(to be followed by the science part)
safety: This is for you mom. We have a satelite phone and one of those buttons you can press in a real emergency to marshall emergency retrieval from the field. There are flare pistols to scare away bears. Apparently they are also startled by the snow mobiles. We would leave the area, even abandoning expensive equipment before we would shoot a bear, but there is also a decent sized rifle. Furthermore we are not nearly as isolated as I would have expected.
Yesterday some other scientists made the trip out with us and set up right nearby to take some biology-related samples. Groups on snow machines or dog sleds kept passing nearby throughout the day. Who knew this was such a high-traffic area? The child of civilization in me is kind of glad that there are other people around. In fact, from where we set up we could see a boat that is frozen into the ice each year as a tourist attraction. They have a restaurant and ten room hotel in there. There are about 2000 people in the town of Longyearbyen, mostly scientists and tourists.
snow mobiles: This was my first time riding such a device. We had only three for four people on the first day, so I was the passenger. I’ll try out driving another day. It’s pretty fun to ride. You really need to hold on though. After we’d been going for a bit I was able to relax the death grip, breath, and enjoy the scenery, confident in my grabbing on reflexes for when we went over bumps.
warm clothes: We were wearing driving suits on loan from the Norweigan Polar Institute. They are one piece suits and very warm. I spent ten hours outside working and commuting yesterday and I was not cold. If you wear enough clothes it’s really not a problem.
scenery: The pictures don’t capture it. We drove up one valley, through a pass, and down another to get to the side-fiord where we worked yesterday. Unfortunately there’s lots of snow everywhere, so you can’t see the rocks that well. What can I say: my geologist training precedes this new polar science stuff, and I’d rather look at rocks. They seem to be mostly sedimentary in this whole area where we are though. There is even coal, which they mine and seem to use to power this town. The mountains are still amazing to look at, and you get a sense of the geomorphology. We drove through glacial carved valleys which now contain braided rivers when they are not frozen over, and dump out into fiords. We may or may not go to another site next week which would involve traveling on an actual glacier. But from the work site yesterday you could see the blue ice of a glacier edge further up the fiord. Just wow.