Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Day 241: Neighborhood #2

I'd like to list a few things I find awesome/fascinating about this place.

1) You are encouraged, nay, required to eat chocolate. Not as a treat, but as a survival mechanism. The sugars keep you warm. Also, they put a sort of chocolate frosting spread on bread, like most Americans use butter. For breakfast.

2) You're more likely to be attacked by a polar bear than robbed. Admittedly, the threat of being attacked by a polar bear is relatively high here, but this place is ridiculously safe otherwise. Someone I know in town lost their jacket and wallet. The next day they found the jacket and everything else on their kitchen table - someone had come into their house (of course the door was unlocked, no one here locks anything) and returned everything, nothing missing.

3) You know exactly who the tourists are, because they're the people you don't recognize in the store. See #2: you know where everyone lives.

Speaking of the store, if you want to see some photos of our one and only provide-all supermarket, here's Svalbardbutikken (click on the links near each photo for real photos). Fancy! Bankruptingly expensive!

4) Everyone is an adventurous, outdoorsy, independent spirit surviving in the high north while simultaneously being part of a space-and-time-bending gossip network. You know stories about people you've never even seen.

5) You wear the same clothes every day. No one cares.

6) My internet thinks I live in Tromso, due to our insane submarine fiber-optic cable connection to the mainland.

7) They put cucumbers in "Mexican" food. No.

8) The sled dogs probably won't kill you, unlike most Canadian and Greenlandic sled dogs, which definitely will.


Last week (or so...) my friend Christiane volunteered for a day to take over a friend's job feeding some else's sled dogs. She invited me along so we could have fun running them around and remember what its like to have pets and animals you're allowed to touch.

The kennels:

We had to feed four dogs, two males and two females, all of whose names I've forgotten. After they were done we were going to take them out and run them around the yard. These animals are ridiculously strong and full of energy. And poop. Which we would also clean up later.

Preparing food:

Other food options, for other dogs:

Hunting is legal here with a license for certain species within certain areas. Seals make great dog food. The kennels are run sort of like a barn - people can rent spaces for their dogs to stay. Svalbard is fairly strict about animal control, in terms of introduced species. The dogs around here aren't allowed free rein. In the past, there have been problems with packs of dogs forming and hunting reindeer and causing significant havoc. Actually, around here cats are considered more dangerous than dogs. Cats are completely illegal on Svalbard, for any purpose. Apparently they destroy some of the local bird and small-mammal populations if they get loose. So there's very few pets in Svalbard, and its been a long time since I've seen a cat.

Here's a bunch of photos of Christiane and I playing with the dogs:



All in all...thanks Christiane for a super time! Sometimes I forget how much I miss having pets (I had about a million at home).

In more recent news, crazy weather continues. The temperature has dropped again for a few more weeks it looks like, and we've had a LOT of snowfall recently - which I here is quite bizarre for this time of year, especially since one would not expect to see such precipitation in an Arctic desert.

Here's some beautiful snow swirls in some powerful winds, that really has to be seen to be properly appreciated - the flying snow looks like a river:

Life has been busy and stressful recently. Partially this is because of an increase in work after our monthly sampling, which is starting to calm down. Next week is spring break for UNIS, which hadn't really occured to me, since technically every day is spring break in my life!

Mikko and Henrik waiting for our boat to start before sampling:

Its not so often that I actually get cold out here, but that was one of the most painfully cold experiences I've had here. Not that it was all that cold that day, but the boots on those suits are atrocious and my feet froze.

Last little brother is coming to visit! I am unspeakably excited about this. Probably everyone here already knows that, since I bring it up about every five minutes.

Little is a relative term.

That was taken the last time I saw him in July...a few days before I left for the Arctic.

Oh California.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Day 238: Nemesis

This weekend we had our first major thaw, marking the true beginning of spring.

I hate it.

May I introduce The Icy Death, or, The Road Outside. Completely impossible to traverse in a cast, equally frustrating by scooter.

