Time is flying, there is always something to do. Mostly stuff that isn’t worth mentioning, but it is really filling the days. Everyday life. Projects. Work.
Yes, and life. Friends. Being outside.
Being outside is obviously one main reason for living in Longyearbyen. It will soon be full moon and the sky is mostly clear. The light is pure magic. The Norwegians have a beautiful word for that: “trolsk”. Maybe you can use “trollish” to translate it? It is “magical”, but that does not really hit the nail on the head. With “trolsk”, we don’t associate Harry Potter but rather some kind of fairytale magic with a slight undertone of danger and gloominess. Just like the arctic: of breathtaking beauty, but with a touch of danger lurking somewhere hidden, often not being visible. Trolsk.
Most tours do currently not go anywhere remote. That is not the point now. You will find the whole beauty of the polar night in Longyearbyen’s vicinity. It is of course always an idea to go somewhere without artificial light.
Adventdalen in the polar night.
There is, of course, a lot of artificial light in and near Longyearbyen. Whenever there is a northern light you have to go to a suitable place for undisturbed observation and photography. A bit of artificial light does, of course, not hurt, often it has a charme of its own. Like the Vinkelstasjon in Endalen, which used to be a part of the old coal cableway. Today, it is illuminated during the polar night, providing a lovely eyecatcher in the dark landscape.
The Vinkelstasjon in Endalen used to be a part of the coal cableway in the past.
Today, it is part of the local history and, in the dark time, a light installation.
It is part of the practical aspects of moving around in the dark that high-vis jackets and reflectors are strongly advised. Otherwise, the risk of being hit by a car is significant and one day it will crash.
The reindeer don’t know that. They tend to stand just next to the road. And the don’t look left or right before they start crossing it.
When you leave the house in the morning and there is a reindeer next to the entrance in the dark, then it can give you a bit of a sudden weak-up. As soon as you realise that the big furry animal just in front of you is actually a reindeer, it is a bit of a relief which feels quite good.
Reindeer in Longyearbyen.
There is a lot going on in Longyearbyen in terms of culture, education and science. In January, there is the Svalbardseminar. Experts of various fields offer presentations to tell the public about their field of knowledge. These presentations are usually in Norwegian, hence not an attraction for international visitors, but if you understand Norwegian, then they are usually very interesting.
This week, there was a “Science Slam” scheduled. Several scientists talked about their work and research results in short lectures which were supposed to be as entertaining as educative. Everything was allowed as long as it is not generally forbidden and nobody is harmed. This worked altogether quite well.
SIOS Svalbard introducing themselves in the Svalbardseminar at UNIS.
In the photo above, SIOS Svalbard (“Svalbard integrated arctic earth observing system”) staff are introducing their organisation, the design and purpose of which is hard to grasp in just a few words. SIOS is kind of a meta-scientific organisation, trying to ensure that efficient collecting and exchange of all sorts of data is working smoothly in practice, beyond borders of different nationalities, projects and fields of science.
And then, there is of course Maarten Loonen, the Dutch specialist for bird migration, arctic geese and tundra. We meet him quite regularly in Ny-Ålesund in the summer, where he has been part of the regular outfit as long as even the oldest ones can remember. In a way that you just can’t imitate, Maarten manages to squeeze a lot of knowledge into a few minutes that is hard to remember – unfortunately, because it is fascinating stuff. Just an example: geese have a completely different digestion system than reindeer. Whatever a geese puts into herself at the front end will leave her again at the rear end after 1-2 hours. Reindeer need much more time for the same process, but they make use of a much higher proportion of the energy and nutrients stored in the plant material that they take up. Which means that what leaves a goose’s butt (my wording, not Maarten’s) is still perfectly good food for a reindeer. But not always, that depends again on what the goose has eaten. And you can actually see it on the colour of the droppings. And so on and so forth. I just can’t recall all of it, unfortunately. If you ever have a chance to listen to Maarten Loonen: go for it!
Maarten Loonen talking about arctic migrating birds, mainly geese and their importance for the arctic tundra, in the Svalbardseminar at UNIS.
Finally, my current ceterum censeo: I have made a new photo book, focussing on aerial photography and thus showing the Arctic from a very unsual perspective. In theory, the book is in German, but in practice, it does hardly have text. 134 out of 137 pages do just have stunning photos, placenames and a little map. Norwegens arktischer Norden (2) – Aerial Arctic shows Jan Mayen and Svalbard from the air.