It is January and I have returned to Svalbard without the sun. It will follow in a few months but for now the land is still dark except from the bright lights of Longyearbyen on the coast connected with Nybyen further in land situated at the base of two glaciers that I know to be there even without the sight of them. The mine that served as Santa’s grotto is still lit up on the hillside. The snow lying on the land is still here reflecting what light we receive and with it completing the brilliant contrast with the darkness of the sky and this creates the breathtakingly fullness of the moon and lights of distant stars. The meeting of recognizable faces as others return and a faint green tinge in the night sky draws a familiar end to my first day back on Svalbard.
This semester I have chosen to study geophysics. Studying the interactions between the air and the ice and the sea, and to study the dynamics of the glaciers present today on Svalbard. Not my strength, in all honesty it was an excuse to stay here longer. There are more hieroglyphs on the chalkboard than on the Rosetta stone during one hour of our lectures. Though it is very interesting when someone with a stronger background in physics asks a question or proposes a correction to be made to the equations by saying a word like epsilon; like that means something. When I see numbers and shapes that make interesting calligraphy, others see a principle, a defining quality of today’s Arctic landscape, a piece of the modellers puzzle in an attempt to understand how the world is changing. They say Van Gogh medically had to have seen the world differently and Beethoven was partially deaf and would have heard his music differently and these are innate senses given to those, others are trained or have developed their own way of perceiving the world around them. It is interesting to look on how other minds have been trained to see and understand this sequence of numbers and shapes and to see a dynamic existence. I have been given the chance to understand the physical principle about how today’s arctic world functions and possibly how it will change and why recent weather conditions have unveiled. Though difficult I am not alone in my attempt to understand these processes that shape this land that inspires and changes people.
With the new season comes a new terrain, one suitable for a snowmobile or "scooter" as they are referred to here. Purchased before Christmas it has hibernated outside the university since the previous winter. Now however it lies crippled, unable to start it sleeps and waits until healed enough to move. So many scooters that never had the chance to roam again now litter the region and the snow gathers around their carcasses; hollow husks of machines that once dominated the land. The engine got lazy, the dirt collected and had to be cleaned and then with some new spark plugs she breathed again exhaling a smoky mix of petrol and oil. Now my mechanical beast can roam the Arctic tundra once again. The first trip was to Templefjordan where the valley opened up revealing a great mountain with a plateau top called Templet. known for its geological stratigraphy, the striped pattern on the mountain side created a lovely picture. The second trip made was to Barentsburg a Russian mining settlement.
Built during the soviet era, this working coal mining settlement hosts a strange beauty. Much of the old style architecture is still present, some buildings with colourful soviet style murals painted on them depicting the Kremlin. With the icy streets so difficult to move on even the scooters couldn't get a grip, the coal and the dirt covering most of this industrious town and of course the watchful stare of Lenin with the words in Russian "Our Goal Communism" in the background is how I have pictured the Russian people of that era. Strong and independent looking at the world from another viewpoint. I hopefully will visit again to look around more closely at this town from another time and gain further insight into the people that worked there then and work there now.
Daily adventures and lessons here are a constant, helping to differentiate the day to day more than the rising and setting of the sun; for only now is that becoming a real natural occurrence as the sun is scheduled to hit town on the 8th March.
I would like to finish this article by also mentioning that a fellow student from SAMS studying alongside myself and other SAMS Arctic students has been hurt during a weekend trip to one of the local cabins. This accident sadly had her taken from Svalbard for further treatment. As I understand she handled herself bravely during the accident and the wait for help. We are all awaiting her return to Svalbard and her refreshing enthusiasm for the work here at UNIS.