Amphibious Trilogies

Ny Ålesund

DAY 10 on the Arctic Floating University Expedition
2 July 2019
A pond, a train, a sailing boat, science, topped up with a dose of Tai chi

The purpose of this excursion is to attend a presentation Norwegian Polar Institute on Spitsbergen. However, students from Korea hope to gather micro organisms in the sedimentary layers close to the sea. Likewise, the Chinese entourage intends to collect samples for oil research. They also visit their colleagues in the Chinese enclave.

A glacier slithers into the sea as we prepare to land on Ny-Ålesund, Kings Bay.

Onboard the ship I watch the iceberg melting.

In the distance the NASA Satellite Basecamp, two towers making a gateway, a passage of sorts. Looks like something from Star Wars.

It’s 11.40: Two hours late, waiting for a calm gap in the weather, (Norwegian time) we land Ny-Ålesund. Here is Brynjar with Prof. M in the background, and to the left, the iceberg clones the colour of the ship’s hull. We are met by a poster instructing us to keep Radio Silence when in the settlement.

Yesterday, one of the RIBs got an engine failure. With one RIB out of drift it’s taking a long time to get all the participants onto the land. Before this happens we are prohibited to go beyond the harbour area. It’s really frustrating. Only the scientists collecting samples and the organisers are allowed to wander at will, on the beaches and along the road. I break the embargo to get a shot of geese being chased by an arctic fox alongside a brackish pond.

There’s a little train close by. It once took coal down to the shore from the coal mines and onto cargo boats.

Such a strange sight to see. When I was a child living on the coast of Kent, UK, I used to take the little steam train, just like this one, from Dymchurch across the Romney Marsh to the Dungeness Nuclear Power Station where my dad worked.

Still waiting, I take the chance to talk to two friendly Swedish voyagers moored on the pontoon. They have been sailing for almost two years between the Arctic and Antarctic regions, mostly powered by the wind. I have been living in a boat on the Oslo fjord. I miss my boat. They cheer me up.

13.16: Why is Ny Ålesund so important? This is the question that meets us in the presentation of the Norwegian Polar Institute on Spitsbergen. It focuses on environmental research and management. Due to delays, instead of the intended programme we are served a general presentation. All projects on the Arctic Floating University are represented by a short talk and a simple PowerPoint slide.

This is our slide. Simple, clumsy. We will use it again when visiting The University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) on Longyearbyen.

I am disappointed. Even in this situation I would think that we can establish a middle ground, a conversation that discusses and moves debates. I must admit that I would rather spend the short time in Ny Ålesund doing things outdoors.

14.30: Heading down to the harbour we meet a scientist taking a gaggle of Svalbard barnacle goslings for walk. They find their feeding ground close to two water tanks. The scientist tells me that her research involves analysing the growth rate of the geese as affected by climate change. The goslings seem so happy, grazing frenziedly on arctic flora. Their surrogate mother packs them up into a small cloth bag and takes them (home?) to the lab. These are migrating birds. I wonder if they will survive in the wild.

Waiting for the RIB to come, Brynjar initiates a collective Tai chi session alongside the sea. The wind has picked up and rain starts to come. Tomorrow, if the sea wills, we will hopefully land on Pyramiden.


Click & Drag: Rotate the view.
Right Click & Drag: Pan the view.