Thursday, July 26, 2012

Below the Surface

by Sarah Rivard and Nick Musso

Friday the 13th turned out to be a great day despite superstition. As usual we woke up bright and early, had breakfast and set out for another day of interviews and exploration, this time about what lies beneath the surface of Svalbard. First, we met with Morten Often, the Vice President of Exploration for the Store Norske Spitsbergen Coal Company. Mr. Often presented a PowerPoint that offered information such as Store Norske’s history on Svalbard, its current practices in two of its active mines and future plans for Norwegian coal and also gold mining on the archipelago. The presentation was then followed by coffee and many questions that we were eager to ask. Having the opportunity to talk to a representative from the Spitsbergen Coal Company was very valuable for us and our research. It has given us a better understanding of Norwegian intentions regarding the outcome of Svalbard’s future.

Later that same day, we were lucky enough to take another boat ride to Janus Mountain. This particular mountain in Svalbard is famous for its large amount of fossils, from the smaller, shelled marine organisms to the large marine animals such as the plesiosaur and ichthyosaur. As we hiked up the mountain, we learned about the different marine environments that formed the terrain we walked over, depending on the depth of the water at that time. Once we got to the site, we used the shovels and rock hammers available for tourists and set to work hunting for the perfect fossil, from bivalves and clam-like fossils to cone-shaped squids to the coveted spiral ammonites. Some even had dreams of unearthing a new plesiosaur! We had a lot of fun digging for our own fossils, and it was a great feeling to crack open a rock and be the first person ever to see what was inside. We all left Janus Mountain with bags and pockets filled with our souvenirs. We did, however, have to dodge attacks by an Arctic Tern, one of the most aggressive birds of the tern family, as we trekked back to the beach. Fortunately we were taught how to handle these attacks by raising our walking sticks into the air, causing the tern to attack it instead of us, and everyone came to each other’s aid.

On the ride back to Longyearbyen, we stopped just outside of the harbor to hear another story from our guide. After he had finished, a few of us looked over the edge of the boat and happened to see some jellyfish! Our guide spent several minutes explaining the different types we saw, and even borrowed a water bottle to catch some for us so we could get a better look. It was strange to see them this far north, especially since a lot of us had never seen any wild jellyfish before! All in all, Friday the 13th turned out to be a very lucky day for all of us.

Sarah Rivard is a senior studying Integrative Biology with a minor in Atmospheric Sciences. She is from Kankakee, IL.

Nick Musso is a junior studying Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences with a concentration in Human Dimensions. He is from Oak Lawn, IL.


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