photo credit: Kieran Davis.

3) It’s a great idea to buy some stuff at home (your standard ski jacket, sallopettes, hiking boots, thermals, etc) and it’s also a great idea to add to your wardrobe in Svalbard. You need some stuff for when you arrive, be prepared and all that. But there are some fantastic clothes shops here and UNIS students get good discounts, so I feel it’s worth topping up your wardrobe here as well. Especially when you’re here for a number of months. (Other people may well disagree with this. I like clothes and shopping.)

4) Wind proof outer clothing is key.

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5) Take lots of photos. You may get some gems in there. And everyone loves a selfie (but make sure it’s safe, a surprising number of deaths happen whilst taking selfies.. this shit’s serious). Don’t worry about people who may judge you, you don’t want to regret not having a photo to show people later.

6) Bring your speakers. Big regrets for not bringing mine. Decision was made to leave them when I was struggling for weight and the speakers on my laptop are okay (when I invested in speakers, I had a laptop with pretty bad sound quality). But sometimes it’s just nice to have speakers.

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These are the kind of photos you miss out 0n without a proper camera. Starry sky, aurora and the domes of the KHO observatory. Photo credit: Jack Jenkins.

7) Bring a proper camera. Same as above. Although, I did make the decision not to bring mine because of the good camera on my phone and the fact that I had the gopro. I also decided that, along with my laptop, that was enough expensive items for one trip. The camera would have probably been able to get some good aurora photos though.

There’s a few of my lessons and tips following my first month and a bit in Svalbard.

You may notice I added a new name to the list “Team Svalbard”. One of my American friends, Noel. Check out Noel’s blog 🙂

Also, Jack has cool photos. And if you want to hear other peoples stories about KHO before next week, check out the other blogs on the list!

Next week, get some actual detail about KHO this week. We’ll also be working in EISCAT as of tomorrow night!

Skål!

The Cave

“I am serious… and don’t call me Shirley.” – Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen), Airplane

One month gone, already. It’s definitely been a bit up and down emotionally. Every so often, mostly whenever I’m outside and it’s incredibly windy, cold, and I’m tired, I think to myself “What the hell am I doing here?!” (censored version, as requested by mother). I mean, the arctic is a pretty hostile environment anyway. It’s not easy to live here.

On the flip side, the more permanent thought running through my head is how incredible this place is. It’s so unique and absolutely stunning. I’m studying some great modules out here in a beautiful place. It’s such an incredible opportunity, and one that I was really keen to be given as soon as I heard it was possible all those years ago on the Aberystwyth University open day.  I feel even more excited that, in nearly 7 weeks, I get to show my family and Tom what an amazing place I’ve been living in.

I spent the first 3 days of this week barely being able to walk properly, thanks to the plateau hike destroying the top of my calves with every step that I tried to lift my tired feet out of the snow. I made use of the free swim that the gym offers to students Monday-Wednesday from 7 to 8am on Tuesday and Wednesday. It was pretty important I started to make use of this offer after buying a new swimming costume and goggles last week. It’s great, but does make an early start!

Thursday was pretty special. It was the last day of lectures for the next two weeks, we had Friday off and we have two weeks of field work starting Monday. After the lectures, I was allowed to finally move back to Barrack 11, for good this time!

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Image Credit: Jack Jenkins

Whilst I’ve been here, I constantly check the KHO all sky camera to see if there is an aurora visible. Thursday evening, we saw an incredible aurora. I unfortunately don’t have the camera and equipment out here to photograph something like that, but I went outside in my pjs for about half an hour just watching it. I was out the back of the barracks and lost a lot of the light pollution, I’ve never seen so many stars! Above is a picture by Jack taken that night to show the beautiful aurora and stars that evening.

The images below show screenshots from the KHO skycam taken just before I went outside. This all sky camera can be found here. Best to check it after about 4pm when it’s darker.

Oh yeah, “Lucy face” has now become a thing. A lovely, gormless face which I seem to naturally pull. So any photo taken of me when I’m not expecting it tends to show classic “Lucy face”. Thank you to Kieran.

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The Friday mini trip out the back of Longyearbyen.

Friday was great because we had the day off. I got to lie in, go for a wonder out the back with Kieran, Jack, Lloyd and Heather and get some good photos then come back and a few of us had pre drinks before Friday Gathering. Tip: No matter how fun it seems, do not put a bottle of wine in a water bottle with a built in straw. (Especially when that water bottle can hold an entire bottle of wine).

After a great Saturday of laziness in the barrack 11 kitchen watching rubgy and airplane and complaining about the take away we ordered, Sunday was a lot more eventful. I went with Jack, Heather, Noel and Alex to explore the ice cave on the glacier Larsbreen. On the way up, we discovered a little man made snow cave which we took a little coffee break in.

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Mini snow cave

I must admit, after seeing photos of people who went to the ice cave before, I thought there was no way I would be to do that. It looked incredibly small and the steep downhill (and narrow) entrance looked terrifying. When the suggestion of going to see an ice cave came up, I didn’t realise we’d properly be going into this same ice cave (I guess I’d hoped it would be a different, more spacious cave). But no, we arrived and I saw this small cave entrance with a steep downhill and began to get very scared.

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The ice cave entrance on Larsbreen with Longyearbyen below

A few encouraging words from Noel and a slow decent in the middle of the group, and I started to feel much better. Once I begun to head down it open out slightly and it wasn’t too far until it flattened out. I then realised my toes were far too cold and I was struggling to move them, so I got to spend the next 10 minutes lying on the floor with my feet on Heather’s stomach to warm them back up. It worked a charm, it was then onwards into the cave.

