Since I just received a weather warning for Aberystwyth, (looks like it's storms and hide tide time again, brace yourselves those at home!) this post I wrote earlier seems all the more apt. After Monday's wet and mild weather things have been getting steadily colder and we've had a bit of snow fall, it all got much nicer to get about on. Given I was pretty worried about how my sun-loving self would cope in the cold, I thought I'd reflect a bit on the temperature and light conditions...
I never thought I'd say that kind of phrase! After the -23 clear skies of Saturday, the blizzard and white out yesterday. Today, we have a new challenge: standing upright and going in the direction intended. It's warmer here than in Oslo at +3 degrees, and raining. This has turned almost all the roads and flat surfaces into a giant potential ice rink. Again, most tours are off, but for very different reasons. Amazing how much can change so quickly round here! Walking about (and driving too) is really a struggle, I'm quite surprised I managed to stay upright all day (ok there was a moment of bum-shuffling to reach some deliciously crunchy snow and get up an incline avoiding the ice). Hooray for these little gizmo's. So, with the challenge of standing up without camera in hand, there are no landscapes and light pics to woo you with today. Though today was the first offical return of the light and the sky, between showers, was looking brighter.
Bit of an extended post today since I have skipped a couple....
Staying here in Longyearbyen for any length of time, people start to become concerned that you manage to find your way out of town and experience some of 'the nature' here. Though Longyearbyen has just about everything one needs, after a few weeks, a kind of 'cabin fever' can take over, knowing what a small urban area you are confined to compared to the vast expanse 'out there'. Getting out into the wilds is now made more difficult by the lack of snow and ice around to get about by snow-scooter and skis (that's key value of ice and snow number 1 of this blog post!) One way around this is ingenius use of quad bikes that dog teams can pull, giving them essential exercise and fun during the summer and being pretty fun to tag along with (lucky me got a lift from an acquaintence who needed another pair of hands to deal with some extra dogs!). There is still snow on the glaciers though, and it was that snow and the process of it melting that I set out to help investigate yesterday with a fellow PhD student, Krystyna Koziol. Not only was it a great day out of town in some glorious weather, but I also got some more first hand experience of what field science in Svalbard can be like, which has sparked some interesting reflections.
Despite all the preparations necessary for the fieldwork to happen in the first place, there are still a lot of factors that can leave data collection hanging in the balance: weather conditions, equipment failure, snow not behaving itself, field assistant availability...We had some interesting moments on Foxfonna glacier yesterday, with some quick thinking solutions from Krystyna saving the day of sampling. I hadn't thought too much about what the actual data collection might involve, but I was probably thinking more high-tech than plastic sledges and rope equipment transport, digging snow pits, good old-fashioned note taking and the all-important plastic food/ sample bags to transport them back to base. What was clear though that the most essential ingredients to collect the best quality data are persistance, motivation and committment to the project. Perhaps these are not so dissimilar to characteristics needed on this 'side' of the discipline, just with very different ramifications! It seemed a lot more obvious out on this kind of fieldwork, that you only get one shot to collect this particular thing - another day the conditions might be different, and more broadly, the trip itself has so much planning and resources involved to make it happen that the whole thing is not going to happen again. This leads me to reflect that though there might not always be such finality with a more human geography based approach, each story I listen to is told in a very specific context, one that is not repeatable and with all kinds of 'external' factors in the background, which perhaps I need to hold in mind...
I also learnt quite a bit about different types of snow and ice and how to observe them, and what snow can tell us about (value number 2) interesting stuff. Thanks Krystyna for a thought-provoking and fun day's hard work in the snow!
I have a proper update in process, but in the meantime, I thought I would share some of the sounds of yesterday up on Foxfonna glacier....but my trusty phone that has been a very reliable tool so far in all my audio recordings didn't pick it up. It was too much to ask perhaps, given we had to stand absolutely still to hear it ourselves. So I'm stuck with words again! It was a little un-nerving from my perspective as a glacier-newbie to hear running water coming from a significant body of snow/ice/rock not far away and hearing the odd small tumble of snow and general gentle 'puffs' of it shifting about. The shapes and sounds the wind and snow make are mesmerising sometimes and certainly awe-inspiring! [Fear not we were being careful in all the right ways, avalanche beacons strapped on and keeping our distance...]
Another week of extremely interesting conversations, but photography-wise, I've been lacking in inspiration on what to share. It has been grey, cloudy and mizzly these last few days. The mountain tops have dissappeared from view under cloud and I remember now this is very much like how it was when I arrived almost a year ago. It wasn't until about day 4 that i knew there were mountains right in front of me at all!
I am continually fascinated by the ever-changing ice/snow/water scapes though. It struck me today that though town is not a completely silent place at all (quite a bit of road traffic, and previously scooter traffic), it was pretty quiet when it was colder and more icy. The snow seemed to muffle noises, but now the sound of running water is all around. Out exploring last week, if we sat still for a while we could hear soft cascades of mushy snow shifting about.
So, I thought I'd share a bit of the soundscape up here: a small meltwater stream between Haugen and Nybyen, featuring a passing van, snow-buntings and my footsteps in the gravel at the side of the road...
It was only a few days ago I posted about ice and snow melting, but I'm going to do it again! It's happening really quickly now, snow men there one day, gone the next. Channels of water appearing under, over and cutting through ice. The slabs of snow cleared at the side of the road which looked pretty huge a week ago are now looking dirty and diminished. Everyone is watching the ice conditions closely, monitoring whether to chance another snow scooter trip and there is a sort of mourning of the ice as those opportunities for adventures melt away with it. We are stepping gingerly towards the few weeks between times of spring and summer seasons...
Sunday, a good time for landscape loveliness. Glorious spring weather with stunning scenary that one usually only sees on TV/ postcards. It's hard to know what to 'do' with these kind of views, sometimes it seems like some one just flew in a huge film backdrop and plonked it on the horizon!
It is only a matter of time before Svalbard moves into full summer mode and the snow cover receeds. The 'big melt' is coming, in fact it might have started today with temperatures edging over the zero degree mark, (though I am holding out for more snow and re-freeze next week :)). Today we saw glimpses of what is to come as the normally treacherous ice patches we were becoming used to negoiating have melted to slush over the course of the day. Puddles are appearing, and the dagger-like icicles which were here at the start of the week are dripping away very rapidly. The value of snow and ice in and to Svalbard (as a place, to people and other species here) is one thing that I'm hoping to learn and think more about while I'm here...
So, I've written a press release, about myself, which is a weird thing to do (but for fellow researchers, it was a fun exercise in writing differently and explaining in plain language). It seems so far no one has gotten round to publishing it, so I might as well do it myself, the glories of Web 2.0! If you are reading from Svalbard, feel free to pass this on widely! I wrote it really to explain what I am going to be up to during the next couple of months of field work in Svalbard, so before it gets old hat, here it is. Bi-lingually (tusen takk Gro-Mette!)
What’s Svalbard worth?
New research investigates how value is measured and created in Svalbard.
With there being some snow around (although not much in Aberystwyth), along with a flurry (sorry!) of documentaries popping up featuring one hell of a lot of ice, I thought I’d start a little series of posts about the ones I’ve been watching.
First up: Chasing Ice
If you haven’t heard about this one, it’s a documentary about the Extreme Ice Survey, a time-lapse photography project led by James Balog. About 30 cameras were installed (no mean feat!) to take time lapses of glaciers in the Arctic. That climate change is happening, is not something I need much convincing of. One can easily point to the many many variables this visual imagery cannot take into account (despite media headlines of course of ‘irrefutable truths’ etc). Nonetheless the retreat of the glaciers these cameras record, over just a few years, is quite staggering. Yes, this was over a short time period, but for me, watching such massive chunks of ice calving off into the sea and thinking about the long term trends and predictions at the same time, made for some scary and quite emotional viewing. Which, I presume is the main point of the project: giving people something real and happening to visualise when scientists talk of sea level rise, melting ice caps.