Hi everyone! This summer I was lucky enough to take part in a research expedition on Svalbard, in the Arctic, above 78 degrees north latitude. Our project was to investigate some of the geological and oceanographic processes occuring in front of a large set of glaciers called Kronebreen/Kongsvegen.
From an A.net perspective, I'm excited to post what may be the northernmost trip report yet. A few other members have gone to Svalbard before, and FLIEGER67 made a TR of his trip to Longyearbyen, the largest settlement on Svalbard, a few years ago:
My Arctic Experience: SAS To Svalbard/Longyearbyen (by FLIEGER67 Jul 12 2009 in Trip Reports)
However, our work was 110 kilometers north-west, in the town of Ny-Ålesund, with a variable population that averages about 120 in the summer and 20 in the winter.
A brief synopsis from the Wikipedia page on the Ny-Ålesund Airport, at 78°55'39 North latitude:
Flights are offered two to three days a week to Svalbard Airport, Longyear by Lufttransport with Dornier 228 aircraft. The airport is operated by the former mining company Kings Bay AS, owned by the Norwegian government. The flights are not regular public flights, but are considered charter flights. Passengers must have permission by the Kings Bay, which is not usually done for tourists.
Our trip starts back in the USA. Flights on SK, especially around Norway, seem to come up nearly every week on A.net, so I'll try to refrain from showing too much of what you've probably already seen from other TRs.
I hope many of my pictures can speak for themselves, but I'd love to answer your questions and provide any additional photos if there's interest. The only reason I'm not writing an encyclopedia here is that, thanks to our work this summer, there's more science to work on here at home!
July 10th, 2011
Flight SK 908
Our A330 at EWR
The cabin. I would say that Norwegians were in the majority on this flight.
Leaving NYC. The last urban center I would see for weeks...
I can't speak much Norwegian, but whenever I'm flying to Europe I try to fool the FAs into thinking I'm from the country in question. When they gave us our meals (beef patty with potatoes here) I asked "Carlsberg?" figuring I couldn't go wrong. The two FAs then chatted amongst themselves, something like "Does he have to pay for this?" "Nahhh, it's dinner time!". Then they asked me something that probably meant "We don't have any Carlsberg at the moment, but would you like a Mariestads?" to which I nodded and replied "Ja, takk." It's that simple!
First sight of Norway
Watching the IFE, lined up to land at OSL on a mild, foggy morning.
Our flight was the only one at that time that had to go through passport control. There was a TG 777 at our end of the terminal too but it had already finished unloading pax. I made sure to wish the yawning policeman a good morning.
From there it was a hectic walk all the way to the middle of the terminal (in a sterile transfer hallway) for our flight up to LYR. In our jet-lagged daze, we picked up our luggage and scientific instruments from the baggage claim, and went to the main check-in area which was a zoo. Thanks to some quick thinking on our professors' part, we went over to the corner for Special Baggage, where there was no queue and they were more than happy to take care of our group. Then just a few gates into the domestic terminal, and there was our flight!
Boarding started on-time within 30 minutes of our arrival there at the gate.
July 11th, 2011
Flight SK 4414
Goodbye, OSL! Someday I'll return and visit you like a proper tourist.
The next hour and a half was spent alternately drifting off to sleep and taking infusions of coffee. Just get me to the Arctic already! But then we landed in Tromso. The temperature had dropped 10 degrees C and things seemed a little different already.
Tromso terminal on a brilliant summer midday in Norway
What followed was slightly bizzare. Everyone continuing to LYR had to exit the plane, go to an adjacent gate, and go through another passport control where we received a stamp that we were leaving Norway. Or, at least, the sort of Norway that's a Schengen member. Svalbard is a unique free economic zone, where anyone of any nationality can live without a visa, as long as they have proof of employment.
Weird, interim gate for Svalbard flights.
TOS airport has signage in Norwegian, English, and Russian.
