Sunday, May 30, 2010


I've now truly experienced Svalbard.

This was the view from the roof of my school on Friday:

It was in the middle of the Fjord that we live on the shores of. The governor was a bit worried about it though- so a few hours later they tranquilized it and helecoptered it out of town.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Picture this...


Boat trip to Barentsburg (Russian Settlement)

Norwegian independence day parade

Just another evening in the barracks...

Enjoying the last of the snow on the way to Larshjettefjellet with Benny

I have 24 days left on this island. I'm trying not to dwell on leaving and am focusing on loving these last few weeks.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Glacial Hydrology (part 2)

68.7% of the world's freshwater is stored in ice at the poles and at elevation. Despite this huge reservoir of our most important natural resource, staggeringly little is known about the cryosphere and its interaction with global climate. Glaciers are effectively just ice that has accumulated over time and moves under its own weight, but they have a major impact on sea level and freshwater supply for humans. All this is just to say that understanding glacial hydrology is pretty important. In the last several years it has come to light that the predominant theory of water movement through glaciers (the Shreve model) that is the basis for effectively all studies of glacial hydrology is… less than accurate. In fact, it may be fully wrong in predicting water movement through glaciers in particularly cold regions of the world.

The term project that I'm donning here at UNIS involves sensing of meltwater channels in glaciers. I'm comparing maps of meltwater channels that were made through glaciospeleleology (ice caving!) with ground-penetrating radar data from the surface to see how good of a job the GPR does of mapping the meltwater channels. In places like Greenland where the ice sheets are huge, it is much more practical to try to map the channels from the surface, so it is important to know how good of a job GPR does at sensing the channels. I'm really excited about this work and hope to continue it in the future (I'm even talking with my professor about turning it into a masters project..).

Mapping (Photo credit: Alexis)

All done! (Photo credit: Alexis)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Cabins and the Svalbard Bubble

On Svalbard, finding a shelter in the middle of a blizzard can mean the difference between a warm night and turning into a pre-packaged frozen polar bear meal. Thankfully for us accident-prone students, this was discovered long ago, so there are a plethora of open cabins around Svalbard.

Here's how it works: someone builds a cabin (read: 4 walls and a roof, a bit of insulation, a coal stove, some bunk beds). They use it when they want, but leave it open the rest of the time for passing travelers. The only expectations: clean it when you're done and be sure to write in the guest book. The student group here at my university owns two particularly nice cabins that are perfect for weekend get-aways. It is truly splendid to be able to plan a trip into the middle of the bone-chilling arctic wilderness, knowing that a soon-warm cabin and almost-comfortable bed awaits.

The idea of sharing cabins fits right in with the 'svalbard faith' concerning everything else. Doors on houses are always left unlocked. Keys are left in cars and snowmobiles. Skis are left outside. Broken snowmobiles are miraculously found on top of the hill that they were stuck at the bottom of. Expensive outdoor equipment is loaned without the blink of an eye. We even have a free store. Think goodwill, but everything is free. The huge fluffy (almost brand-new) down coat that I live in up here was found there, as were most of my wool socks. The generosity, caring, and faith in one another that is found here is unparalleled by anything I've seen elsewhere in the world. I'm going to miss it dearly.

Student- owned Svea Cabin

One of my favorite cabins near Pyramiden

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Apologies for my long silence. A week ago my computer started flashing this symbol:
instead of working properly. I’m told that my hard drive is shot and my data is lost… including the 5,000+ pictures I’ve taken here on Svalbard and two half-completed term projects. I remain convinced that if I pay the right person the right amount of money they’ll be able to recover the pictures. Right? Morale of this story: back up your computer. A lesson I’m learning the VERY hard way. New computer is on its way though, so I should be able to share more pictures once it arrives.

The Volcano that is disrupting the rest of the world did not spare Svalbard. We’ve been without milk, eggs, yogurt, produce, and meat for a week now (crackers and peanut butter for breakfast, anyone?) The volcano is non-discriminatory in its cancelling of flights: everyone from visiting mothers to David Attenborough is stuck on the island. No seriously, he is. I have a new favorite teacher-excuse for cancelling class: “BBC wants to interview me.”

Beyond adventures with computers and volcanoes I’ve been filling my time with lots of coursework and skiing (as per usual). This weekend found me hunched over underneath a glacier installing pressure sensors in meltwater. Rieperbreen is by far the most challenging ice-cave I’ve worked in so far… very technical climbing involved. One section was so tight that I almost didn’t fit through it (and my professor didn’t at all). Installing rock bolts by hand (rock hammer and screw, whee!), a dying headlamp, one broken crampon, and no knee-pads made it even more of an adventure, but one I’m likely to repeat in the future. I am beyond excited about studying glaciers.

