Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Ribanna


You could call this a procrastination blog entry….Or just the attempt to summarise 10 months being in the Arctic.
It is late May now and we are in the middle of our exam period. Two days ago, Luci and I wrote our Arctic Environmental Management exam covering all the political, economical and environmental issues up here. Believe me, they are uncountable! Just start from Russia setting up their flag at the seabottom right at the North Pole in 2007 in the attempt to claim the area and all the resources that can be found there, go to pollutants that are not even produced in the Arctic but are carried along with winds and ocean currents from industrialized areas and accumulate in marine fauna and flora which even goes up in the food web to the human so that inuits are highly affected by these without even intentionally using them; or just think about the sea-ice loss due to global warming which opens up the Arctic Ocean to a) even more overexploitation of the fish stocks, b) mineral resources like oil and gas (which is clearly the winner in international economic conflicts) and c) new shipping routes so that e.g.  container ships going from Europe to China could save more than 4,000nm of their usual way (~11,000nm).
Complicated but interesting.
But let’s look back to the last 10 months. Allan, Esty, Luci and I arrived in August 2013 and could experience all of the fall semester including the snow-free Arctic, the first snowfall, the first sunset after Polar day and the last sunset before Polar night, northern lights, the Polar night of 24 hour darkness and proper cold temperatures. But you might have read about these experiences earlier.
This semester, when we came back in January, Rachel was with us as well. It was warm! Melting! Actually, in January and February this year, it was on average 15°C warmer than in the last couple of years. (Yes, 15, one five, no typo there). Actually it got never as cold as what we could experience in december.
Daylight came back slowly in February, hit Longyearbyen the first time early March. And for a couple of weeks now, we are back to Polar Day. 24 hours of daylight and by now, it is not even getting slightly orange or pink in the sky. I always thought that the Polar Night will be the difficult time. But what the daylight does to you is very different. You don't get tired at all, you can rather be happy when your body gets exhausted after a while. You lose track of time easily. You change your routines - intentionally or unintentionally. 
first midnight sun ski tour (photo credits: Michael Lawrence)


midnight sun at 1.30 am

And then there are birds! All the migrating birds are coming back up to Svalbard for the summer season. It started slowly with a few sea gulls and little auks. Now, it is thousands of little auks, seagulls, cute snow buntings, pink-footed and barnacle geese and many more (I am not that bird person). Their "music" replaced the sound of the snow mobiles that are not much more longer able to travel the snow routes as the snow is disappearing very quickly going back to the snow-free Arctic that we've seen first when we came here.
However, we had a great snow season. My snowmobile survived - except for one major repair that had to be done - all season. I have made it to the east coast, Tempelfjorden, Barentsburg, Svea, Pyramiden and even to Newtontoppen (at the second attempt). That is the highest mountain in Svalbard (1713m) and this was so far the most stunning trip I could experience. We have done it overnight because it was a beautiful weather window plus the last chance for my best mate to make it before leaving Svalbard. The route took us over endless ice caps into the most stunning area. The last bit was quite steep, straight 500m up the mountain, but the scooters managed. And here, we were awarded with the most sensational view ever! It was perfect. 
Rachel and a wonderful iceberg at the east coast
                                                        
East coast in beautiful weather conditions
Newtontoppen! We've made it (at 4 in the morning)
Our way to Newtontoppen over huge ice caps into the sun
                                            


what a view!
                                            
I can very surely say that we all have experienced a lot of things we've not experienced before and also a lot of things we didn't even expect to happen to us. We went through literally every kind of emotion from a to z (can't think of any z-emotion though); covering positive as well as negative emotions.
I have 15 days left here. I am very sure that I will miss this place like hell but am also looking forward to focus now on my thesis so that I can come back as soon as possible!
Everybody comes back, Svalbard!
It was amazing! Purely amazing!
PS: Just like Luci: If there are any questions, please do not hesitate to send me a message. Facebook or e-mail: 11001178@uhi.ac.uk

Thursday, 22 May 2014

One last blog from Luci...

