Hello again, with lots of updates since I’ve been slacking off and not putting together anything to share for a while now. If you get tired of me droning on, skip to the end for some cool links to blogs written by friends (who are much better photographers than I am) and some cool websites about Svalbard to check out.
Classes continue to feature really cool looks at the local geology, which often touch on topics that are totally new to me, since this place is so different from anywhere I’ve studied geology before. Last Friday we did sandbox analogue modeling, which led to some really cool fault models. Photos and a video link are posted below. On Wednesday my group got driven out to the airport and walked the few km back to UNIS with a data logger recording temperature and taking notes on the weather every few minutes. This was an exercise to show us how much the weather here can vary even in a small area right near sea level. Weather varies even more and more quickly at altitude – not exactly a new concept to me, but important for those of us who like to hike and ski. On Friday, we had an afternoon exercise in core logging, with some very cool (at least to geo nerds like me) features, a few of which I tried to get pictures of. We came back to class today and finished discussing, tying all of our (mostly) contiguous core segments together into one big section. This week we’ve started talking about surveying and mapping – things I really enjoy – and we’ll be getting some practice in tomorrow and Friday.
Time lapse video of the extensional setting sandbox model here: https://www.facebook.com/DepartmentofArcticGeologyUNIS/?fref=ts
Since the last time I wrote an update, we’ve really settled in here, getting to know Longyearbyen much better and establishing some routines. Class during the day, followed by relaxing a bit and often sharing cooking duties with friends on weeknights. This has been especially true in roughly the last week, since the remainder of my neighbors have finally been allowed to move into their rooms permanently, following some repairs which had been ongoing through the first few weeks we were here. Now we frequently have our doors open when we’re sitting in our rooms, and converse with one another as we pass each other’s doors, and our kitchen has become known as “The Clubhouse,” and frequently serves as a gathering spot for our big crew of native English-speaking friends (a bunch of Brits, an Aussie, and a couple Americans). The light is coming back, and it seems to last longer and shine more brightly each day. This has led to much more productive photography than we had the first few weeks, some of which you can see at the end of this post.
Now that the lottery for student rifles has begun, I’ve had the chance to go on trips on the weekends. Two weekends ago there was pretty nasty weather on Saturday, which put off our plans for a longer hike, but Heather (American, goes to Bowdoin), Jack (Brit, generally pleasant fellow), and I wandered out into the valley northeast of town because we were feeling a bit cabin feverish and had a short but pleasant stroll in the very flat valley floor while it was too dark to see much of interest. On Sunday the weather cleared up and many of our Anglophone crew, plus some western Europeans (Andorra, France) hiked up onto the (aptly-named) “plateau mountain” just west of town. Our route took us down the road to the airport, past the Global Seed Vault (your post-apocalypse source for any and all plant-related needs!), and up onto the plateau, where we at lunch sheltering from the wind behind the KSAT satellite observatory, which has a large array of very sciencey-looking domes housing very expensive and impressive satellite dishes which keep us in touch with many of our various satellites in polar orbits. The Brits, who are her for the geophysics master’s program, studying astrophysics, were especially impressed. After eating, the light had disappeared (around 1 or 2 pm) and we began the long slog across the plateau, postholing in mid-shin-deep, crusty snow the whole way. For those of you who have never potholed before, it is neither the most efficient nor the least tiring way to travel. Everyone took the slog very well though, even those who had never hiked before, snow or not. After several dull, dark hours of this slog, we finally reached the edge of the plateau and took the much-needed easy way down, sledding on our avalanche shovels and small, compact sliding boards. Afterwards, we headed to Coal Miners’ Bar and Grill, the pub across the street from our student housing, for some well-deserved burgers and beers.
In addition to weekend trips, the course schedules here are arranged so that there are usually one or two days per week when you get either a half- or full-day break, and several of us who shared one such stretch of free time went skiing (up with climbing skins, then down normally) on Trollsteinen, the best mountain for local (entirely human-powered) skiing. I look forward to as many more mid-week ski trips as I can squeeze in.
