Amphibious Trilogies

Revisiting Longyearbyen

DAY 12
Wednesday 3 July 2019

I have only been on Spitsbergen once before. That was in January 2019, when the Amphibious Trilogies team took part in the Darkness Conference in Longyearbyen. Two days before, several people were evacuated when avalanches caused a risk to the town. It was very dark then and it is very greyish now. It’s raining. Dribbling. Longyearbyen looks rather dreary compared to the dark season when the landscape is covered by snow and ice. When the twenty four hours of darkness is illuminated by the orbiting moon, stars and the Aurora Borealis, reflecting faint dark-blueish light, making majestic silhouettes of the surrounding mountains. In contrast, the electric lights within the town shine brightly. Take some steps away from the light, the scope of vision decreases exponentially. It is like a planet of itself, a little terrella surrounded as it is, a black void now to be discovered in the future.

It’s 09.39 (vessel time 07.39): Brynjar and I land on Longyearbyen. It’s raining. Dribbling. Uncovered. Exposed. Shoddy.

Without waiting for the other participants to come to the shore, we head off to a cafe to get a good cup coffee. On the route we encounter a fast flowing river. It wasn’t there in January when snow covered the terrain. How to cross it? The river is shallow. Can we make it with our shoes? A reindeer grazing on vegetation mocks us.

It’s 11.25. Despite the long walk over a bridge to the cafe, we are on time for the presentation at University in Svalbard (UIS). Our fellow voyagers are nowhere to be seen. What’s happened? That’s the question for us and our friendly hosts.

13.00hrs later, they come in dribbles and drops. Cold, wet and hungry. There was a problem with the RIB in choppy water. As good citizens of the good ship Professor M. most of them have been waiting for each other on the harbour. As in Ny-Ålesund, the presentation is cut to a minimal.

more science less art: permafrost, melting, plankton, biological mass, on earth, sun penetrates, sea ice, thin, strength, water, disturbing flora, cryosphere, arctic basins, quaternary, periglacial, geomorphological, glacially, land, speeding up, under the water.

Since being on the Floating Laboratory and in Ny-Ålesund all of these keywords have been scrutinised, through practice, lectures and presentations. I wish that the good ship has been tethered to the land.

I take a photograph outside UIS. You can see the vessel, Prof. M anchored some metres or fathoms beyond.

Free time: Wanting to take some time in luxury and privacy, Brynjar and I head up to a hotel, the venue of the Darkness Conference. The food is good. The atmosphere is calming. The mainly Swedish staff are welcoming. We think about taking a flight home. But hey! We’ve been in similar situations throughout Amphibious Trilogies when psychological aspects raises its head and becomes overwhelming. We debrief ourselves. We strengthen us. We move our minds in a positive vein. We decide that we will complete the expedition.

19.00 (vessel time ): We meet up on the harbour at the designated time, and wait for the only RIB to take us on our homeward journey. We are hungry. Tomorrow, if the sea is willing, we will be in Barentsburg to collect new visa applications and passports that we need to enable us to enter Russian territory once again.

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