So it has been a while since my last entry and the time has really flown by, I am now on my last 5 days up here... which is very sad!!! However, in that time since my last post (a while ago) I have manage to get a lot of things done. I had my first exam way back in April - which was actually my final exam but just really early which has left time for field work and reports and lab! I think that went well but I wont get my results until mid June. Over Easter I went on an epic snowmobile trip with Ribanna and a few other friends - unfortunately my snowmobile chose that moment to break down - literally at the furthest point from Longyearbyen it could. Even though that happened we still made it to stay overnight in a little cabin where Ribanna and I had to share a sleeping bag/mat for about 2 hours sleep (as she didn't bring on ...numpty) - well obviously I ended up sleeping on some card board and next to a wall and absolutely freezing whilst she was warm and comfy (fig 1)!! It was also on that trip I got to see Pyramiden the Russian ghost town which was awesome to go around and very surreal. Also constantly the most amazing views of mountains and Glaciers! Just INCREDIBLE (fig 2 and 3)!!!
Fig 1 - Ribanna steals all the comfyness
Figure 2 - Enjoying it all with a cuppa tea and biscuit!



Fig 3 - Amazing Views and snowmobile party!
 I have also made it to Barentsburg with one of the biology courses where we spoke to the Russian consulate there about the management and the towns future. Also with the Populations course we went to Kapp Linne to observe the interactions between Common Eider ducks (fig 4) and Glaucous Gulls (kleptoparasitism) along with Reindeer transects to estimate the population in the area! Also we got the opportunity to see some Walruses again (fig 5 and 6)!!
Figure 4 - Observing Eider group photo
Figure 5 - Luci and the Walrus
Figure 6 - Sleepy WALRUS 
The last weekend was the weekend of the 17th - which is the Norwegian national day so there was a parade in town and lots going on in the main town hall for the children and everyone else. We had a champagne breakfast and as the day was beautiful and sunny a group of us sat out on the barrack roof with a few beers just enjoying life with friends and being in such a stunning place. The next day I made my final snowmobile trip (as it is all now melting here) and I made it to the east coast - which in itself is just amazing. What made it the perfect last (relaxed) weekend was that after almost 9 months in the land of the polar bear I eventually was privaliged e to see the beast - it is real (fig 7 & 8)!!!
Fig 7 - The Mythical beast!



Fig 8 - Polar bear in the Arctic!


So I am very happy about my last real weekend here and feel I have made the most of this opportunity this year! As for now it is all revision for the final exam next Monday followed my a swift packing as I then leave on the Tuesday! It is absolutely mad how fast time has flown this year - and I cannot explain to anyone really what its been like here, other than to other people who have spent any amount of time here! All I can say is that if you are given the opportunity to visit - jump on it, this place is truly incredible.
I am going to be very sad to be leaving here it has been one hell of an experience and I have loved every minute, made some life long friends, seen amazing sites and done it as part of a degree (how lucky am I?)! Goodbye on Tuesday is not going to be fun but I have an exciting summer to look forward to and I am also looking forward to seeing all the people at SAMS in September again! 

This is obviously my last blog - but for those who are planning to go to the Arctic next year I hope it has been a little inspirational and enjoyable! Any questions at all just either Facebook me or email me on 11006873@uhi.ac.uk if you want to know anything about what to take etc! Big thanks to all those at SAMS involved in getting us here and the support with funding - I can not thank you guys enough!
I hope everyone has amazing summers wherever you are in the world - see you in September :D

Lucianne Marshall

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Science in the Arctic- The cruise




UNIS Spring semester 2014




The ship crashes through sea ice, its bow parting the surface like a huge knife. Cracks and splinters radiate off from our passage as we push on forward. 
Dicksonfjorden, Svalbard



We come to rest as the ice deepens, thick and solid enough to hold our weight as we stand on it. 

We leave the ship, walking out on the smooth, shining white surface, leaving shallow footprints on frozen waves. The ice here is thirty centimetres thick, the cold sea bottoms out seventy metres below it.
Here we begin our research.

Reading this I realize that it sounds like in the BBC series frozen planet- but it is reality, we actually experienced it. About 1 month ago, Allan, Riba, Esty , I and the other 15 peoples from our Arctic Geophysics course prepared to go into the ice for 5 days. We are students in the Arctic and that is a very special feeling.

After arriving, we leave the safety of the ship and are all alone in the Fjord, apart from some polar foxes and seals. The seals are numerous; we find 60 by just looking around with the binoculars. They are cute and just hang around sun bathing! 

 But our looking around is not just done for fun. At all times two people, one high up on the ship and one far out on the ice, have to watch out for polar bears. When it is your turn, you are prepared for action, equipped with rifle, flare gun & walky-talky to keep the rest of the people safe.

On the ice we make camp, drilling and cutting through the ice, setting the experiments up with the instruments dragged after us on sledges.


We always hear the monotonous sound of the ships engine. Day and night we are running the ship into the ice. The ice has not been thick enough this year to attach the ship with ropes, we are afraid of breaking it.
Lying awake at night I wonder: Isn’t it slightly ironic that we study the environment but at the same time change it? 



