"Dispatches from Europe" Blog Contest

Are you planning on traveleling to the European Union this summer? Submit a post to be featured on our Across the Pond blog and win prizes!

Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic Blogs

The third Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic class traveled to the Arctic Circle in summer 2014. Check out their blog entries from this summer!

Ringing the Bells at the Banner of Peace

Landscape Architecture Doctoral candidate Caroline Wisler reflects on her travels to Bulgaria.

Zach Grotovsky's Summer 2013: 14 Cities, 15 Weeks, One Long Adventure

University of Illinois graduate student in Germanic Literatures and Languages Zach Grotovsky documents his travels throughout Eastern Europe in the summer of 2013.

Polar Bears

The Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic class spotted polar bears in Norway!

Peaceful Opposition in Izmir

MAEUS student Levi Armlovich describes his experiences with the protests in Izmir, Turkey.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

An Avalanche of Contrasts

Photo: Dag Avango
Today we visited two worlds: the Arctic we have become so familiar with and Pyramiden, the diorama of Soviet life we only just encountered yesterday. It has been an avalanche of contrasts: the coolness of the Arctic against the warmth of the Pyramiden hotel; Norwegian colors and Soviet monotone; the kindness of our Russian guides and the dominating frigidity of Svalbard's dappled peaks.

In Pyramiden, we investigated a power plant, black and rust. We had lunch on the docks, perusing the dead hulks of cranes and thousands of pieces of metal. Farther inland, decrepit mine buildings enticed intrepid explorers, but thoughts of lead paint and asbestos held some of us at bay.

After the exploration, we rendezvoused at the hotel to present our questions to Sasha, an ex-grad student who gave up academia to explore the world. Having hiked China and worked in Antarctica, he made his way to Svalbard to work as a Pyramiden tour guide. He proved exceptionally knowledgable, enlightening us to many aspects of Russian activity on Svalbard. We learned that Pyramiden was considered a miner's dream job and that, although modern Russia is determined to hold the town as a political gesture, any further mining would be uneconomical. Interestingly, tourism has been present ostensibly since the 1950's, according to Sasha. Pyramiden was set up as a model Soviet village of workers, and in that regard, a form of propaganda for the last half century.

Returning back to the base camp with thoughts of a mining life in our minds, the long hike seemed like a trans-national trek. Our camp, once a cold, wet camp with sticky, bland rations seemed to transform into a delightful sanctuary, complete with delicious soups and sandwiches! Such is the wonder of Arctic travel – contrast is illuminated as if by the midnight sun. A sun we are about to see – sleeping bags beckon!
Goodnight from Petunia Bay!

Shanshan Ge, Anton Lindholm, Logan Nagel

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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Friday, July 26, 2013

Pyramiden


Pyramiden. Photo: Dag Avango
After a nice sunny night, we woke up to another rain filled morning. Today our plan was to hike to Pyramiden, an old Russian mining settlement, named after the central mountains pyramid shape. The main goal in going to Pyramiden was to understand how the settlement functioned and how it impacted the Arctic environment.

The five kilometer hike to the settlement was cold and uncomfortable due to the constant rain and poor visibility. On our way, we had to to climb over large boulders and trek through thick mud. In the mud we even came across footprints from the same mother polar bear and cubs we had seen a few days prior.

After two hours of hiking we finally saw the fog covered settlement in the valley below. Walking through Pyramiden we saw several public buildings including the old cultural center, swimming pool, and kindergarten. Because the mining in Pyramiden was halted in 1998 all of these buildings were abandoned and mostly uninhabited. However, as of recently, Russia has begun to renovate this once thriving mining town. One of the most striking features of the settlement was the delapadated buildings which created the feeling of a ghost town. Many of these buildings had been built in the late 1970s–early 1980s and left as they were.

By the time we headed back to our camp, the sun had found its way out amidst the fog, revealing the majestic Nordenskiöld glacier across the bay. Tomorrow we plan to revisit Pyramiden to see more of the mysterious city and interview the local population on their experience with the mining town.