During the middle of our next 2-hour leg, hunger punctuated my mix of exhaustion and caffeination. I got a BOB sandwich for 50 kroner. I don't even like tomatoes and mayo, but who knows what I'd be having for dinner...
First sight of Svalbard! It didn't really get any less cloudy.
Breaking through the ceiling
One of the gleaming harbors of Longyearbyen
Every single passenger was trying to take plenty of pictures at this point. The airport staff just wanted to get everyone inside the terminal.
We spent the next two or three days in Longyearbyen, getting acclimated to Svalbard, going through some lectures on the material at UNIS (the university there), and of course the mandatory safety/rifle training.
Just in case...
Sadly I only got second place in the target shooting. Second place in a polar bear encounter, however, is unacceptable.
Our student barrack. Pretty nice accomodation inside though!
What an honor, to withdraw from this monolith of human achievement.
Smoked Minke Whale with beets. No problem that most of my friends hated it... more for me!
Kind of an everyday dietary requirement in Longyearbyen. It was good, and relatively cheap, too!
Hey there, reindeer!
View from our barrack at midnight
On the 14th it was finally time to fly up to the world's northernmost permanently inhabited settlement. For some reason, our group of 9 couldn't fly up on the same flight, or we'd have to pay charter pricing. Flights to Ny-Ålesund during the summer are twice a day, Monday and Thursday, at 11:00 and 15:30. Lufttransport runs the service on their Dornier 228s. In the case of Ny-Ålesund, the government-operated Kings Bay company manages the flights and schedule.
Entrance at LYR to what I'll call the "domestic terminal"
Our baggage was weighed and... there was the plane, too. It looks like the Coast Guard shares this one.
The Lufttransport lounge, for VIP Prestige Plus members only.
Boarding consisted of one of the pilots walking into the lounge and telling us, "OK, well, it's time to board now." I wouldn't have it any other way.
July 14th, 2011
"The Afternoon flight"
Dornier Do 228
The Russian helicopter takes miners to the Russian settlement, Barentsburg.
Takeoff was fun (and probably one of the shortest I've ever had) but the skies were cloudy. Luckily, things cleared up a little bit during the 20-minute flight, which I have to say is one of the most amazing I've ever had in my life.
Ny-Ålesund and the airstrip in sight!
My home for the next month
After loading everyone in their baggage into a shuttle van, the driver told us that we needed to turn off all mobile phones and wireless equipment. There's a geodetic station in Ny-Ålesund which apparently uses the 2.4ghz frequencies to make some very precise measurements.
Due to the 24-hour daylight and the disorganization of all the photos on my hard drive, the following photos might not be in chronological order. But who cares, because it's all the same day, technically!
After a day of settling in, we went on a few boat trips to scout out our research area.
Reindeer and swiss sandwich
Eventually, the real work began.
Hauling a sediment core out of the water
Hoping for a good result
Ny-Ålesund at 1 AM
After a month of research and daylight, we were ready to return home with our sunburns. A surprise awaited on our last day, August 11th, when we woke up to see:
"Oh yeah," one perennial inhabitant told us, "it's right on time, usually the second week of August!"
The Kings Bay reception area and waiting room for the shuttle van
The weather outside was windy and rainy and nobody was really sure whether the flights would run. But they finally loaded us into the shuttle, and I was comforted to see the runway lights were on.
Good to see our plane on the ground
Approaching through Isfjorden, near Longyearbyen
Quite an arrival gate
We spent a few more days in Longyearbyen, presenting some of our initial results but also relaxing and adjusting to the shock of being in a city almost 20 times as populous as Ny-Ålesund. But we had farther yet to go.
Longyearbyen at 5 AM
Checkin was effortless that morning.
Our 736, direct back to OSL
August 14th, 2011
Flight SK 4499
Needless to say, it was an emotional departure. The pilot gave a good photo tour though!
Mainland Norway. Does anyone know what city this is?
Landing back in OSL
Tusen takk for reading!