nov 27 2008

Arctic Winter Ecology Course, bit by bit

Published by at 15:18 under Meg og mitt liv

Part One: Moraine Cave Spelunking

Definition of ’spelunking’ here.

There are so many things that I want to tell you about from the short two weeks on Svalbard, but I have a final exam on Tuesday, so I have to restrain myself in the blogging department. One of the first things we did after settling in in Nybyen (studenthousings) was to climb/crawl/squeeze through a moraine cave which took us 3 hours. It was me, Tore, Jago, Heather, Phillip and Matteo. None of us knew the whole way through the cave, or had any cave climbing experience, but we borrowed crampons from the student equipment storage and went out to the Longyear glacier with fresh courage. Well, that’s an exaggeration on my part. I’ve never felt comfortable with thight spaces, but I felt that I had to do it (now I’m very happy I did).

- Here’s a picture of me, forgetting about my mild claustrophobia, just enjoying the spectacular site of the insides of a moraine cave (a tunnel through the deposited mounds of earth, gravel and stones (up to the size of boulders) at the foot of a glacier, dug out by the glacier melt water).

 There were passages in the cave that were so thight that you had to lie your head down sideways to get through, with stones sticking up from the frozen ground as well as hangin down, frozen to the ceiling..let’s just say; I bumped my head more than once. But after the horrible passages that I would crawl/squeeze through as quick as possible just to get them over with, we came to this huge cathedral-like open rooms, glittering like diamonds from all the ice crystals that covered all of the walls and the ceiling.

In another room there were thousands of thin ice icicles hanging from the ceiling, almost touching the ground; on the picture to the left you can see Heather sliding on her back in order not to break any of them.

Pure, pure water, frozen to form the most perfect ice crystals; hexagonals. Actually, the same day we had a lecture about snow; it was fun to look for the «trumpet crystals», «sugar snow» and the hexagonals.

Even though the 3 hour journey was an adventure, it was quite a relief when we finally came to the opening and Jago had managed to dig us a way out. In the thight spaces I would sometimes have to wait for the people in front of me to get a bit a head to avoid getting kicked..well, in the head, with their crampons. While I was lying there; feeling stuck, stones poking from both sides and nothing but darkness around me besides my crappy head light; my mind would wander to the tons of stone and rock above me, only held together by a thin film of frozen water. That’s when I discovered that I really am nuts about cooking. Thinking of what I would make for dinner if I survived was the thing that managed to diverge my thoughts away from the frozen death trap I was in. And Hooray, I didn’t get a single panic attack in there, at least not one that I couldn’t stop by taking a few breaths as deeply as the floor and ceiling would allow me to.

Now I HAVE TO get back to studying. I want to warn you readers that despite my tale of the dreadful crawl got an urge for moraine cave spelunking; it IS dangerous. Talk to someone who knows what they’re doing before you go ahead. In some of the big rooms we were in, there were patches of exposed rock in the ceiling; which means that stones must’ve fallen down recently; ice crystals hadn’t formed on the bare spaces yet. Lastly, I must credit Phillip for these pictures; my big bulky camera wouldn’t have made it through the cave with me. You can find some more of his pictures here:

Phillips Picasa Folder – Arctic Winter Ecology Course

Oh, and one last thing (disregard this if you know Svalbard winter conditions) : We had SNOW ! And lots of it! We had to dig ourselves in and out of the cave. Big, fluffy snowflakes, oh, how I adore thee!

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