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Chilling in the ice cave. From the left: Jack, Noel, Alex, Heather, me 🙂

Noel (geologist, loves glaciers and rocks) was running around having multiple “geogasms”… He was like an excited puppy, it was incredible. He would regularly disappear round a corner and we’d just hear a strange combination of noises as he spotted more features. It was absolutely beautiful in there, so who could blame him anyway.

There were multiple occasions of ducking and turning sideways. We also had one opportunity to head off course and climb up a small ledge. It was pretty narrow, but it was pretty high which made it feel a bit more spacious. It’s only possible to go to a certain point without your own climbing ropes, and so after about 45 minutes we’d gone as far as we could. We came back up to have a small amount of light and walked back down to Longyearbyen. This was a fantastic trip, made even more special by the fact that I felt like I achieved something after being a bit scared of the cave beforehand.

Jack also put a lovely video together of our day in the ice cave, find it here.

The next two weeks are field work! All day off so that we can stay up late in the observatory. First stop, KHO!

Skål!

 

Adventure of a Lifetime

“It’s from the 60’s, don’t take it too seriously” Noora

A week of 9am’s at uni, everyone’s favourite! The timetable changes every week, but day to day during the week it’s always pretty similar. Noora took our Upper Polar Atmosphere lectures this week and we began the Radar Diagnostics module with Rico. Both modules have been really interesting so far and I’ve really enjoyed them. The past week has just been continuing with the theoretical work in lectures and seminars.

“I came here in 2004 to study, and 12 years later I’m still here. So be careful.” Or something along those lines, the words of Rico when introducing himself on Monday.

Monday to Thursday wasn’t particularly eventful, just general uni work, walking to and from uni, food shopping etc. It was a pretty windy week, multiple snownados about. But Friday (until about 3pm, anyway) it was beautiful and clear. The dark twilight we get at midday showed a beautiful, blue sky. We finished uni at 11am on Friday so were lucky to be able to walk home and see the town and the stunning mountains around us in this light. As it was the day of Friday Gathering, a few of us had decided to start early and have a few drinks at 3:30 before heading back to uni. We turned up slightly late and Katie bought a box of cereal for the card-box game (the game where you must pick the box up by only touching your feet on the floor and nothing else; the box gets smaller each time). After FG, we headed over to Svalbar for some food and more drinks and socialising. I’d been wanting to go to this place since we got here, and I finally made it! And it fulfilled all expectations. Win win.

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The beautiful twilight on Friday. Still not bright enough to switch off the streetlights. Maybe when the Sun finally rises over Longyear..

Saturday was a nice, quiet day. The weather was pretty appalling and everyone was up for resting after FG. (Because socialising is a tiring sport and not because we were hungover, of couse). Katie and Mikkel had made a pretty awesome set up in Barrack 9 for watching tele, so I went over and watched First Dates with them, Miriam, Ryan, Errka and Kieran. After that, me, Katie, Mikkel and Errka headed back down to Barrack 3 for fermentation group! This week, we put together jars of wines and ciders and made some pretty fabulous home-made pizzas. Well, Sandy, Daniel, Errka and Peter made the pizzas..

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Pre hike breakfast

Sunday was once again adventure day. This was a bit more serious than last week. We’d been allowed a rifle from UNIS and had all made sure we were equipped with avalanche gear. The plan was to walk along to the famous polar bear sign, up to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, then up to the KSAT observatory and along the top of the plateau before heading back down into Longyearbyen. We all met up for a pre hike breakfast (fry up) and then finally managed to head down to UNIS to meet the Arnau. We didn’t leave UNIS until midday which was, in hindsight, a bit too late for our planned route.

 

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Pre hike team photo!

By the time we’d struggled all the way up to the top of the plateau (an incredibly long, steep walk up), stopping for catching our breath and taking photos at various points, and stopping to avoid the massive coal trucks coming up and down the narrow, mountain roads, it was already 3pm and the daylight was quickly fading. We sat down for lunch and by the time we left the lights of KSAT, it was pitch black.

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The all important stop at the sign.

We were walking in the dark, across a plateau, with footprints as navigation (we had passed a group of friends on the way up who were doing the same route as us, only backwards, so we knew they would lead us to home eventually). This was a pretty dangerous thing to do, but we got back all alive and no injuries. The top of the plateau was very hard to walk across, with constant varying levels of snow to walk through and drag our feet back out of. All this, whilst constantly keeping an eye out for polar bears (in the dark…). It would be very unusual to meet a polar bear up on this plateau, but still possible. We had to stop regularly for breathers and to eat food or drink water. We could see the glowing lights of Longyear getting closer and closer, and finally, we found ourselves on the edge of the plateau with Longyear below us. We walked along the edge to reach the safe slope down, and this is where everyone picked back up.

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The edge of KSAT in the fading light

Jack and Kieran had borrowed the bum slides from student equipment and began sliding down the slope on them. Meanwhile, the most of us were running down the hill in the deep snow. I managed to fall face first (luckily a soft landing) so then resorted to simply sliding down the hill by leaning back and picking up my feet. This was pretty effective, and getting down from the plateau was much quicker than hiking up (and more fun).

 

 

 

 

No photos from the top of the plateau, due to the lack of light by this point. It was an incredible experience to go on a long hike in the arctic, and with the sunlight getting closer, we’ll have plenty of opportunities to go on many hikes in the future with a bit more daylight.

This week coming, we have one more week of lectures before field work. We’ve been given Friday off (huzzah) and I’m considering having a lazy weekend. I am incredibly achey from the hike and don’t quite know how long I will take to recover from this..

Skål!