Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Norway Report

Elizabeth is now up in Svalbard, Norway! She says:
There are 13 students from all over Europe, several from Norway, and only me from the US. We have lectures in the morning and lab in the afternoon. We toured the German icebreaker-research vessel, Polarstern, on Friday. Next week will have some field excursions to nearby valleys and will do a couple days of cruising as well later on. We are looking at both marine and terrestrial/aquatic microorganisms with PCR and various digestion methods.
The group of students have taken a couple great local hikes, after we got access to rifles with which to protect us from polar bears. On our first day we had to do target practice and safety instructions with the rifles and then swimming in immersion suits in the harbor. However, the bears are protected so you have to demonstrate afterwards that your life was in danger otherwise you are fined for shooting and killing a bear. On the other hand, the reindeer are very tame and wander through town in ones and twos. They don't really have any predators so they are not afraid. The scenery here is spectacular, steep mountains, glaciers, braided rivers in flatbottomed valleys, the fjord right here. And the town is very pretty in some ways. Since there is no green grass it always looks like early spring with barren soil and mining debris. But the houses are very nice.

From one Pole to the Other

Our research in Antarctica is conducted during December through February. That's our winter, but the Antarctic summer. This is the best time to go to Antarctica, because the days are long, temperatures are at their highest, the weather is the least dangerous. But, while we were down at the bottom of the southern hemisphere bathed in 24-hours of daylight, the Arctic (the top of the northern hemisphere) was in the middle of its harsh winter, with no daylight at all!
Now, in July, it's summer for us here in the northern hemisphere. But, in Antarctica, it's the middle of winter! It's too dark, cold, and dangerous for us to be working down there now. Even though we can't be in Antarctica right now doing our research, we still keep working and learning. We just have to go to the other end of the Earth to do it! Right now, Elizabeth is in Norway, way up north towards the Arctic. She is learning about Arctic microbiology, so that she can see how it relates to what we find in Antarctica. Elizabeth will be keeping us posted on what she learns, sees, and experiences up in Norway. So stay tuned for her posts!