torsdag 30. august 2007

Frozen family finally finds fossils!

(Not really that frozen... the weather was actually quite mild, 5-6 degrees, and very little wind. But it sounded good, so there.)

Our second attempt was successful, we managed to get up on the Longyear glacier - and found loads of fossils too. We carried home several kilos!

Longyearbyen as seen from Longyearbreen.

And the view upvalley.

The fossils are scattered along the glacier, in stone heaps such as these, shuffled around by ice and mud.


... and leaves.

These aren´t very old, in geological terms. Only 40 million years, and from a time when Svalbard enjoyed a climate much hotter than today. Nearly all the fossils around here are from plant material - but as most of you probably know, other, even more famous, fabulous, fantastic fossils have been found on Svalbard recently. Check here, here and here.

But we enjoyed the hunt, in all modesty - and the hike too, maybe one of our last before the snow settles. Last night, around midnight, it looked like this:

It still is white out there. Thomas asked this morning whether this means that christmas is soon. Nope.

mandag 27. august 2007

So far in Longyearbyen

Today, we´ve been in Svalbard two whole weeks. A certain rhythm has entered our daily life, but lots of things are still new to us. Emma, for instance, is away with her class hunting reindeer today. That´s definitively a new experience to her. I´m envious again, by the way, but I realise that she wouldn´t want me to tag along...

So - two weeks, and I still haven´t shown photos of our house.

Behold: house!

The scooters are scattered all over town, I bet we can see at least 50 from our house.

Under is the view from our kitchen window. The first is towards UNIS and the airport, the next towards Adventdalen.

The UNIS-building (Universitetstudier på Svalbard) seen from another angle.

Preserved mining-construction.

Relics from the first mine, Gruve 1.

View from Nybyen, where most of the students live, towards the fjord.

View towards Bykaia and Longyearbyen.

And Longyearbyen seen from the opposite side, from the road from Adventdalen.

A crane and other interesting rubbish at Hotellneset.

And finally another visit to the camping-site.

PS - the photos on the last blog vanished a short while, I think. It was something I did, although I´m not sure what. It should be OK now. My sincerest apologies.

lørdag 25. august 2007

Shooting some more

Here come more photos from the shooting range, like I promised. William and I did some practicing last night, and here are a couple of snapshots (eeh..) from that.

The shooting range must be the dreariest place on the island.

But the view is quite good. This is one of the glaciers far across the Isfjorden.

And this is the airport.

William loading...

and firing.

And me shooting. The right shoulder a bit sore today, yes.

Afterwards a quick tour down to the beach. On the way we passed The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, under construction in a deserted mine (more about that here and here).

They´ll open in September, so if there´s some kind of grand opening, maybe we´ll go and have a look?

Afterwards we strolled on the beach, to check if there were any birds left. Luckily we weren´t attacked by maniac terns, but we saw a couple of other types:

Hvitkinngås, or Barnacle goose, they´re leaving Svalbard about now. By October nearly all the birds will be gone - only the grouse will stay behind on land, and some sea-gulls along the ice-edge.

Is this a Myrsnipe (Dunlin) or Fjæreplytt (Purple sandpiper)? We couldn´t figure it out from the book, but our bet is on the Fjæreplytt, as the Myrsnipe usually leaves as early as July/August.

Hello Fjæreplytt. Lovely name.

Seagulls. Some kind of.

View from beach towards camping-site and airport.

... and across Adventfjorden. From left the mountains Adventtoppen, Hiorthfjellet and Operafjellet.

About the shooting; we weren´t terrible good any of us, but we figure we´re good enough to venture into the wild this weekend. The chance of actually seeing a bear is very small, it´s estimated that there are 1500-2000 bears on the whole of Svalbard, which is 61 022 km² big - so they´re spread thinly across the islands (this is the kind of stuff William and I keep repeating to each other, like a mantra). And the biggest population is in the north, near the ice. And if you should bump into one, in 95% of the cases it´s easily frightened away with signal pistols, or doesn´t show interest at all.

So there´s a good chance I´ll be back next week, in one piece, to bring more exciting stories from the arctic!

torsdag 23. august 2007

An illusion of safety

I´ve frequently thought (since we came here) that this is a rather unsafe place to be. Quite recently it was down to 1 degree celsius, and it was actually snowing (though most of it thawed at once). So, I suppose, if I went for a walk a couple of kilometers away from Longyearbyen, fell and broke a leg and no one knew where I was, I might actually freeze to death. And this is during summer-time - in winter it goes down to 30.

Or let´s say I was in an inflatable boat (like a Zodiac), and an angry male walrus came along, and waved his big pointy teeth about, he might punch a hole in the boat so that I sank into freezing cold water and died. It has been known to happen (at least the hole-in-the-boat bit), and the walrus population is growing.

Or, if I get bitten by (very unlikely), or touch grass that´s been in touch with the droppings from a polar fox (more likely), infected with the parasite Echinococcus multilocularis (say that quickly 3 times!), I might get infected in turn. Then, in 15-20 years, I might die from liver failure. I´m not exaggerating, check here.

What else? Oh yes, polar bears. World´s largest carnivore. Unpredictable, and all over the place.

But we all know that living is quite dangerous, and living in the polar areas require special precautions - so why mention it now? The reason is that I´ve been to a very informative safety course, arranged by UNIS.