On this most recent weekend, Heather and I planned to (re-)teach Jack to ski by going up the relatively low-angle Longyearbreen glacier and skiing back down, but we discovered as we got about halfway up the icy, uneven snowmobile track that Jack’s ski bindings hadn’t been adjusted to fit his boots, though it’s something we should have thought of. He’s a good sport though, and he walked down and filmed Heather and me as we skied down. While we didn’t do all the skiing we’d hoped to, we did get some wonderful views with the increased light levels. Sunday was the highlight of my time here so far, when we went to the ice caves down inside Larsbreen glacier. From the elegant curves of the meltwater-carved channel through the glacier to the wide variety of entrained rock, sediment, and different varieties and textures of ice, it was a dream for me to be down there. It’s rare and cool for those of us interested in glaciers and glacial geology to be ON a glacier, much less inside one. My geophysics friends found my enthusiasm for the englacial geology very entertaining. A group of us with some experience on climbing ropes but little to no experience with climbing on ice will be going back to the ice caves with a mother friend who knows what he’s doing and rappelling all the way down to the bedrock underneath the glacier this weekend, as we could only get part of the way down on foot before coming to a steep dropoff which requires ropes and harnesses to descend. I can’t wait to get all the way down there. We’re also supposed to have less than ideal weather this weekend, which makes it a perfect time to go to the ice caves, which are a consistent 32°F and sheltered from the wind. That’s downright warm compared to what the conditions outside can be like here sometimes. See my mediocre pictures of this glorious adventure below.
Even our “less interesting” days and evenings are pretty great – some of the Norwegian students are generously volunteering their time to teach a beginner Norwegian course a couple nights a week, the gym has a nice climbing wall open a few nights a week, there’s kayak polo on Sunday nights, and a student group for those of us interested in rugby is meeting one night a week to practice and/or teach those who are new to the game. And yes, we play outdoors. In the Arctic. In winter. Rugby isn’t a game designed for the cold, but we make it work anyway. All of this is in addition to the supplemental courses UNIS is offering in the evenings during the dark season (see below).
Well, that’s all for now. I’ll try to be better about updating more often in the future, but no promises. Sorry for the jumbled nature of this post. I hope the pictures and links at the end make up for it. There are also a few random things I forgot to add as I was writing this listed below.
So long for now!
-Heather and I are looking for a snowmobile to buy jointly, to be resold after we leave
-I’ve submitted my application to stay here through early August and do field work over the summer which will become my thesis in the fall
– Last week was the end of a 2-week course not he history of Svalbard, and this week is the first week of a 2-week course about the northern lights and some of the physics and astronomy behind them. I’ve been going off and on to the lectures for both, missing some, but going when I can
– We’ve seen the aurora several times now, but my camera and the camera on my phone are nowhere near good enough to get good pictures. Some of my geophysics friends have good cameras and take great pictures of the aurora. See the links below
Check out Jack’s blog here, including a video and some great photos of our trip to the ice caves: http://arcticastrophysics.blogspot.com
Check out Lucy’s blog here, including more great pictures: https://geeksandglaciers.wordpress.com
Ryan and Miriam’s blog here: http://whyaremyfeetcold.blogspot.com
Kieran’s blog here. Many of you will appreciate his humor: http://icepunsarenotcool.blogspot.co.uk
Click on the “Data” tab here and you can check out some cool webcams of the sky and other instruments related to aurorae and space weather here on Svalbard. I especially recommend checking out the skycaps between about noon and 6 or 8pm Eastern time to look for the aurora: http://kho.unis.no
If you’re more of a physics nerd than I am, this page has lots of fancy data and some pretty pictures: http://mirl.sr.unh.edu/projects_renu2/renu2_FC_links.html
TopoSvalbard is a great interactive map of Svalbard, where you can also find old photos, airphotos, and even a 3D model of Svalbard: http://toposvalbard.npolar.no
This page has detailed weather forecasts for Longyearbyen: http://www.yr.no/place/Norway/Svalbard/Longyearbyen/hour_by_hour.html
This is the webpage for the History of Svalbard course, including the lecture slideshows and lecture summaries available as .PDFs: http://www.unis.no/history-svalbard-course-page-2016/
This is the page for the course on the northern lights, including .PDFs of the lecture slideshows (the complete set won’t be up until Feb. 19th, when the course ends): http://www.unis.no/course/agf-216-the-stormy-sun-and-the-northern-lights/
This page features some of the long-term research being done by the geology department here at UNIS: http://www.unis.no/research/arctic-geology/
Now, enjoy a jumbled assortment of my pictures from the last 2.5 weeks: