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How is it to visit an archipelago where there are more polar bears than people? A place where if you go beyond the gates of the only city, you need to have a rifle with you, and glaciers cover almost 60% of the entire land area. What’s the difference between going there from any other destination?

In August 2019, I had an amazing opportunity to join the University of Silesia’s scientific and research expedition to Svalbard (check my 3 minutes movie). Just the process of preparation is quite complicated and absorbing

South Spitsbergen, where we were to conduct our research, is a national park. In order to get there, you must obtain a permit from the governor of Svalbard. The consent must also be obtained for conducting scientific research and installing and leaving measuring devices. Fortunately, the governor usually treats scientists very favorably. The university took care of the entire bureaucracy, so I didn’t have to deal with boring paperwork.

You’ll probably ask what’s the scientific purpose of our visit to Svalbard?

Installing measurement equipment near to Paierlbreen

During two-week stay in the Arctic, we planned the following research and field work:

  • Measurement of seawater parameters with an CTD probe (C – conductivity, T – temperature – temperature, D – density) in the foreland of glaciers flowing into the water.
  • Placement of sensors recording coastal water depth and its temperature in the foreground of selected glaciers.
  • Installing second and time-lapse cameras to capture the mechanism of calving glaciers (ice fragments break off, this is how icebergs are formed) and their changes over a long period of time.
  • A drone flight over the glaciers in order to capture the ice cliff and create a numerical model of it (a model of the height of individual points, it can be compared to a 3D image).
  • Taking snow samples to check for the presence of microplastics. I used them later for my master’s thesis.

As I mentioned before, polar bears live in Spitsbergen. Currently, their population is about 3,000 individuals. They usually do not “hunt” for people, but there have been some fatal accidents in the past. For this reason, any group leaving Longyearbyen must be armed. For this purpose, certain formalities related to the possession of a gun or a rifle must be completed before departure. I had to get a criminal record certificate, translate it into English and send it to the governor. The next point to be done was medical research. It’s necessary for extended insurance, which one must have if you’re going to more distant regions of the archipelago.

Longyearbyen fot: Michał Ciepły

On Svalbard, I was responsible for drone flights. It was necessary to obtain data for numerical models of glacier fronts and to prepare photographic and film documentation. For this purpose, the university sent me to a UAVO operator course.

In addition, there is the appropriate and thoughtful packing of equipment crates that were shipped to Spitsbergen in early June. The entire logistics and preparation of the expedition isn’t easy, but for sure it’s very time-consuming.

Fortunately, everything went positively without any major problems and our trip was ready to begin.

So, let’s fly.

On the last day of July, just a day after returning from my previous trip to the USA, I boarded a plane in Warsaw. First destination – Oslo. After a few hours in the capital of Norway, I was already heading towards the North Pole.

The flight over the archipelago provides a lot of emotions. It’s worth asking for a window seat, preferably on the right side of the plane. If you’re lucky and the sky is cloudless, the amazing views will stay in your memories for a very long time.

Views form the plane. fot. Michał Ciepły

Longyearbyen – capital of Svalbard. 

I landed in Longyearbyen around midnight. Of course, there was no darkness at all, because now we have a midnight sun! From the airport to the city I went by bus. Without any major problems, I managed to find our quarters, where the other participants of the expedition already slept. They had arrived in Svalbard a few days earlier. Unfortunately, I had to arrive later due to a previous trip. I fall into a few hours of restless sleep after a long journey. It’s hard to get used to the omnipresent light. In addition, the amazingness of the new place and lots of emotions make it difficult for me to fall asleep.

The next day, we only have a few hours in Longyearbyen before boarding Magnus Zaręba – our yacht. We did our last shopping in the city center. Here’s a tip, it’s not that easy to get drunk in Svalbard. The possibility of buying alcohol on the island is limited. We are entitled to buy it by an air ticket (and of course at least 18 years of age). There are max. 2 liters of strong alcohol and 12 liters of beer per person. Prices are much lower than in mainland Norway, so it is worth buying in case of a weather breakdown or gifts for thirsty polar explorers who work at remote research stations. Nothing works better for icebreaking than serving a Norwegian beer.

After shopping, we go to the port to board our vessel. Magnus Zaremba will be our home, means of transport and safe harbor for the next two weeks. Great thanks go to Captain Eugeniusz Moczydlowski and his assistant Grzegorz Szymanski.

Magnus Zaremba - our home, means of transport and safe harbour.

We set sail in the afternoon and headed towards the exit from the ice fjord (nor. Isfjorden), then head south. The views slowly prepare us for what is awaiting for us. The glaciers that fall into the water and the harsh, rocky climate create an incredibly beautiful combination.

Sailing to Hornsund. fot. Michał Ciepły

After more than 24 hours on the water, we reach the first point of our trip – the Polish Polar Station Hornsund.

Read what happened next on Svalbard (link). 

Have you ever been to Svalbard? What do you think about procedure, one have to accomplish before going there? 

Polish Polar Station Hornsund

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