Off to Spitsbergen!
door Nicole Miedema, maandag 11 juli 2011 21:48
Sooo, many of you are still wondering about what I am doing up here in the cold: 2 months ago I talked to my uncle, who is a biologist and spent his last 22 summers up in Ny-Alesund on Spitsbergen, about how I needed to find a project to write my bachelor thesis on. It soon turned out there was a need for research on tourism in Ny-Alesund. 1 month later my projectplan was written and approved and now I'm up here! Ny-Alesund is a small village on 79 degrees north, which makes it the northernmost village of the world. The village used to be a mining village, but after it was abandoned scientist found out it would be a great place for research on several subjects such as Arctic flora and fauna, the climatechange and so on.. In the winter this place is covered in snow and darkness for 4 months, when the sun comes back you can spot the polarlights and in the summertime this sun doesn't go down for 4 months. In the summertime there are about 30 people still living here but now that it's light the scientists come out here and there are about 120 people staying in town right now. 11 different countries have an arctic station here. Kingsbay is a Norwegian company that runs the town. There is a schedule for breakfast, lunch and dinnertime; everyone comes together to eat at the Messe. You can even go there for a midnightsnack :) Every year about 30.000 tourists visits this small town. There are even boats that land 3000 tourists at 1 time! The place is packed then and the tourists are like grasshoppers all over the place. Stepping on the tundra, disturbing animals, getting in the way of scientific research instruments. Still everyone would rather have the tourists here then out in the wild because there they will destroy even more, also the tourisit bring money to the place which then can be used for science again. My task is to find a way to minimize the tourist impact.
Rock Werchter weekend was amazing, many great artists and interesting poeple! About 4 hours after I came home I had to leave to Amsterdam to start my trip to the Arctic. My uncle dropped me off way early in the morning and at 11 I was already at my hostel in the heart of Copenhagen city. Met some guys on the flight so met up with them in town and had an awesome sunny summerday. On my b-day I got to wake up at 4.30, yay! Copenhagen-Oslo-Tromso-Longyearbyen; 3 flights later I was on Spitsbergen. Decided that I should do a festival weekend before my flights because I slept through all of them :) Acutally pretty cool to land several times because I got to see some really cool scenery on the way like the huge forests around Oslo and the Fjord at Tromso. Longyearbyen is not really interesting unless you take an excursion from there probably. Had a walk around but spent the evening at the hostel. Had a great time with my roommate, a tour guide from prague - met his rifle before I met him so was hoping i'd get along with him ;) His rifle is actually from WWII and still has nazi-symbols imprinted in it. Anywayss next day I got to get up early again, time for my local flight from Longyearbyen to Ny-Alesund. Had to be at the airport at 10 am, my uncle explained to me how I had to enter a few doors with absolutely no signs on them before I came into the area where I had make notice that I had arrived. What I found was a huge garage with an small airplane in it and a cocky pilot saying my flight was cancelled and then running off. Okay. After I found someone who was kind enough to borrow me her phone I called Kingsbay and they told me they hadn't cancelled anything yet, I should just wait. Back at the weird-boarding-place I just tried some doors and eventually found some people. None of them seemed to be flying anywhere though. The flight ended up getting cancelled due to bad weather conditions. I soon fell asleep on the couch in the waiting area and was still the only one there. Turned out I would have been the only person on that flight anyway. 4 hours later people showed up, they had the afternoon flight which I had also been booked on by now. Two of them were Dutch and heading to Ny-Alesund to visit the Dutch Arctic Station. Our bags were weighed and loaded on to the airplane. We just got to wait right there in the garage were it all happened. No security check, passport or whatever, I guess it wouldn't really be interesting for terrorists up here anyway. Outside the building we got on the plane which fit 12 persons. Too low to stand up straight and just enough room to squeeze yourself in between the chairs on either side of the plane. Sat in front and had a great look into the cockpit all flight long. I thought the flight was gonna be quite a bumpy ride because of the cloudes but it was so steady and chill! I might actually like flying after that trip! :) The weather was really cloudy but every now and then I got to spot some glacier ice beneath us, it's already beautiful! 45 min. later we landed in Ny-Alesund and I soon met my uncle. Got to drop off my bag at the house and meet my roommates; 3 dutch girls that all do research on Barnacle geese. Our house is called London 3; on the island across the fjord there used to be a mining site and after it was abandoned they took these houses from there and placed them here in the town. There are 4 of these 'London' houses standing next to each other and it's the base of Netherlands Arctic Station here in Ny-Alesund. When you come into the front door it's like you go from the freezer to the fridge and when you pass the next door it's warm enough. There are 2 rooms and a kitchen downstrairs (however we don't have running water) and a small ladder leads upstairs to where the bedrooms are. Both just high enough in the middle to stand up straigt. We use the showers in another station and brush my teeth at the museum, haha. It's like camping. The house is so cute!
