A typical day for Sunniva and Hilde
1. What's a day in Bamsebu like?
It’s dark and quiet out here, except when strong winds send waves and ice crashing on the shore.
Every morning, we wake up in a cold cabin. We light the wood burning stove to warm ourselves and our drinks. Since space is limited, we put our beds away, turning the room into a living area during the day. We go get our dog Ettra, a 40-kg Malamute and Greenland mix, and feed her inside.
We prepare our food daily since whatever’s fresh can go bad very quickly due to the fluctuating indoor and outdoor temperatures. We have cereal or oatmeal for breakfast, a light lunch, and a hot meal at dinnertime. After cooking, we clean up.
We prepare for the day with a list of what to do and follow up on. We plan for the coming week and strategize. We organize our photos. We also write, read a bit, reply to emails, and keep in touch with our supporters and partners. Communication is key for us.
We use our yoga mats for stretching and to train with workout bands. We take Ettra out for a walk in the dark to let her run a bit (always on a leash).
We observe the clouds and aurora for NASA. The other day, we were “on standby” from 9 am to 1 pm, waiting to photograph a NASA rocket launch that would release gases, to study the CUSP aurora we get here in Svalbard.
We check the weather station for indoor and outdoor temperatures and wind chill. We gather ice and/or snow outside for our water supply and collect wood, which we chop and stack ourselves. We never leave without a headlamp or flare gun. Before going anywhere, we do a 360-degree scan of our surroundings to make sure there aren’t any polar bears or signs of them, like their tracks. We dress like we’re going on an expedition, even if it’s just to go outside to the bathroom. Nothing is quick, simple or easy!
We’re always on the lookout for miracles. Each day, something different, special and humbling happens that fills us with so much gratitude. We’re ready for the unexpected, too, and we take the time to fix what’s not working when we can. Last month, we couldn’t use the boat as we were surrounded by ice and unable to get it into the water. We could still get around by Lynx snowmobile, on skis and on foot, however.
2. Have you made much progress in your research so far?
Our citizen science data is collected over time so that’s progress for us. Right now, we’re not able to obtain saltwater samples because of the ice preventing us from taking our boat on the water. We’re still able to fly a drone and capture thermal imagery that can measure ice thickness and detect animals. We document wildlife sightings and encounters, and any interactions with polar bears. We also record weather data, as well as cloud and aurora observations for NASA. Our entire stay in Bamsebu, from September 2019 to May 2020, is dedicated to gathering data that researchers can measure.
3. How do you stay safe in such harsh weather conditions and in polar bear territory?
Here, it’s all about safety and survival. We make sure that what we do is deliberate and thoughtful. We’re always alert, aware of our surroundings and living in the moment, so that we can notice changes more easily.
Whenever we go outside, we bundle up with plenty of thick layers to prevent frostbite and stay warm. We wear a headlamp that’s always charged so that we have light to properly scan our surroundings at all times. We also wear a holster belt with a knife, flare gun and weapon, and use night vision binoculars to spot movement in the dark.
We’re outdoors together for extended periods of time. We communicate a lot with each other and make sure we know what the other is doing so that we can keep an eye out. We go through different scenarios and “what if’s” to make sure we’re ready in case of an emergency. When we know a big storm is coming, we prepare for it by making sure there’s enough firewood, ice for water and food in proximity, and that everything is tied down.
We recently learned that a polar bear attacked and killed a dog at a station about 100 km from where we are, so at night we now keep Ettra inside the small sauna right next to Bamsebu. We both have experience handling emergencies, and there’s a first aid kit for the three of us.
We prepare for the worst and always hope for the best.
4. What's the most magical part about being in remote Bamsebu?
Everything about being here at Bamsebu is magical. There’s a silence that’s hard to describe. There’s a darkness that seems to shed light. There’s a vulnerability that’s real.
We observe change every single day – no day is the same. We’re active and passive at the same time.
There are no external stressors like we have back home, and because of this, we feel everything, even our thoughts. We always try to stay positive, and we feel quite fortunate to be living a simple, uncomplicated existence.
Our distractions are different from the ones back home. Here, we’re distracted by the weather – wind, snow, icy conditions, temperature; our thoughts; and the aurora, moon and lights! The northern lights are random, and since we’re closer to the lower band of the Green Aurora than we are to the nearest town, it often feels like we’re being showered with light. Our favourite distraction is Ettra, of course. And our least favourite: the sounds polar bears make when they’re around. Then, it’s all hands on deck!