Plans beyond Svalbard have finally been solidified: I’ll be spending the coming summer in Washington DC doing a geoscience public policy internship with the American Geologic Institute. I’m not quite sure how I got selected for this awesome internship, but I’m looking forward to learning more about how geoscientists and lawmakers interact on the hill!! Check it out:

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Colored eggs and golf balls

Easter has always been one of my favorite holidays. Our family traditions involve lots of candy, egg-coloring, and poker. It's a good combination. I was a bit blue about missing my first easter at home, so one of my hall-mates and I organized a big Svalbard-style easter brunch. I taught the Norwegians how to dye eggs the American way and we had a grand time. The day itself was spent thoroughly exploring our local ice-cave, and in the evening I enjoyed (!!) my first-ever steak. My inner vegetarian is dying on this trip.

p.s. there are 6 nationalities in this picture alone

A couple of days after Easter, class started again with a fieldtrip to SvalSat, a collection of monstrous golf-balls on a rather large plateau above town. This is where organizations like NASA and NOAA communicate with their satellites. It makes sense to have a ground station like this on Svalbard because we're far enough north that polar-orbiting satellites (those that travel over the pole with each pass) are able to communicate with the station on every orbit around the earth. In contrast, a station at the equator would only be able to communicate with the same satellite on 1 out of every 14 orbits.

I'd like take a moment to thank SvalSat for existing-- without whom I would not be able to update this blog. The 890 miles of undersea fiber optic cables that are currently supplying me with high-speed internet were installed for SvalSat, and 1/4 of our bandwidth is reserved for uploading and downloading satellite data.

I was able to take pictures outside the facility, but security was much tighter inside. Inside the huge round ball is a rather impressive satellite dish.

Other good news-- 4 washes later and I now have a functioning sleeping bag! The rest of my gear still has a bit of an eau-du-gasoline, but nothing unbearable.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Recipe for Disaster

10 L Gasoline
1 leaky jerry can
1 sled with bad suspension
1 fast driver
120 km of rough terrain
1 large bag full of arctic survival gear (read: food, tent, sleeping bag, all of my warm technical clothing)

Mix. Best served at -25C and a 1-day drive away from 'civilization.'

Trying to dry a gasoline-soaked sleeping bag in arctic gale-force winds.

In other news, it's spring break! I've got a 3-week break in which to explore this beautiful island. The last two weekends have found me taking long snowmobile trips, while the weeks have been spent exploring local glaciers on skis (and yes, doing schoolwork too. It's not ALL fun and games up here).

Both weekends have involved exploring the area northeast of Longyearbyen: Templefjorden, Billefjorden, Pyramiden, and Tarantela. Pyramiden is an abandoned Russian mining town. Before 1998 it was a thriving coal-town of 1000+, but on January 10th 1998 it was abandoned virtually overnight without informing the local government or any of the surrounding communities. It is still unknown why the Russians left in such a hurry. Today there are 2 caretakers that 'ensure' that tourists don't get into any mischief (they don't do a very good job). What is left now is a virtually intact town that is perfect for exploring while singing creepy horror-movie tunes.

Ghost town

Unfortunately for me was the cooking of the 'Disaster' previously mentioned. I arrived in Billefjorden with gas soaked gear and food bags. Thankfully my friends were well prepared with extra food, and I kept warm enough at night by dressing like the Michelin Man in their extra clothes. I'm now feverishly researching methods of cleaning gas from down so that my sleeping bag and warm clothes survive the adventure. Anyone have any good tips? Till they're clean I'm stuck inside. My coursework and to-do list will probably thank that silly leaky jerrycan.

The highlight of the trips has been visiting two calving glacier fronts. When a glacier or ice sheet enters the ocean (or a lake) it fractures and large chunks of ice are able to fall into the ocean. This is a natural process that has been occurring for millennia, though rates of calving along some glaciers and ice sheets are accelerating (perhaps due to climate change). Calving fronts aren't the safest place to hang out and sight-see, but my inner glaciologist was dying for a close-up look. Right at the base of the glacier we found polar bear tracks!

This is why I want to be a glaciologist.

And this is why we carry rifles everywhere!


Ice crystals in the air!

We love Svalbard (countries represented: US, Sweden, Denmark, Germany)

Happy and tired after a long day of driving