dinsdag 5 augustus 2014

Arctic adventure approaching the end

An overview of Ny-Alesund
Time flies in Ny-Alesund. The last days  have been very busy. Interviews with Fang Peng, the Chinese station leader, Fabio Giardi, the Italian station leader, Aaron Russ, the expedition leader on board of Le Boréal for Abercrombie & Kent, Asne Dolve Meyer, the general advisor of Kings Bay, Ole Oiseth, the director of Kings Bay and Sébastien Barrault, the research advisor of Kings Bay and the previous station leader of the joined German- French AWIPEV (German Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) and the French Polar Institute Paul Emile Victor (IPEV)) research station. The last persons on my interview list are Bjorn Eirik Norman, the field inspector on behalf of the Governor of Svalbard in Ny-Alesund and Maarten Loonen from the Dutch research station. Hopefully I will manage to talk to them tomorrow.
Greenpeace visit with Emma Thompson and Michelle Thrush
Almost every day a cruise ship visited Ny-Alesund, so I joined tours with Le Boréal on behalf of Abercrombie & Kent and with the Quest on behalf of Polar Quest and Polar-Kreuzfahrten. Le Boréal is one of the more luxurious cruise ships, owned by Compagnie du Ponant. We were lucky, because all the harbour workers and me got a tour on board. It is a really fancy cruise ship with a concert room, a spa, a fitness room with a view on the stunning landscape, a piano and library room... This tour made it worth to get up early in the morning on the only day so far I could have staid longer in bed. On Saturday a special ship visited Ny-Alesund. Greenpeace's Esperanza is performing a communication campaign in the Arctic with Emma Thompson, a famous British actrice, and Michelle Thrush, a Canadian actrice and activist and their daughters on board. Ny-Alesund was one of the places they visited in their Arctic journey and I was lucky enough to join them on their tour through town. 
Sunday evening tradition
Of course I also enjoyed some free time. Saturday evening the whole town gathered at the bar. That reminds me of another interesting fact I have to tell you about Svalbard. You can only buy one crate of beer and two bottles of liquor a month. Wine, however, you can buy unlimited. If I want to buy a drink here, I have to show my boarding pass and they will stamp it. If you come here by boat, you do not have a boarding pass. So in order to be able to buy alcohol, you have to get permission from the Governor of Svalbard. Another tradition on Ny-Alesund is the Sunday evening swim. After the swim, which is more like a dip, you run to the car and drive to the preheated sauna to enjoy a beer. As I am only here one Sunday, I did not have another choice, I had to participate. It was not as cold as I expected it to be, I could still feel my toes. Tonight I went to a lecture about the history (1916-2014) of Kings Bay, the state owned company which coordinates activities at Ny-Alesund, by Rolf Hanoa, professor at the University of Bergen. He will write a book about the history of Kings Bay for its hundred anniversary in 2016.
Tomorrow will be by last day in Ny-Alesund. On Thursday I will fly back to Oslo to spend another five days there. In Oslo I will try to arrange interviews with WWF Arctic Programme, the Department of Polar Affairs, the Norwegian Institute for Air Research and the Northern Research Institute. Other reasons to look forward to go to Oslo are to enjoy the real summer and the urban setting. It seems like my unique Arctic adventure is reaching its end, but I enjoyed every bit of it. 

vrijdag 1 augustus 2014

Field work in the world's most Northern settlement

Welcome in Ny-Alesund, the world's most Northern settlement. When I arrived in this truly northern town surrounded by an amazing landscape of mountains covered with snow, the fjord, glaciers and tundra, I did not expect it was so well equipped. Different countries have research stations here: Norway, Sweden, The Netherlands, France, Germany, the UK, Japan, China, South Korea, India and Italy. To ensure the community feeling, Kings Bay, which coordinates activities in Ny-Alesund, provides a canteen where the whole town shares breakfast, lunch and dinner. In addition, there is a gym and a sauna. Everything that is going on in town is listed on a board, so you stay updated on different research projects and social activities.
My daily view in Ny-Alesund
However safety comes first. Every researcher has to take the safety training for polar bear protection. No exception for me. It is quite an adventure to take this course. After an indoor lecture, we practiced shooting standing and kneeling and trying to shoot three bullets within a 15 seconds frame, in case a polar bear would be nearby. Afterwards we also learned to use the flaregun which makes a lot of noise and smoke to scare the polar bear away. It is good that I took this training, because this morning at 7 o clock, when most people where still asleep, including me, a polar bear wandered through town. The two years old polar bear behaved well, crossed town and swam accross the fjord. No need to scare him off. Although I have not seen him, it is rather strange to know that he passed by when I was asleep.
Linde shooting and the safety training
After this training, field work could start. So far I have joined three trips through town with expedition cruise tourists coming on shore from Ortelius and Plancius of Oceanwide Expeditions and with the Fram from Hurtigruten. I also continued my interview schedule. As difficult as it sometimes was to catch people for interviews in Longyearbyen, as easy it is up here. It is so small and you share three meals a day with everyone, which makes finding interviewees rather simple. Up til now I had interviews with Dag Lennart Andersson, the harbour master of Ny-Alesund, Philipp Schaudy, expedition leader of the Plancius of Oceanwide Expeditions, with Nick Cox, the station leader of the British research station, with Marta Karoline Jansen, the station leader of the Norwegian research station, with Yoo Kyung Lee, the station leader of the Korean research station and with Shadé Barka Martins and Silvie Galli, summer helpers of Kings Bay at the shop in Ny-Alesund. Another interesting part for my field work was to join the vegetation monitoring project in relation to trampling by cruise tourists, coordinated by Dagmar Hagen from the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research. Actually Dagmar is also supervising my research here, as you need a Norwegian collaboration partner to apply for the Arctic Field Grant which I received from the Svalbard Science Forum to conduct this research. Five years ago they set out trajects in the unique cultural heritage site London on the other side of Kongsfjorden and near the Nobile mast in Ny-Alesund. Of course tourists cannot know they are being monitored, therefore nails are put in the ground to mark the paths. The most difficult part was to find back these nails after five years. Luckily the metal detector and my natural searching talent made sure whe found back all nails. Afterwards we registered vegetation and tracks or damage by humans, reindeer and geese for plots. Near the Nobile mast we investigated if the path became deeper or wider.
Linde joining vegetation monitoring in relation to
 trampling by  cruise tourists at the London site
Field work occupies most of my time up here, as you never know when people are available for an interview. It is a good thing that I am rather flexible. Transcribing interviews is as well a time consuming job, but I prefer to do it now, in order not to loose information. Of course there is also time for socializing. Wednesday evening the bar Mellageret (i.e. flour storage) opens for a hotdog and beer evening. The curtains are closed in the bar to create a cozy atmosphere. At the end of the evening, the curtains are opened again. A really strange feeling to face daylight after a cozy evening and before going to bed. I also like to enjoy the sauna in the evening. Even in the sauna or in the bar I manage to make interview appointments. What do you expect in such a small community? This afternoon I gave a presentation about my research for the Svalbardkurset 2014. This is a 10 day crash course about Svalbard for Norwegian employees of Ministries, tourism business, lawyers, policy makers...whom's job is somehow connected to Svalbard. As you can read, many exciting things happen in the world's most Northern settlement.