søndag 22. mars 2009

The coal mine in Svea

The Norwegian coal company on Svalbard, Store Norske Spitsbergen kullkompani, has only two mines running today. Mine 7 near Longyearbyen only produces coal for our local power plant, while the coal mine in Svea exports the coal to Europe. Last Friday I went with half my biology class (the other half went on Thursday) to Svea. We took a small plane across the mountains, and after about 20 minutes we arrived in Svea. First we got a tour of the area and learned how they transport the coal from the mine to where the ships can dock. After lunch we also got to drive into the mine, walk around and see the machines at work.

lørdag 21. mars 2009

Ta sjansen, Platåfjellet and moraine cave

Here comes a short summary of the past two weeks and some pictures. A friend of mine from Trondheim came to visit me for a week. We had fantastic weather last weekend and I got to see the sun on my way to school for the first time. Last Saturday was the last day of Solfestuka, the Sun week celebrating the return of the sun. A lot of people from Longyearbyen went across the valley to Hiorthhamn to see Ta sjansen, where 18 "sleds" competed against each other on being the fastest and most original.

This past week we have been on several day trips in the area, but a trip to the student cabin in Bjørndalen was cancelled when we woke up to a strong wind and snow, and we could not even see the mountains on the other side of the valley. We were in the moraine cave and took a trip over Platåfjellet to the rifle range to practise with my rifle. Unfortunately, we didn't know that the door was open, but frozen to the ground, so we assumed it was closed, and did not get to practise. On our way over Platåfjellet we went by Svalsat, one of the worlds most important satellite stations giving data to NASA, among others.

tirsdag 10. mars 2009

Mom on visit

This weekend my mom came to visit me. She arrived on Thursday and stayed till Sunday. On Thursday evening a filmmaker called Jason Roberts showed a program in a new BBC series called Nature's great events at UNIS. The program he showed was called The great melt and was about the big shift in Arctic areas from cold winter to summer, and the great changes in wildlife following the snow melt. A lot of the filming was done on Svalbard, and the pictures were really spectacular. It was even more special when I could recognize some of the scenery and animals. Usually nature programs show nature and wildlife that I have never seen and therefore seem so remote.

The next day we hiked up on Longyearbreen, the only place where there was some blue sky among the fog and low clouds. On our way back to town we heard a bark, and soon realized it was not a dog, but an arctic fox, maybe calling for a mate. It was running high up in the mountain, but I managed to get some pictures.

On Saturday we were picked up at the hotel in the morning and driven to the end of the road in Adventdalen, for a dog sled trip. We were met by over 30 alaskan huskies eager to get out and start pulling. By the time we had put the harnesses on all the dogs and put the right dogs in the right places in front of the sleds, most of the dogs were howling, barking, trying to start pulling and rolling around on the ground. It seemed like we had gotten the most restless dogs. While some of the other dogs were even lying down, ours were jumping around, and one was even yelling like a hyena. Finally we got started, with mom comfortably in the sled and me steering behind. It was wonderful to start the dogs and hear the sudden stillness, only the sound of the sled and the running dogs. We were six tourists on three sleds, and a guide at the front. The trip went into a side valley of Adventdalen called Bolterdalen. In the beginning we had just low clouds and got a fairly good view of the valley, but on the way back it started snowing and we could not see much. During the trip we changed places, and both got to try sitting in the sled and steering. The dogs were mostly eager to run, and as soon as we stopped they started barking again. We had to stand on the break and dig it into the snow to stop them from starting before we were ready. After one to two hours we got back to the dog yard and got the dogs back to their houses.

On Sunday we tried to get into the moraine cave by Nybyen, but the entrance was completely snowed over, and would probably have taken at least half an hour to dig out. On our way up we heard a fox barking again, probably the same as on Friday. It took some time to distinguish it from the white snow, but we managed to get some pictures before it disappeared.

Longyearbyen has just over 2000 inhabitants, 40 000 visitors each year and three gourmet restaurants. Staffan and I had dinner at one of them (Huset), which is one of Norway's best, when celebrating his birthday, and mom and I had dinners at the other two! We have tasted deer, a delicious chocolate cake with all sorts of tropical fruits, Arctic char (the only freshwater fish on Svalbard), lemon pie and white chololate mousse. I also got to eat breakfast at the hotel, where they had everything you could wish for for breakfast. It was really nice to be treated to such good food and get a break from the food I usually eat here, where everything good is so expensive.

mandag 2. mars 2009

Tent trip to Bjørndalen

This Saturday two friends of mine and I took a taxi to Bjørndalen and went skiing south through the valley. We stayed just one night and went back the same way on Sunday. We were very lucky with the weather. Closer to Longyearbyen it was blowing and -20 degrees, but we were protected from the wind down in the valley, so -20 did not feel near as cold as it could have. On our way out on Saturday we passed a herd of reindeer grazing as they are doing continually now in winter to get enough food. It is amazing how they can survive on some frozen lichens and dead grass through the harsh winter. I really got to try out my (or rather, Staffan's and my) new lens (100-400mm). One great advantage with a good telelens is that you don't have to get as close to the animals and disturb them to get good pictures. They were maybe 50 m from us and didn't seem to mind us even though we ate our lunch there. Quite often there is not enough food in the winter for them and many die, so it is important not to disturb them and make them use more energy on moving than they have to.

We did not go very far before we set up camp so that we would have lots of time to put up the trip wire fence (with signal shots to warn us of polar bears) and get the camp up before it got dark. It takes some time to get used to some new routines up here like carrying a rifle and putting up trip wire around camp, so it was good to use this trip as a learning experience for longer trips in the future. To put up the trip wire we set four of our skies some meters from the tent so they made a rectangle. Then we put a signal shot on each ski and connected them all with a wire. If a polar bear goes towards the tent and tries to get past the wire, the wire is tightened and a pin going out from the signal shot triggers a shot going straight up. That will scare the polar bear away, most likely for good, but if not it at least gives us enough time to get our signal pens and firing at it, and grabbing the rifle lying ready right outside the tent.

We did not see any polar bears on this trip, and it is not very common so close to Longyearbyen, but does happen once in a while. It would be very nice to see one some day, but hopefully at a safe distance and in good visibility. The next day we took an easy morning, packed down the camp and went back the same way. When we got to the fjord we even got to see the sun, glowing a deep red and coloring the ice and water and mountains around us. I think that was the best view I have ever had during lunch!