Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Arctic Ecosystems

This July I was fortunate to travel to and around the Svalbard region of Norway. This is a small archipelago located entirely north of the Arctic Circle; as a result, the area experiences 24-hour daylight in the summer months. The largest town, Longyearbyen (population of roughly 2,000), is located on the island of Spitsbergen at 78° north latitude, roughly halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. Here, I boarded a ship that would be my home for the next 11 days. With plenty of warm clothes and a hopeful spirit, we set out to circumnavigate the islands and explore the unknown.

Over the duration of the trip, we hiked on glaciers and tundra, ventured into the pack ice in search of polar bears, witnessed a feeding frenzy with several fin whales and hundreds of kittiwakes, encountered walruses on land and at sea, and walked on pack ice. We also had excellent sightings of blue, sperm, and humpback whales, arctic foxes and reindeer, and sea birds such as puffins. Each day the naturalists on board offered lectures on the local flora and fauna, ice forms, and regional environmental pressures. These sessions were a wonderful chance for me to become a student again as I attempted to write down and soak up every bit of information our guides had to offer.

Although my time in the Arctic was limited, I am confident my memories will last a lifetime. I am deeply grateful for receiving a Holden Summer Study Grant to help me pursue this unforgettable experience. I look forward to sharing my photos, personal experiences, and new-found knowledge of this fragile ecosystem with my 7th grade life science classes.

Pulling our zodiac onto an ice floe.

Excited to see a polar bear up close!

A pod of walrus on a small ice floe.

Feeding frenzy with fin whales, white-beaked dolphins, and kittiwake sea birds.

Heading into the sea ice on a foggy morning.

A polar bear investigates our ship.

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