The first week of Geophysics at UNIS


So much luggage!
Unfortunately you've just got me (Boo) to hear from for this week as Kirsty and Katharina don't arrive until this weekend. This blog is a bit early too as I'm off on a cruise first thing tomorrow morning, more about that later. I've been here for nearly a week now but it feels like forever!

Getting to Svalbard

I flew to Longyearbyen on the 5th August from Heathrow via Copenhagen and Oslo with Norwegian Air, taking just over 9 hours in total. My flight from London was running late, which meant I only had 30 minutes between my flight landing and my next flight departing. Norwegian had the furthest apart gates in Copenhagen airport (apparently this is because they're a budget airline?) and I had to run from gate F to A, which was in a different terminal through passport control; when I arrived at the gate the majority of people had already boarded the plane. At this point I became convinced my luggage wouldn't make it with me after how short the connection was, and I was very surprised when my bags appeared at Longyearbyen - the baggage handlers must have been seriously efficient at Copenhagen airport!

Sun appearing as we flew towards Svalbard

I packed FAR too much stuff (I brought some of my diving kit along), but a pro-tip for aspiring Arctic visitors is to check travel agents for flights before you book direct with the airline (Momondo and skyscanner are good sites to use), as for me it was cheaper to book with an agent and I got two 20kg bags included in the ticket price, compared to booking the bags separately with the airline. I'd also recommend paying to book a window seat for the last leg as if the weather is clear you'll get an amazing view of Svalbard! It's very surreal taking off in darkness at Oslo and the sun rising on the horizon as you approach Longyearbyen. I landed just before 2am in cloudy daylight.

There's a bus transfer from the airport to Nybyen where the student barracks are. I found my room and tried to get to sleep, it took me hours to sleep because it was light outside, even though I was exhausted!

On the Saturday, I explored the town. This included a trip to the supermarket (Svalbardbutikken). The post plane had been cancelled on Friday so I wasn't able to buy any milk all weekend, which highlighted a bit how isolated it is up here. The cost of food is easily twice the price of the UK: because i'm extremely sad, I am currently keeping a record of everything I buy in the supermarket and how much it costs in an excel spreadsheet, which is how I know that it costs 2.04x as much to make a vegetarian chilli con carne out here than at home!

I explored some more on Sunday, followed by a bit of a Bourne film marathon with a group of people in my barracks.

My course
I'm taking two courses this semester in the Geophysics department here at UNIS: AGF-214 Polar Ocean Climate and AGF-210 Middle Polar Atmosphere. My first week has been packed with safety training and 'house-keeping', so once I am more into the flow of the courses I will fill you in with all of the details!
Practicing with the rifles (i'm the wooly hat). 
Bright and early on Monday morning, our safety training began with a safety lecture (there are so many ways to get injured on Svalbard...) followed by rifle training at the shooting range. We were all too excited to remember to take many photos, the one here was taken by someone on my course. We then spent the afternoon learning about the emergency packs with tents, bivvy bags, stoves etc. in case we unexpectedly get stuck overnight on fieldwork.

On the second day of training, we spent the morning practicing our first aid, followed by bobbing around in the fjord in survival suits. It's greatly comforting to know that I will survive a few hours in the icy water in one of the suits compared to half an hour without! This was greatly enhanced by getting to travel there in possibly the coolest vehicle i've ever seen. Although the engine was so noisy that we had to wear ear protection if we were sat in the front section.

My best impression of "Maggie in her winter outfit" in front of the "cool blue vehicle thing".

Just bobbing around.
My course has also done a fair bit of socialising as a group. Last night, we went out together for burgers and beers at the Coal Miners' Cabin just down the road from our barracks. Everyone has come here from seemingly all over the globe, which is really cool.

Local patrons...

Tomorrow, I'm heading off on a cruise for AGF-214 Polar Ocean Climate aboard R/V Håkon Mosby. The cruise is split into two legs and I'm on the first leg, which is heading North to the Yermak Plateau via Billefjorden, Isfjorden. We are going to be taking lots of CTD and ADCP measurements and hopefully retrieving six moorings and deploying one. At the moment the weather is looking a bit touch and go, with gale warnings on the shipping forecast - I've packed lots of seasickness tablets. I should be back on dry land on Tuesday.

That's it for now, I'll leave you with some pictures of Longyearbyen looking pretty in the sunshine today:

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