But the gathered data is well worth it.

In the evenings we sit together, analysing what we found during the day. Some people help each other writing code or discuss how their experiments could link. Others watch movies.

Ribanna was looking at the salinity and temperature under the ice. I studied the dissolved oxygen. Both data were gathered from our stationary CTD.

Combining our information, we found relatively warm less oxygenated Atlantic water transformed on its way due north, over colder, saltier oxygen rich water originating from an adjacent fjord. It’s like a riddle, or maybe a crime novel to figure out what could have happened with these waters prior to inflowing into our ice covered fjord. Amongst other influences, these water masses decide about the fate of the sea ice…. It might not return next winter.
I love the fact that by using these instruments over some time we suddenly can see things that nobody else can, things hidden under the ice. For 3 days, we take our measurements; over 350 casts of our CTD.

 But we do not stay all the time at our stations. We learn about every aspect of the air-ice-sea interaction. There are three big sections: Meteorology, Oceanography and Sea-ice studies. The Meteorology studying people are looking at incoming and outgoing solar radiation, albedo, wind direction, air temperature and humidity.

Apart from Riba and I, in the oceanography group we have people looking at turbulences at the ice-ocean interface and currents under the ice to explain the water movements.
Deployment of a mooring




The sea-ice studying people conduct growth experiments, depth measurements, brine rejection studies and take many many ice cores.



Because doing science is hard work, we get a lot of food. Living as a student in Longyearbyen is quite expensive and the normal Svalbard student diary consists of pasta, rice and gummy cheese. Maybe frozen spinach.

It is no secret that there is a lot of food on these research vessels but OMG. Every day we have extensive breakfast, ostentatious lunch, and fantastic dinner. 3 times a day buffet with everything! Plus cake and a filled fridge open during the night. It is food heaven.
Probably because of this overwhelming amount of nom noms (that’s the online translation), there is a gym in the hull of the ship. Most entertaining and well recommendable is using the treadmill while at sea.
The ship also has an outdoor Jacuzzi filled with warm salty water.


Sadly our field course ends too fast.

We go back to our “normal” life in Svalbard. And even though the working up of data is time consuming and can be tiring, we always find time to do fun stuff:
 Midnight-sun hikes


snowmobile drives to the glacier-front on the east coast


… oh…. And I would like to share…. They are not a myth, I saw  a polar bear =)



And of course dress up parties
Luci: the best dinosaur






It’s a good life with good people and good science.
Thanks to everybody who made it possible
And thanks to the lovely photographers Ragnheid, Ribanna & Niels
Yours,
Rachel Vezza

Friday, 4 April 2014

A week on the ice



A dark green van came driving up the one road in and out of Nybyen. I was already standing outside with a rucksack on and ready for the day to come when I saw the UNIS logo stamped on the side of the vehicle as it continued driving up the hill. A group of equally prepared colleagues stood ready and zealously greeted me with a nod or a smile accompanied with a “good morning are you ready?” It was the first day of our snow processes fieldwork; we would be travelling to a nearby glacier for a week to gather data about its geophysical characteristics. What makes it move, where is it moving to now and in the future.  More importantly we would be physically out in the landscape that we are attempting to gain a deeper understanding about, instead of it all just being theory.

That’s the good thing about UNIS, be you a visual learning a kinaesthetic learning or an auditory learner, for any case UNIS caters for you. Although pursuing academia likely means you are good at all three, if you want me to read about how a glacier moves then sit me on one. Let me measure it moving and tell me why this is so. UNIS does this, and I believe it’s what makes this place special and effective at training new scientists. This place aims to put students out in the field and to give us the skills and tools to be able to work in a harsh environment.

The weather was cold. Twenty below and feeling colder when a wind blew. Arriving at the logistics garage to be outfitted in scooter gear; boots, suit, goggles, helmet, mittens and an avalanche beacon. By the end it felt as if beyond the garage doors laid the surface of the moon. Student snowmobiles parked ready for us to take into the field. We drove them up and attached sledges to the back of them. Securing a series of scientific instruments that continued this extra-terrestrial impression of the surrounding landscape. Ground penetrating radar and Global navigational satellite system and automatic weather stations.

Not only that but UNIS also provides the professionals that use this equipment, that have written papers thanks to this equipment, that now pass on the knowledge in the hope that some here continue it.

