onsdag 28. april 2010

Fieldtrip turned into arctic adventure

Monday morning a half of my class, 2 teachers and 3 PhD-students started our trip to Billefjorden. We got a late start, it took quite a while to pack all the equipment we needed. When we finally started, the nice weather that appeared early in the morning had been changed with more clouds and wind. But we managed to get to Billefjorden without any major problems, and started to put up our camp. Since some of the samples we wanted was going to be collected at midnight, we were spending the night on the sea ice.

While some started to put up the tent, I started to help with one of the holes we needed to make. We used and ice-drill to get through the ice, and then an ice-saw to cut out pieces and make a bigger whole. Thankfully, the ice-drill had an motor, the saw we had to use our own strength on. We were supposed to make two holes, one small one for a high-technology LCT-device (Light, conductivity, temperature), and then a bigger hole for sampling nets to collect copepods (Calanus sp.), zooplankton and phytoplankton. The ice was a little bit thicker than we expected, so I was working a lot with he ice saw before I got the deepest ice-layer loose. When I finally got it, we were surprised to find ice-algae on the bottom, because it`s too early in the season for them!

Then we started on the bigger hole, but during start of it someone dropped the ice saw! There was not much we could do, except to try to get a new one... Our teachers drove over to the "abandoned" Russian village Pyramiden, to check if they had one. (It was abandoned, until a few Russians came back and started to fix the hotel). They did not have any ice-saw. Though, this might be a question of translation issues, the Russians apparently thought we asked for permission for making a hole in the ice...

On their way back, the spotted a polar bear! So everyone where searching the horizon to try to see it! All of us, except the grown-ups, where quite excited. especially since most of us hadn`t seen a polar bear yet! But even with binoculars we did not see it. It probably went away from the sound of the snow scooters.

We tried to get a hold on the boat in Tempelfjorden, to see if they had an ice saw. Then a few of us could drive over and get it. But as bad luck continued, they did not have one, and we were left with only one option: To get someone from Unis to bring the ice-saw, and meet us half way. I volunteered to drive with the teacher and PhD-student that where going, because I did not feel any tired, and I was confident to drive the way back without much difficulties. As we got on our way, our vission got poorer and poorer. Even though quite close to the one in front of me, there where long periods where I almost couldn`t spot him! Luckily I have been driving the same route before, and I have quite good memory from places I´ve been, so a often new what kind of slopes was in front of me. There was heavy wind and a lot of snow, so not only our view was bad, but it was also more difficult to drive in the newly formed layer of powder snow, especially in slopes! But we got all the way to Tempelfjorden and Fredheim without any problems, and entering Eskerdalen we finally met the guys bringing the ice-saws (2, to be sure). We had been driving about 1 and a half hour in bad conditions, and now we had to turn and go back. The vision had shifted a little during the time we used, so some places we got better view and some even worse. It was getting late too, but that`s not really a problem when you have midnight sun. What actually is a problem is when it got cloudy and we got flat light, not being able to see contours in the snow or differences in slopes! Adding the still fresh powder, it was quite a challenge to drive! But all three of us managed without getting stuck or capsizing, not even in the hatred slope-and-turn after Tempelfjorden.

We finally arrived back at the camp. I even got a comment from the teacher I was driving with, that I was a good driver! (And as I understood on some classmates, this teacher does not give compliments often!) And even though it had been a tricky trip, it was an awesome experience! The rest of the group had been resting while we collected the equipment, now it was our turn to rest as they started to work on the big hole. But I had just got into my sleeping bag, when a friend came and told me that there was a polar bear outside! It was huge! Even though it was quite far away (on safe distance, luckily), I could still see the big animal! It was between us and Pyramiden, and it was going along a line, watching us, being very curious on us being there. It was really cool to watch it through the binoculars, it was beautiful! I tried to make pictures of it, but it was too far away to clearly see it. After walking and watching us, it laid down on the ice and stayed there. Then I went to sleep, and since I had joined the group that picked up the ice-saws, I did not have to wake up during the night to be polar bear-guard!

The next morning we started sampling, both making water samples, ice-core samples and collecting plankton. As it was becoming afternoon, and we started packing our stuff, the bad weather from last night was catching up on us! In the beginning we could not see the glacier that was the beginning of our way home (and mind you, it is a HUGE glacier!), but we could still see Pyramiden (on the opposite side). After everything was packed, we could not even see Pyramiden! We followed a GPS, keeping closely together while driving to Pyramiden. The Russians that stay there was kind enough to let us stay in the Bar-area inside the hotel., The bar was closed, but we could stay there and keep warm and eat our own food, and wait for better weather and get the weather forecast from Longyearbyen by satellite phone. After some food, our teachers told us that we would probably stay there for some hours, so we could get our sleeping bags and mats and go to sleep. Brilliant idea, we were all exhausted!

Not too many can say that they had to seek shelter in an abandoned, Russian village due to bad weather in the Arctic. And now I have slept at 2 Russian hotels up here!

During the evening, the weather got good enough for us to start our way home. It was really windy! And there was a lot of snow-collections that was difficult to see, so it was a really rough ride! Several places along our way, scooters got stuck. Then there´s no other choice than start digging! On one occasion, several scooters got stuck, in such big snow-layers that it took a long time to get them out! It was really difficult to drive! After getting down to Tempelfjorden, we had crossed the most difficult part, and it was more flat. We had a short rest at Fredheim, which is about half way, before we went all the way home. It felt like ages! We finally reached Longyearbyen and Unis at about 02.00/ 2.00 am, and then we had to unpack the equipment, and wash the gear that had been into the salt water. We were all pretty dead at that time...

Today we had to work with the samples we collected, and being exhausted, it`s not really easy to stay awake waiting for some filtering or picking up tiny copepods to registrate them... But it was a really cool field trip, and an awesome adventure!

Oh, btw, the last 2 nights there has been polar bears in town! Sysselmannen/Governor of Svalbard had to chase them out!

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