Snow in August
We arrived in Longyearbyen on Thursday afternoon after a bit of touch-and-go over whether we'd actually get out of Ny Ålesund. After 4 weeks of almost nonstop nice weather, we awoke Thursday morning to a snowstorm! It was actually pretty cool to see the area being blanketed with a thin layer of snow. But along with the snow came clouds and fog. And the little airport up there doesn't support an instrument-only takeoff or landing, so if the visibility is bad the plan can't land or takeoff. Luckily the visibility improved enough, so we said our good-byes to Ny Ålesund and here we are!
Standing in front of the Amundsen statue in Ny Ålesund on our last morning, when we awoke to a snowstorm!
It's funny to think that we were excited to see snow up here in the Arctic; but it's rather unusual for there to be much snow up here in the summer.
Julie and Ross walking through a snowy Ny Ålesund
Back to Lonyearbyen
After spending four weeks in a tiny community with fewer than 150 people, Longyearbyen (with over 1000 people) seems a bit like coming into the big city! I guess spending a couple of days here will be nice way to ease back into city life.
Yesterday morning we were all treated to breakfast by a delegation of American congressional advisors and a couple of Norwegian government officials who had planned their visit. This group of advisors had spent the past several days touring sites of interest to American-Norwegian cooperation, and on this, their last morning, they found themselves in Longyearbyen the same time as us. So someone decided it would be a nice thing to have their group meet us. I found it interesting to talk about our science with people whose focus is the political realm; they were generally more receptive and interested than I thought (which I found encouraging, given the current political climate).
The REU students will be giving presentations to each other today, so they spent the bulk of today preparing themselves. That gave me time to do a little exploring around Longyearbyen. I spent a couple of hours at the Svalbard Museum – it's a nice little museum that gives a nice overview of the history of Svalbard. Then I took a long walk around town. At one spot I found a little cemetery – it was interesting to note that just about everyone in this cemetery had died under the age of 50, and there were multiple deaths in the same week. Clearly these were coal mining deaths from the days when Longyearbyen was a large coal-mining town.
Small cemetery in Longyearbyen
View into Longyearbyen. You can see cotton grass in the foreground and a structure, remains of the coal mining days.
As I get ready to head home, it's time to reflect on this summer's science adventure. These are pretty rough, I won't have the opportunity to write anything in this journal until school starts. So I take the chance now to at least begin to put some reflections down.
I've had a chance to see up close the problem of melting glaciers. It's hard to ignore or understate the magnitude of the problem when you see these magnificent, tremendous glaciers that are rapidly disappearing. I am coming back with a much more complex understanding of how glacier systems work, but also about the feedback that exists between a warming climate and melting ice.
I'm coming home with a much better sense of how science is done. I was interested in seeing how the students grappled with the questions they had and how to find data to help answer their questions. As a science teacher this is a great lesson – given the resources you have, how do you attempt to answer your question?
Of course we had our share of problems, and old Murphy of Murphy's Law certainly reared his ugly head on more than one occasion! But there were some great lessons in that for me as well – when things go wrong you have a choice: do you give up or abandon what you are trying to do, or do you search for new approaches to solve your problem?
I observed some tremendous teamwork among the REU group. The students each had their own question, but everyone helped everyone else out to get all the data collected. Frankly I can't imagine a project like this really working out if such cooperation wasn't there.
Finally, I am so impressed by the people who study and spend time in the Arctic. Everyone seems drawn to its extremes – beauty, harshness, etc. For the scientists, it makes the most sense – they have questions that draw them here, and in order to search for answers they need to be here. I'm even more intrigued, though, by those who come here not as scientists. The taxi driver here in Longyearbyen who came from Iran. The plumber up in Ny Ålesund who will finish his year in the Arctic and then spend a year in Antarctica. The cook from Sweden. Everyone has an interesting story about how they ended up here, but the common thread is their feeling "drawn" here in some way.
Thanks to everyone who made this adventure possible!
This will probably be my last journal entry, at least for a while, as I will go on vacation with my family until school starts. So I want to take the opportunity to thank the people who have allowed me to participate in this experience and who have made it so enriching for me personally, and for my students who will benefit from my participation.
First, of course, I have to thank Julie and Ross for including me in this adventure. Both of you are incredible teachers and mentors. I learned so much science from you this summer! By your having set up such a unique experience, the depth of what I have learned, and the impact, are so much greater. The students responded in an amazing way to what you ask of them, which showed clearly how gifted you both are. You also took good care of me and made sure that I had everything I needed; I always felt a full member of the group. I look forward to our continued communication about the research and about the curriculum I will be developing around this experience.
Thank you to Janet and Kristin at PolarTREC for taking the risk in accepting me to this program. The support from everyone at PolarTREC has been consistently excellent on every front – logistics, technology, you name it. I am continually impressed by how well everything seems to work from your end – that is a testament to you all as people and the vision you have for the program.
I also want to thank the National Science Foundation makes all of this possible. This summer I've gained an appreciation for how difficult it is to do this kind of research – without funding from the NSF none of this would happen. So thank you to the folks at NSF who recognize the value of sending a teacher out to the Arctic!
Finally and most of all, I want to thank my wife Kelly for supporting my Arctic adventure. I appreciate so much that you were willing to be a single parent for the last five weeks so I could do this. You are amazing and I love you!
View across Kongsfjord at the mountains, now covered in a light snow.
(By the way, I will probably not be able to answer the "Ask the Team" questions until September. Feel free to keep sending them in, but don't be disappointed if you don't get a reply!)