13 juli 2011 14:08
After I dropped my backpack at the house it was time for dinner. When I entered the Messe I was really surprised, it's so modern and new, could be anywhere in the world really. Only difference is that we look out on some glaciers, birds, reindeer, big chucks of ice floating by on the river during meals :) Anyway all meals are like a small buffet and the food is goood! Later that night me and the other 2 guests (Ministry of Education) got a tour around the village. Got some insight on various scientific projects done here. Most of the researches now are based on climate change but there's a huge range of variety on subjects: atmospherical, troposphere, ozone, glaciology, permafrost, sea ice, birds, plants, sharks, reindeer, sea weed, plankton, fish, seals, satellite, outerspace, contamination, history, archeology and.....tourism, haha. There are still quite a few buildings that go back to the mining time. For example, the old barn where they used to stock thedry products like flower etc. is now our bar. It's open on wednesdays and saturdays for people living in the village only. Tourists tend to get quite jealous of that at times but then again there are usually no touristboats when the bar is open. The windows are covered so it's a bit dark inside the bar and it's the strangest feeling to come out the bar in the middle of the night, see the bright light and be reminded that the sun doesn't set. Same goes for when I wake up, instead on turning on the light, I just open the curtains and get blinded by the light, haha. Oh yeah, back to the buildings, there used to be a hospital here but it's used as storage now, they found many instruments there after the miners had left, most of them were amputation instruments. The villa that Amundsen stayed in is being renovated and the owner of Kings Bay lives there now. Some long term villagers that live here in wintertime as well have sledge dogs. They are fed once a day with burned seal, which the owners catch and kill themselves. Now that there is no snow the dogs are trained by lining them up in front of a truck and having them pull the truck on to a hill. It's an amazing way of transport. Once a week on tuesday one of the scientists have a lecture on whatever they are doing here or just anything interesting, yesterday a man did a lecture on dog sledging. It was an amazing story about how he traveled the antarctic by dog slegde, facing temperatures of -48 degrees. At these temperatures they could only stop for 5 minutes every hour and the dogs would lie down on their back with their paws in the air because their paws got so cold. The seals that they caught for feeding the dogs were frozen and they had to chop them up with a chain saw. It took the dogs 2 days to chew the big chucks of seal down because it was so frozen. He's a great storyteller and really funny, definitely one of the best lectures I've ever seen. Okay back to the tour through the village, we also entered the building that used to house the coal-stone seperation factory but is now an abandoned ghost house with holes in the floor and covered in darkness because the windows are covered. Later during the walk we got acquainted with the arctic terns (birds) which are quite serious about protecting their nest at this time of the year. If you come too close they start to attack or airbomb you while they make a noise similar to that of a mitrailleur. Some people hold their hand in the air to keep them off, they end up having quite some wounds on their hands. Love those birds already, quite funny to see the tourists struggle with it. You can acutally spot some animals if you just follow the attacking terns; the other nights we spotted a polar fox that way. The fox used to nest under our house for the last 3 years but hadn't returned this year until we spotted it having some fastfood (there are many chicks right now) in town. The next day the first tourists boat arrived early in the morning and I had a go with my survey and observation skills. Straight away found some points that could use some work, so that's good. In the afternoon, Maarten took us (the 2 guests) for a walk through the tundra to the mining site where it kinda looks like a bomb exploded really but it's historical so noone touches it. Can still see the old traintrack going through town. I can't just go on a walk outside town by myself because you are not allowed to go anywhere without a loaded gun to defend yourself from polar bears. Everyone that stays in the village for a longer periode of time gets a shooting course though. I've already gotten used to the fact that many people walk around with a gun (which by the way isn't loaded when they're in the village). On saturday the weather was great! Blue skies and sun, it makes this place even more beautiful. We went on a trip to the island across from the village. First of all we needed to pack food and tea in case the weather would change and noone would be able to pick us up again. Then we got a small lecture on safety, how to use the portofoon, the rifle, the pop gun thingy etc. On the boat we