Originally Published: August 23, 2006 4 a.m.
Editor's note: Following are excerpts from teacher Maggie Kane's journal entries regarding her studies in Svalbard, Norway.
"Today we started our day with some really interesting lectures," Kane wrote in her online journal.
A professor from a nearby university, told Kane and her fellow researchers that because Svalbard is only 600 miles from the Northpole, it's completely dark between mid-November and February and completely light between April and August.
Researchers Al Werner and Mike Retelle talked with their fellow scientists about climate change and said most of the earth's history shows cooler conditions than humans have ever seen. A long cooling episode during the past 1,000 years suggested an upcoming ice age, "but then in the last several decades, we jumped out of that trend and abruptly warmed," Kane wrote.
"The rapid increase in the world temperature we are currently experiencing is unlike anything we have any record of."
Kane and her fellow researchers walked to a glacier in Longyearbreen and she wrote, "When the glacier melts fast in the summer, a lot of water is rushing all over the place. This stream is called a supraglacial meltwater stream and it was running on top of the ice along the side of the glacier. The way it cut into the ice reminded us of the slot canyons in the American Southwest."
Researchers left Lonyearbyen and traveled to a field site at Isfjord Radio on Kapp Linne. They rode on a boat the Stockholm.
Isfjord Radio is an old radio station built in the 1950s that connected Svalbard to Norway, Kane wrote. Now researchers and tourists use it, although it's still fully equipped as a communication station.
During a day filled with many tough chores, such as getting a heavy boat into the lake, the researchers laughed and joked their way through daunting tasks.
"We kept our spirits up and stopped often to tell jokes," Kane wrote. "That is one of the many wonderful things about this group they are very funny and love what they are doing, so it is always fun to be working with them!"
"As the fog moved inland and encountered the tall mountains between the coast and our valley, it rose up and spilled over the top and flowed down the slope in the most mysterious way."
Kane termed this "a very busy and successful day."
She worked with another researcher to set up a transect across the stream they were studying.
"We set up the rope so that we can take measurements along a transect and know exactly where we are in the channel," Kane wrote.
"We want to know everything we can about this stream," Kane wrote. "The amount of sediment carried relates directly to the stream velocity and that connects to our larger study of the entire glacier, river and lake system."
"Today was a really big day," Kane wrote, explaining, "We needed to hike up the glacier and start measuring our ablation stakes, and set up a radiation shield to measure temperature and relative humidity, AND set up a snow depth sensor attached to a solar panel."
"OK, so that seems full," she went on, "but you must also factor in the 18-mile hike that this involves!"
Although this journal entry included some research-related material, it included a polar bear story:
The graduate students were looking at some fossils. They'd walked down from the spot where they'd stored their boats and survival suits. A second group of researchers who were in a boat on the lake could see the students walking down, and noticed a bear following them about 200 meters behind.
One of the researchers radioed the students, then headed toward shore in a boat and shot two flares toward the bear. The bear didn't seem to notice so the researcher went to get more flares.
The students were taking pictures of the bear, but not interacting with it.
The researcher's second set of flares seemed to scare the bear and it ran off. When the students got back to their camp, they discovered that the bear had chewed on the hood of one of the suits.
"This is only a secondhand story," Kane wrote, "and only a few days old, and I hope I have portrayed it accurately, but you know how it is with bear stories!"
Of her own work that day, Kane wrote, "This day was a highlight for me because of the true and pure nature of discovery through exploration. This place is not well understood, and although brilliant people have studied it for years, there are TONS of unknowns, hunches, ideas, questions and more questions that tickle and needle us as we walk around."
"Today we saw a magical sight," Kane wrote. "Right off the coast of our beach, there were seven beluga whales feeding in the icy shallow waters, moving slowly as a pod, rising, letting out a rush of air, and slowly setting into the water again."
Kane did some research for her journal and wrote, "It seems that we have a good fossil record of the Deslphinapterus leucas back to 55-60 million years ago."
At Kongress Lake, researchers finally were able to collect a core sample from the bottom.
"This was a pretty big deal," Kane wrote, "as the conditions have to be just right. It also requires some specialized equipment and patience."
The scientists collected samples from either side of the chemocline, a line that separates the lake into two distinct levels of very different chemistry.
"Today it rained all day. It was the first day that challenged us to get the job done," Kane wrote. "It was also blowing wind really hard, and we had to protect our faces from it. We just kept smiling and telling jokes to keep our attitudes good. I actually had a really great time, and think it was a really fun and happy day."
The weather improved "Our view from Isfjord Radio out to sea was incredible we could see what seemed like hundreds of miles! The valley was lit with bright sunshine, and the river ran quickly with extra water."
"We had a lot of fun on the ice today," Kane wrote. We hear that there is a nasty storm coming in tonight, so we took full advantage of our day. Oh, yeah, we did get a bunch of water sampled and discharge measured also, so it was not all play!"
Despite more wet weather, the scientists gathered some information from the river. They stopped at an old delta that previously drained into the sea and they saw layers of marine mud and shells from more than 10,000 years ago.
As scientists headed out to collect equipment that they needed to bring in for the winter, Kane wrote, it "was a pretty tough day for all of us."
"It was also very wet and cold out. It really tested us."
One researcher had to lay on his stomach on the ice and stick his head inside a garbage bag with the computer so he could download data despite the rain.
"When I asked him how that went," Kane wrote, "he said the screen looked good and bright in the darkness! That is a great example of how we keep our spirits up even when it is a miserable day."
The scientists had some pretty heavy loads to carry, Kane wrote, and they had to carry it over some "very rough ground."
"I did pretty well, too, but just started cursing near the end when I fell over trying to change out my soaking wet socks!"
The day ended with pizza for dinner "a welcome end to a challenging day."
August 13 was Kane's last day in the field. Watch future editions of The Daily Courier for a final story about her experience.