Friday, August 2, 2013

Polar Bears

Day two began bright and early with a 6:30 AM wake up from our camp guide Oskar. After a filling breakfast of bread, cheese, dried ham, and a surprisingly tasty fruit soup, we packed our sandwich bags and headed North further into Petunia Bay.

We crossed the braided river system just outside of camp with little trouble, and headed up slope a bit for our activity of the day. Today we probed the ground in different places to create a topographic profile of both the surface and the permafrost underneath. We attempted to use our data to gain a general idea of what the active layer above the permafrost, and below the surface looked like. For each area we surveyed, we placed a marker into the permafrost so that we can return to the same sites later on. Hopefully after surveying once more later in the week, we will see a change in the level of the permafrost.

For dinner we ate freeze dried bags of food. On the menu tonight was lamb stew. Everyone also made sure to finish up their personal ration of ten pieces of bread per day.

As people were finishing up their dinner, we heard eagle-eyed Jonathan Tomkin ask for binoculars. Everyone quickly realized that he had spotted the polar bear family. We had been previously coached in proper polar bear situational behavior, so we knew what to do. We gathered in a central group to make ourselves appear larger, with the line of armed people in the front. We were prepared to make lots of loud noises to scare them away if they got too close.

However the bears chose to slowly wander along the water line, approximately 200 meters in front of us. The mother bear only briefly stopped to take a look at us before she decided to pick up the pace with her cubs following close by. As they walked away into the distance, the camp was filled with excitement and picture comparisons began. It was amazing to see such beautiful animals in nature with no glass in between us. At the same time, it is a reminder to us that they are wild animals, and that we must be prepared for the dangers that come with the territory.

Behind the keyboard,

Conor Healy, Allie Wroble and Lovisa Westermark

Photo credit: Swedish Polar Research Secretariat

This article is one in a series of blog entries written by University of Illinois students who traveled during summer 2013 to Stockholm, Sweden and Svalbard, Norway to participate in the interdisciplinary course, “Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic,” provided by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and co-organized with KTH Royal Institute of Technology. Course participants from both universities learn about issues related to climate change and the Arctic, capped by an excursion to conduct field research near the Arctic Circle. This program is partially supported by the European Union Center through a European Union Center of Excellence grant, and is an initiative of the Illinois-Sweden Program for Educational Research Exchange (INSPIRE). Student blog entries also appear on the web site of the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat

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