First we were told a lot of scary facts about Svalbard, about glaciers and walruses and stuff, and then we did a bit of shooting - and I am, as I suspected, no Annie Oakley. The rifle (a Ruger M77), scared me not a little bit - I mean, a rifle is a lot more dangerous than a polar bear, and yet they let me handle it! But in a given situation I might have to handle it, so the more I know the better, I suppose.

It was a tiny bit fun too, to shoot.

The 3 photos underneath from the shooting range are not very good, I was with a big group (of teachers from Longyearbyen skole) and didn´t have much time for taking pictures. William and I will probably go back and practice sometime soon, so hopefully more photos then.

Yes, the white patch there is fresh snow. It was freezing.

But wait, I´ve forgot to mention another danger. The terns are pretty vicious at the moment, attacking at the slightest provocation (like when a human being is strolling by). This blurry picture is one of them going at me yesterday, as I was walking innocently on the road near the fjord.

But at least they´re not deadly. I think.

And luckily, there are these signs to stop the bear from entering Longyearbyen. That gives the most soothing illusion of safety.

mandag 20. august 2007

Walking on a Sunday

As it was Sunday yesterday (our first in Longyearbyen!), I´ll write about our Sunday walk. Not very exciting stuff, I´m afraid, but nothing much else happens here at the moment. And what else to do on a rainy Sunday, but what every true Norwegian do (on a Sunday) - but go for a walk?

We were aiming for the Longyear glacier, which is 3-4 km upvalley. It´s a good spot for finding fossils, or so they say. The weather was like this:

And this. Lovely snow in August.

After struggling uphill against the opposing wind for a couple of kilometers, we gave up on the glacier. The fossils will have to wait.

Instead we decided to settle for "Huset", which those who remember the film "Orions belte", will know was the pub Helge Jordal staggered drunkenly from. It used to be the miners welfare building in the old days, but today it houses the cinema (1 show every Sunday evening), plus a kiosk and an excellent restaurant and bar. We were hoping for cocoa - but it was still closed, too bad.

On the way we passed the church yard. Normally people aren´t buried on Svalbard because of the permafrost (they tend to resurface), but there are 33 people buried here, only 30 cm down. If you´re interested, you´ll find a list of those lying there here.

A few of them are from 1918, they died famously of the Spanish flu.

Another result of the permafrost is that all the pipelines are placed above ground. Kind of ugly, but interesting. They carry water (hot, cold and waste-) and electricity around.

More pipes ... and a reindeer.

They´re everywhere - this one was just outside our front door when we came back.

I suppose I´ll be blasé about them in a few weeks, but right now I think it´s pretty wonderful that there are reindeer strolling around everywhere. Their bodies seem quite compressed and stocky compared to their cousins on the main land - they look like they would be no match for a polar bear. But apparently they´ve got more stamina than the bears, and can outrun them.

We got our cocoa (and cakes) at the café downtown (that is, at the "Lompen" centre) - and thus our Sunday walk ended.

fredag 17. august 2007

A few things about Svalbard

So far, I´ve noticed a few things about Svalbard.

The light. Yes, I knew the sun would be around at midnight, but I didn´t expect the weird restlessness that it creates. My body would rather go for a walk than to bed at half past 11, when the sun shines brightly through the kitchen window. Also, when the sun blazes and it´s August, your mind (or body) doesn´t expect freezing wind outside. I´ll have to dig out mittens soon, and maybe a woolly hat.

The air. The air would feel dry here, that I already knew (I´m from Bergen, I should notice!), but I didn´t expect to be so thirsty all the time, and my lips and skin are drying up. Technically, Svalbard is a polar desert, and I suppose the glorious sunny conditions the last few days hasn´t helped either. Cloudy weather might make it better, I hope.

I´ve noted other things too. There aren´t that many people here, and as I figure I might need their services and/or friendship, at one time or another, I try to behave really well and smile a lot more than I would in Bergen. This sounds a bit presumptuous, I suppose - but I know I wouldn´t bother smiling to obnoxious shop-people in, let´s say, Bergen.

I must, of course, hasten to add that everyone here so far has been very friendly and accommodating, and I expect that it will stay that way. The pace and attitude here is so relaxed, you can´t be anything but nice (although I did pass a Swedish girl who was nagging somebody on the phone, yesterday. Somebody on the main land, I´m sure).

Finally, it seems that the tooth fairy hasn´t caught up with the fact that we´ve moved to Svalbard. Two nights in a row she (he?) has failed to swap Peter´s recently lost molar with a 20kr coin. I promised to give the tooth fairy a kick, and that helped - this morning the coin was there. Thank God Peter is a forgiving person, with a well-developed sense of humour.

William has been away on a field trip, to check up on a couple of his students who´ve been camping on a beach near Svea for several weeks. He brought Emma along, and they went in a helicopter - so unfair! Emma is only 14, and she´s already done two of the things that I haven´t and that I really want to do. (The other thing is that she´s been to San Fransisco).

Anyway, here are pictures from their trip.

The camp.
Emma putting on survival suit before a boat trip.

And then to take a bath.

From left: Emma, students Tore and Andreas, and Frodo the dog (who, just the day before Emma and William came, warned about a polar bear. They managed to chase it away).

Underneath are some pictures that William took on the flight back.

Longyearbyen. Our house is near the sea on the right, a red house. I´ll show more photos of the house and lots of other stuff later.

And yes, we did finally get our car with our stuff. The post box turned out to be an easy affair, while the internet-connection still is not completely solved. But we´re getting there!