Hello again! We have now officially been a resident of Svalbard for over a month. After 4 weeks of meeting all our new classmates and getting back into the swing of lectures again, we’re really starting to feel at home. We have learnt a few valuable things this past month; we tested out the worlds northernmost club, Huset, and surprisingly for such a small town, the residents of Svalbard really know how to party. The fitting phrase “lose it at Huset” has been thrown around and I assure you the hangovers are just as awful in the Arctic as they are anywhere else in the world. We rented bikes for three days with the hope they would improve the 40-minute journey from UNIS back to our brakke. But oh, how wrong we were… Turns out peddling uphill is much more difficult, and equally time-consuming as walking. Our journey up to our accommodation isn’t quite as steep as Penglais hill but it sure feels like it! However, despite the struggle, it was a fun lesson well learnt. And on the bright side, the ride down in the mornings was effortless and refreshing as you watch the mountains fly by. Nevertheless, after two weeks of I guess, the Svalbard equivalent of freshers, the real work began.
Our first fieldwork trip for our course (The Quaternary History of Svalbard), began with a day trip out to one of the eastern valleys, Bolterdalen. An early wake-up and a bus drive down Spitsbergen’s largest fjord system, Isfjorden, brought with it some stunning and exciting views. The day consisted of a lot of digging, which was a great way of keeping warm as temperatures begin to drop close to 0°c. Our resident fieldwork dog, Dean, our lecturer’s dog, kept the morale high when we all began to inevitably get fed up. The purpose of our trip to Bolterdalen was to practice our skills in sediment logging in preparation for our field trip to Aldegondabreen, where we would be collecting our data for our assessment. The class was extremely excited for this trip as we were transported by boat to the old Russian settlement of Barentsburg, where we would be staying for the duration of the five-day trip. However, our field trip to Aldegondabreen was not quite as glamorous as we initially envisaged. Overall, it was a fantastic experience and a great opportunity to gel with our classmates and practice using the field techniques. However, the weather throughout our trip can only be described as, unbelievably shitty… The first day was filled with excitement as we all piled on our survival suits and headed down to the harbour where we were met by our boat driver who would be driving us back and forth to the glacier every day. The day consisted of a wander around the glacier forefield to make observations of the glacier deposits. The next two days followed a similar routine in the morning but with a much less enthusiastic group as the rain continued to pour down, nonstop, all day. We spent the days mapping glacier features and digging sediment logs. A short lunch break in a nearby cabin was the only relief from the rain and with sad faces and puddles in our ‘waterproof’ shoes we huddled together under the thermal blanket and ate snacks by the dozen.
Despite the miserable weather conditions, the group continued to laugh through the rain. Nevertheless, the relentless rainfall and hours of digging were well worth it as we got to see our first ever Svalbard sunset. Our first 2 weeks here consisted of 24 hours of daylight and only recently has the sun set below the horizon. However, as Longyearbyen is located within a valley we have been unable to see the sunsets until our venture to Barentsburg. We huddled together with cameras in hand as we watched the sky change colour and finally set – if only for an hour or so before it rises once more. Sunsets in Svalbard are a rarity as each day, on average, we lose 20 minutes of daylight until the sun doesn’t rise again in mid-October and the polar night sets in. We finished the long week of fieldwork off with our first Arctic bonfire outside our student accommodation. UNIS’ entire student cohort relaxed with the contrast of the warmth of the fire and the snow covering the ground, laughing with a beer in one hand s’mores in the other until the fire slowly died down and the sky fell dark. What a way to end our week and celebrate our first month in Svalbard!
Until next time, love Han & Eb X