Sunday, 26 August 2012

Svalbard 74° to 81° North!

Hi everyone, apologies about the overdue post, but I’m back from Svalbard!
For those that didn’t know, I’ve been in Svalbard, primarily based in Longyearbyen from mid-July to mid-August as part of my university degree. I was enrolled onto a University Center in Svalbard (UNIS) course on Arctic landscapes and processes, putting aside the 4hr exam and field report that I had to do, it was simply amazing. I’m so glad I chose to specialise in polar science at Sheffield.
As I was in Svalbard during the summer there was the midnight sun- which is basically when there is 24hr daylight and no night. This was no problem for me as I can sleep through anything. Since I was enrolled into the university (UNIS), I was able to stay in uni accommodation, barracks in Nybyen. In comparison to uni accommodation in the UK the barracks were very generous with space, my room has a sink and could’ve easily fitted a double bed, and there were even double curtains to darken out the rooms (very considerate).
The course involved a lot of field-teaching and included day trips to Rieperbreen, Foxfonna and Isfjorden. Everyone had to learn how to use a riffle and bob the right way up in a survival suit- the latter involved jumping off a harbour into the freezing Arctic water in a dashing neon orange rubber Helly Hanson survival suit. Riffle training didn’t sit well with me, I’m naturally a very jumpy person so all the sudden bangs scared the bejeebers out of me and I only managed to fire one shot, which might I add hit the target (somewhere).
The course at UNIS included a 5-day field camp in Templefjorden, though due to bad weather on the last day we had to prolong the camp by a day- win. We camped right next to Tunabreen’s calving front on the beach, a pebbly beach which made sleep just about bearable with a thermarest. The camp was rather large (24 people) and we had a rota going for polar bear watches and food. Since we were such a big group we had the largest frying pan known to mankind, it came rather handy when we made morale-boosting pancakes on our last night though! We also had our own adorable husky, Andy, to help out on polar bear watches through the ‘night’, though I’m fairly sure he would’ve slept through anything.
 Whilst out on the field camp, we had day excursions learning different field techniques such as how to conduct ground penetrating radar surveys across neighbouring glacier Von Postbreen, and how to read the landscape. Injuries I managed to sustain included battered legs from falling on boulders, scarred hands from jumping across a crevasse, and pruned-toes from falling into a river- I made it out in once piece though!
We made friends with the local wildlife and spotted both ringed and bearded seals, beluga whales and puffins whilst out in Templefjorden. (Un)Fortunately we didn’t cross paths with any polar bears, although it would have made the trip, the thought of possibly having to shoot with the intent to kill was chilling. Other animals I saw about Svalbard included reindeer, arctic fox, little auks and a whole host of other amazing birds. If I could go back, I wouldn’t hesitate. In fact I’m hoping to go back there soon and take up another UNIS course.
Oh I do love Svalbard and everyone I met there, I miss you all!

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