 We dig holes in the snow. Some metres deep. The snow pack can be removed like bricks, which makes life easier; but not much. Sweat becomes your worst enemy, for when it cools it freezes. The hair on my face and head froze in seconds. It’s always hard to thaw out frozen extremities so the trick is keeping warm. This is not easy work it can be exhausting and frustrating when technology fails to work; batteries die much quicker in the cold. We tag team the digging work and when someone doesn’t come out the hole you grab him out. When you are asked to dig you reply with gratitude, “thanks for allowing me to warm up.” We all share in a laugh and take the measurements before we heartbreakingly fill the same hole back in with all the snow we just removed.

Leave nothing but footprints. If you were to disturb the snow then measurements may be jeopardised; such as with radiation sensors. If we were to dig up most of the glacier and leave it like that it would destroy much of the natural beauty and would present a danger for scooter drivers. Science would start to be less effective at getting its messages across.

Jump on the scooters for a quick leg up the hill to where the sun has managed to emerge over the mountain ridge. Some food and stories from the professors help to warm up spirits whilst the hot drinks and a few more layers help to warm your body.


Before you know it the day has ended and just as quickly so has the fieldwork. The sights the work and the people make this a memorable experience worth a few stories.

You can learn all there is to know about UNIS and its goals for future scientists by spending one day out in the field.


-Allan

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Hey,
Luci here :D

So whats new...
We are now getting some amazing light here and it makes for beautiful horizons/landscape photos - when we are not over cast or snowing - and there has been some beautiful pictures being taken and I have a few ok ones to contribute:
Figure 1 - Longyearbyen town - the sun is almost making it!!!!

Figure 2 - Student barracks and the sun on the mountains behind

Figure 3 - View across Isfjorden from the bottom of Longyearbyen town
Last weekend I ran another dive course in the pool with Caitlin, another instructor, which went really well and was good fun!!! Although a tad jealous of another group of students who went to the east coast on the snowmobiles and managed to see the mythical beasts (polar bears) which I am yet to encounter! :(

This week has also been great fun as I have had no lectures which means during the day (which is getting brighter and brighter) we can make the most of the daylight and study in the evenings!!! Thus I have been out skiing a few times - however its a fair bit different to the skiing I am used to as they haven't yet built chair lifts in the arctic yet!! That being said it is no less fun - just a lot more hard work!!! Myself and my friend Caitlin on Tuesday hiked up one of the nearby mountains call Trollstein on our Ranndonee skis with skins on (which stop you sliding back down hill)! It was the first time I had used these type of skis and they are pretty awesome! By the time we got to the top - I think it may have taken us longer than most - our legs were a little tired and shaky from the work and using muscles that have not been used in a while, but we still had big smiles on our face and a beautiful view!!! The ski down was great though and it was awesome to be back on the slopes, even if my legs had lost all ability to be controlled by my mind!

Figure 4 - Veiw from Longyearbreen glacier - with the sun

Figure 5 - Skiers Climbing up for the ride!

Then we went out on Wednesday again and this time took my snow mobile up with 2 sets of skis strapped to it and then we pulled two people on skis behind it - kinda like water skiing - which was really fun!! We all went up one of the glaciers behind our barracks and took turns skiing down a slope, Figure 5, and then being picked up by the snow mobile for another go - brill fun!!

Myself and Ribanna have combined some of our fun moments into a short video clip to show the SAMS students how much fun it is up here - you should apply it is really amazing!!! It doesn't show a great deal of our studies side - but believe me that does happen too! I thought it would be nice to attach it on here to so everyone else can see it :D (a couple of the photos are not mine or riba's so thank you Joran for lending them to us :D )

video

Figure 6 - Video of fun things in Svalbard

Its not the best quality to be able to upload it on here but hopefully its watchable....

https://www.dropbox.com/s/89r2d6st0fmpfjj/UNIS%20SAMS%20movie.wmv

Thats a better copy ^^^^

Also I, as the biology bachelor representative, joined a meeting with the heads of departments to give feed back on the courses etc. and have heard that they are aiming to shape up the Biology courses and make them even more hands on. They are hoping (not certain yet) to offer a almost internship week here in certain courses with respective companies on Svalbard - which I think sounds great and would give students a bit more experience of working environments!

This weekend I have also been out and about on my snow mobile again - although it was not the best visibility as it was snowing most the way there and back but still got some cool pictures of little ice bergs which have made their way on to the beach and a cool frozen waterfall.
Fig 7 - Ice

Fig 8 - More pretty ice blocks

Fig 9 - Frozen water fall with Ribanna and Ida

Thats all for now,
Luci.