Svalbard 2015 - First Time in Svalbard

First a little introduction. I am Sarah, I work at the University of Exeter and I am a modeller. Somehow I am now in the field. Through this blog you will find out whether or not I am able to survive, and even enjoy being away from my desk for a little while.

To introduce the rest of the group. Firstly there is Julia. She is very important. She is the only one of us who has been to Svalbard before, and she has lead us all here with her great enthusiasm to do some great science. Then there are Niko and Stephan who are engineers and they will be working on the field equipment, i.e. doing something useful. Niko has spent lots of time in Siberia already this year, and many years before. Stephan on the other hand has not been in the Arctic game for so long. He demonstrated this by turning up in shorts and a t-shirt, having no idea that Svalbard was so far north.

View of glaciers from the aeroplane
Longyearbyen airport

We took many flights to get to our final destination (four in total). On the way we stopped at Oslo for a night, and then for a night in Longyearbyen, where we also met our PAGE21 partner Hanne Christiansen and had a meeting with her, as well as some nice food and beers. Landing in Svalbard for the first time was really exciting. I could hardly believe we were really there, it’s such a far away and amazing place. But here I am! Clearly it is not an easy life in the high Arctic, but the people who live here seem happy.

We took the flight to Ny Alesund this morning. We entered the airport by a small, obscure door and sat in a little waiting room, where you could make yourself a cup of coffee. The check-in was very informal - certainly you don’t get patted down and checked for sharp objects, and the plane was rather like a minibus. There were amazing views from the aeroplane, especially as we chugged down into Ny Alesund, we flew pretty close over the glacier and the mountains, then over the fjord which was full of calved icebergs. Stephan was happy to see the ‘real’ icebergs.

Ny Alesund in the evening
Julia checking the equipment at Bayelva

Ny Alesund village is very close the airport, but we were picked up in a minibus. Partly, I think, because there might be polar bears around. We’re not allowed to walk outside the village without a gun because the bears really are dangerous. We are all staying in the ‘blue house’, which is part of the German/French AWIPEV station. We were shown around by Kathrin, who gave us our instructions on what to do if we see a polar bear in town (hide in the nearest house; alert everyone). We heard some stories about people spending several hours in a toilet due to very nearby bears. We also experienced our first taste of the Ny Alesund food, which is quite plentiful and tasty, very much so given that we are in the Northernmost settlement in the world.

After settling in we had a look in the tool stores and Thomas (a resident engineer) sorted out some bikes that we’ll use to cycle to the field site. Then we went for a couple of hours to the Bayelva site to check things out. Julia and Niko get their gun training tomorrow, so we had to go with someone else. Renee, another resident engineer, took us there and showed us around the area. Lots of things have changed since Julia last came here. Niko and Julia looked at all of the equipment with a practiced eye, while Stephan and I looked at the reindeers and felt very cold. It’s a very wild and beautiful place, and tomorrow we will wear more layers of clothes.

After a very delicious dinner we did some planning for starting the real work tomorrow…

Bayelva field site. Stephan has seen a reindeer
Arriving in Ny Alesund (Niko, Stephan and Julia)
Written on September 2, 2015