It rained on Friday and Saturday. Rained! Coupled with the strongest winds I've seen here (up to 22m/s - 40 mph) within a few hours we had entire exposed hillsides and massive human-eating potholes in the snow. The road turned into a river. The disappearing snow, as it turns out, revealed a landscape where previously safe pathways literally sent people up to their chests in slush. Driving the snowmobile got considerably more adventurous - zero grip on icy patches, and skidoo-like sprays through unavoidable ponds. (Apparently, my scooter can hit a foot of water at 50 km/h and make it out.)

The next day, we had a snow storm coupled with strong winds for a nice total whiteout. The temperature's dropped back down now, so things are turning into solid ice. I seriously dislike ice. I'm not built for ice. I loved the cold and snow, but this whole icy-melting thing, not so much...oh yah, and it looks like avalanche season is here (or more than usual, I guess, since its always here).

But back to happier, colder days...last week I took a short trip through Adventfjorden with my Finnish buddy Teemu.

Heading east up the fjord:

Mine 7, one of the few coal mines still running around here:

Mountains I can't climb:

One of our goals for this trip was to visit a monument for a Russian plane that crashed in Adventfjorden. In 1996, a Russian airplane filled with coal miners and their families hit the mountain Operafjellet, killing all 141 people onboard. Coupled with other economic problems, this disaster was part of what lead to the abandonment of Pyramiden, a Russian coal-mining settlement similar to Barentsburg, in 1998. The crash appeared to be due to a maneuvering error by the pilot. The crash is the worst plane accident in Norwegain history (read more here and here).

It is a simple, if chilling, monument.

The view and my tough little scooter which hauled two gigantic people up this rocky hill:

While we were walking around the area, I was estatically treated to the sight of four white ptarmigans - perhaps not so rare to see this time of year in this area, but certainly something I had been looking for and had never seen before.

Can you spot them all?

Heading back west out of the fjord, we swung to the north side of the bay to go around the north-west point of Advetnfjorden (Revneset). The view directly across from Longyearbyen:

Approaching the point - some old coal miner's cabins and other random - mostly abandoned - buildings:

As it turns out, once you round the point, there's no where else to go via scooter. So we had a bit of a snack and took some photos.

In extremely bizarre coincidence, it turned out that the professor I work for had decided to return from the field work in Rijpfjorden a few days early due to bad weather forecasts. While we were out at the point, we saw his helicopter approaching the Longyearbyen airport.

This place is so small that I was able to correctly guess that the helicopter was coming from Rijpfjorden and most likely contained the people from my lab. Not a lot of helicopter activity around here that doesn't involve someone you probably know.

Finally: I recently realized that I've become so desensitized to reindeer that I haven't even posted any photos of them. They're everywhere. The middle of the road. The middle of town. The airport. They're like funny cows.'s some reindeer casually walking away from my scooter.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Day 234: Clips and Phrases

The professor I work for recently returned from Rijpfjorden with the rest of the team, so this week has been a bit busy. We went out in the local fjord again this week for the Adventdalen sampling - lots of things to filter and sort.

Today all of the students here for the short-term course left, signficantly freeing up my dorm building and once again driving home the temporary nature of everything in my life. Ah well.

Here's some photos of the areas I frequently drive around to get to UNIS or for work or whatever.

Scooter road to Longyearbyen through the river bed:

Looking back at Nybyen:

The 20 layers:

Lompen center (shopping center):

Driving out to the coal cleaning/transport center:

The old transport line out to all the old mines that ran until the 1980's, I believe:

The horses that live out by the airport on the outskirts of town - honestly, I'm surprised they do ok out here, but I guess that's explained by the ton of hair (I have a horse at home, for those that don't know me, and she the exact opposite of these ponies).

View across the fjord at the scattering of cabins and old coal miner's buildings:

And heading back home:

That about wraps it up. I'm at a bit of a loss for words today.

Ah yes, check out some of the photos posted at ArcticNet under "New Photos" to see some of my work (0164-0160, 0149).

Also, for an epic tale of the field time in Rijpfjorden, read Mikko's contribution to the student IPY blog. Trust me, its worth keeping up with - he'll install one part a week over the next three weeks, and next week's episode should be thrilling (I had a sneak-read of the whole thing).