This week’s guest blog is written by my dear friend Kristine Langenes. Read about her exciting trip to Svalbard.
My name is Kristine and I have known Hanne since we started the first grade at a small school in Norway. We were classmates until high school, but have kept in touch over the years despite the long distances. I still haven’t finished school, and is currently writing my master thesis in Marine Biology. My studies have brought me long distances and given me many extraordinary experiences. I studied tropical biology in Australia and arctic biology at Svalbard. Hanne asked me to share my adventure from Svalbard with you.
Some of you may not know much about Svalbard, so I will give you a short summery. First of all; everything on Svalbard is the “northernmost”. Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic about 1,5 times the size of Denmark. The main Island is called Spitsbergen and the city Longyearbyen (78° North) is headquarter. In addition to Longyearbyen, you will find the Norwegian research city Ny- Ålesund, Svea a Norwegian mining community and a Russian mining community called Barentsburg. There is about 2500 people living in Longyearbyen and approximately 40 different nationalities. There are 3 kindergartens, primary school, high school and a University Centre. 16 bars/restaurants, 4 sports shops but only 1 grocery store, which is quite expensive. There are 5000 vehicles (including snowmobiles) and only 40 km of roads in total. About 900 dogs and the number of polar bears are greater than people. There is about 4 months of polar night (total darkness) and 4 months of midnight sun each year.
I studied in Longyearbyen for 6 weeks from April – June, stayed 1 week in Svea, took a daytrip to Barentsburg and a daytrip to the East coast. Svalbard is a very different place to travel. The island has a lot of interesting history, geology, research, the international seed vault, the fastest internet connection and some different rules compared to the mainland of Norway.
We arrived around midnight and it was such a breathtaking moment! The sun was shining, no wind and about -10 degrees. The view of the fjord and mountains surrounding the city was so amazing and people was still outside doing stuff. People live in harmony with the nature at Svalbard, the harsh weather conditions, the darkness and the wild animals unite people. The people on Svalbard are friendly (they even live in harmony with the Russians). There are signs warning you about the Polar bears on the “city boarder” and the Svalbard reindeer stands outside the houses. There are almost no crimes in Longyearbyen, you can safely walk around the city at any time of the day. But you cannot walk safely outside the city without safety gear, a rifle and flare gun to protect you from polar bears. You are not allowed to walk into shops with rifles, and if you walk around the city with a gun you need to show the public clearly that it is not loaded. You will get a bad reputation if you don’t treat guns as carefully as you should. As a student, at the University Centre, I had 3 days of safety training before going out in the field. This included rifle training, driving snowmobiles, dressing properly etc.
The highlights of my adventure on Svalbard was the amazing hiking trips to the mountains surrounding Longyearbyen, the greatest of them all being when three classmates and I was standing on a mountain top called “Trollsteinen” about 850 m above sea. There are no words that can describe the view and the feeling. The struggle we went through walking up the steep hillside was forgot in a second. It was so surreal, it all look like a beautiful painting. The likelihood of meeting a wild animal while hiking or travelling on snowmobiles on the island made the whole experience more exciting. We had polar bear guards with rifle and binoculars while doing fieldwork. We came across some polar bear tracks on the seaice were we did our research. We saw many hundred seals and 2 polar bears on the ice. It was very exciting to see the polar bear. Fortunately the bears were on a safe distance, just out looking for a nice seal- meal. Being a part of the nature like you are at Svalbard makes you feel quite vulnerable. The amazing glaciers, pointy mountains, wide valleys and rich wildlife makes Svalbard a great destination. The kindness of the people and fascinating history is also a good reason for visiting.