were gonna have to wear drysuits, had alot of fun with those, it kind of looks like a person and you have to carry it by putting it over your shoulders so it would look like we all carried a corpse or something. On the harbour we had to get them on, which was quite a task cause the boots are attached to the suits and when you've managed to get it on and close it you just feel like a huge clumsy robot :) Wojtek took us out there on the sort of speedboat, it was a beautfiful ride and halfway down the river we had to pass through a stream of bigh chunks of ice, which was just awesome! On the island you enter a mining site, you can see the fundament of our houses with only a stove with teapots on it, a bit rusty and covered in bulletholes but other than that completely intact. Machines still standing there as if the miners left in the middle of a working day, it's a pretty strange sight. We started walking towards the west, where we evenentually stumbeled upon really beautifull beachy spots that you could find in the mediterrean, only there you wouldn't have to wear a jacket and carry a gun. Had a sip from the fresh melting water coming from the mountains. Just before the boat arrived we put on our drysuit again to have a swim in them, or a float is probably a better way to put it. In these suits you can float and therefore survive for 24 hours (okay that is if there is no hungry polar bear fishing for floating people). Back on the boat we went around the island and visited some caves, which was really cool. The ride continued in the direction of the Blomstrandbreen (glacier) with on the way beautiful big mountains of bright blue ice in all kinds of shapes drifting by and a curious seal following us. As we went on I started to realize how big this very glacier was, it look quite low and flat from a distance but turned out to be about 40 m. high and really pointy pieces of ice. The cool thing is that is was actually growing so the ice was leaning towards the water instead of backwards as it would do if it was decreasing. Really impressive and one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen! Sunday we all had an off day and went on a hike to the southeast in the direction of Kongsbreen (kingsglacier) that you can see everyday as if it was really close to the village but in reality it's 12 km. from Ny-Alesund. The girls with whom I share the house also came along, so we had a great time. Weather was quite bad, on the way we had to pass several rivers of melting ice which was quite a challenge at times but brought out the child in all of us as we were jumping over the icecold water en were trying to find the best spots to cross it :) Was fun! At some point 2 people didn't manage to cross but luckily Maarten had boots on and eventually maneged to get them across by carrying them, that was really funny! Maarten with a grown man on his back making his was across.. We were so busy crossing the rivers that we didn't notice it had started raining pretty hard and that's how we got to test out equipment and some of us including myself found out their outfit wasn't very arctic-storm-proof. 4 km on the way there was a hut standing in the middle of nowhere. Apparently they have this all over Norway, it's a hut that everyone can use if they pass by and want to take a break or have to hide from the weather etc. It was really cosy and really like a home. Had ourselfs a nice and warm break in there and we fried the gloves on the fireplace we went out into the drizzle again. The walk continued and we had to pass a small ravine and all and a few hours later got the place that we were apparently heading for. There was a cliff in which hundreds of birds were nesting (kittiwakes). Under the cliff it's supergreen because of all the birdshit. We walked up the cliff over all kinds of bird rubbish, I don't even know what it was. Passing eggshells and dead pieces of bird until we were right next to the lowest nests and got to watch the birdlife from up close. All the time birds were flying over, making all sorts of weird noises. I'm not even a birdlover in particular but this was so special! Back down the beach was covered in icechunks which looked really beautiful. We climbed up the hill and started making our way back to town over kilometers of moraines that the glaciers had brought there, creating a hilly, outerspace kindof landscape. Every now and then we had to pass a river, at times via a big piece of snow. In that case on of us had to go and try wether the snow wouldn't break if we walked over because often the river had made it's way under the pile of snow creating sort of a snowbrigde. Unwittingly I thought we should hurry because we wouldn't want to be out here when it got dark but then I remembered it doesn't get dark at all so we didn't have to take that into account at all. On the way back the rain had made the river rise just a bit which made us have to walk past the river quite a bit before we found a way where we could cross and continue our journey. 9 hours later we arrived back in the village after yet an awesome day on Spitsbergen!