Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Goodbye Barentsburg!

By Rebecca Herrmann and Aaron Letterly

 Our second and final morning in Barentsburg found our group enjoying a traditional Russian breakfast of eggs, sausage, fruit, and drinkable yogurt! After filling ourselves to the brim, we went on a visit to the Pomor Museum.  There were exhibits on Geology, Nature, History, and Art.  There was little information in the exhibits so we had a tour guide, Vadim F. Starkov.  Starkov knew very little English, so we had a member of our group, Georgy, translate for us.  The museum centered on Pomor history.  The Pomors were Russian and hunted walruses and whales.  They claim to have come to Svalbard in the 15th Century, while Norway says that the Pomors did not come until the end of the 18th Century.  

Calendar used by Pomors
After the museum, we visited the research station to talk to Alexander Tebenkov, the Chief Geologist.  In the room where we sat, there was a map of Svalbard with signatures on it.  If you work at the research station for more than two Arctic seasons, you get to sign the map.  As a geologist for Arktikugol (the Russian coal company), Tebenkov’s job is to look for coal and study the continental shelf.  Tebenkov spoke of the frustrations he has when he has to get permission from the Governor of Svalbard to do research.  But he is also glad that the Governor is from Norway, because the environmental protection laws keep the land nice.

When the visits were complete, we got a few more hours to explore the unique and imposing built environment of Svalbard’s largest Russian settlement. The delta where the town’s power plant empties into the Greenland Sea is a peculiar blend of natural environment and human interference; the glaciers shine pristinely in the distance, but a dilapidated steel ship and oily outflow from the coal plant tarnishes the view from almost every perspective.

We returned to Longyearbyen via Zodiak fjord boat, and the calm seas allowed our adventurous pilots to partake in the arctic version of water sports. The two groups alternated soaking each other with sea spray by motoring through our wakes. A lone bearded seal on the docks of Longyearbyen greeted us upon our return, and we nearly forgot about our soaked life suits as we eagerly photographed one of the more entertaining examples of Arctic wildlife. 

Rebecca Herrmann is a Junior studying Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois, with a focus in Environmental Engineering and Sustainability.  She is from Batavia, IL.

Aaron Letterly is a Senior studying Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois, with a concentration in Climatology/Atmospheric Chemistry.  He is from Latham, IL.


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