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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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Exciting Encounters

Hello from Svalbard! Day three of the tent camp, the weather was perfect for a long hike – no wind, no burning sun, no rain. We headed north east from our camp towards a glacier called Svenbreen. Our scientific aim was to date the age of the moraine, which is debris deposited at the end of a glacier.

When a glacier retreats, the moraines show us where previous glacier fronts were, giving us an idea of the rate of retreat.

Along the way we had several exciting encounters...

First we had river crossings, where we got to experience first hand the icy cold glacial melt waters.
Next we found the remains of Soviet surveying equipment, reminding us that we are not the first visitors here.

After that we were in our very own episode of Animal Planet. We had gained a tiny fluffy follower for a short while, before nature took its course. The goose chick became the main course for a hungry Arctic fox.

Next came the rocks, and the adrenaline rush of the day, a rock slide! Our quick thinking leaders led us to safety.

The climb was steep and difficult, but well worth it. The view was incredible! For many members of the group this was the first close up experience with a glacier. This glacier has not retreated very much due to the surrounding topography. However the view of the valley next door told a different story. According to a previous map, thirty years ago we would have been looking at a glacier front. As you can see in one of the pictures, no ice to be seen! It has retreated roughly 2 km in those thirty years.

We returned worn out but happy and hungry. We finished the day by celebrating the 4th of July by playing the Swedish game of Kubb!

Group 3, signing out

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.

Photo: "Glacier near Infantbreen, Svalbard," (c) 2012 Superchilum, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license
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Friday, July 19, 2013

Rolling Mist

Today is officially the halfway point of our trip and we were greeted  by the rolling mist waking up. It blanketed the landscape and shrouded the mountains and glaciers that we had grown accustomed to admiring, it was accompanied by a fine drizzle. Not to be stopped we layered up and headed out to hunt for the Svalbard flora. We hiked northeastward following the coast up a few kilometers from our camp. Once at the site we started down at the beach, first hunting for tracks from our polar bear friends, though they had been covered by the restless tide. We did thou see an arctic turn tern bird nesting which  prompted our discussion on the essential aquatic ecology. Even the mighty polar bears rely heavily on the oceanic food web and its plankton base. It is easy to see how any change in the arctic ocean Arctic Ocean, such as climate change, can have a large effect on the enviorment environment out here, because it is so interconnected.

Then we proceeded to collect our biological data for the day's excursion. We set up one square meter area to record the local flora in various areas, starting at the beach and moving up into the mountains. We recorded the flora in each of these locations and found these resilient white and purple flowers, the mountain avens and purple saxifrage, scattered all throughout our areas. We also observed a lot of interesting moss and grasses. After a quick glimpse of the Ferdiandbreen glacier the fog pushed us back to camp.

Chilled we set up our tent heaters and enjoyed a warm and cozy evening singing in the Scandinavian style with "authentic" Svalbard songs and our home universities universities' Alma Maters. Happily just as we were going to bed, the sky cleared and the sun came back out, hopefully we will have a beautiful day tomorrow here at 78 degrees, 40 minutes north.

"Warm regards",
Scott V.H, Tricia M, and Andreas G

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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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Petunia Bay

This article originally appeared on the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat's website.

by Fredrik Isaksson, Emma Giesen and Peiyuan Zhang

We started the day at 7 am in the morning. The weather in Longyearbyen was cold, windy and foggy. We had our breakfast in the guest house and each of us prepared a lunch bag. Surprisingly we found a reindeer outside the reception having his breakfast as well. The buses picked us up at around 8:30 am for the trip to the harbor. Then we boarded the boat, Langøysund, along with other tourists and headed towards the camp site in Petunia Bay.

The boat ride took three hours and a local Norwegian guided the tour. We saw puffins and seagulls from the boat. The guide also pointed out some deserted coal mines and settlements. After passing through Billefjorden, our boat stopped at Petunia Bay where we loaded our equipments on the Zodiac. It took three trips and a lot of team work to transport all the people, equipment and two dogs to the shore. Luckily the weather improved as we started to set up the tents at the camp site. The fog was now gone and the sun was shining on the snowy sedimentary mountains surrounding the bay.

Our camp site is pretty flat with not much vegetation and located with a good view over the surroundings. Four tents were put up as sleeping tents, one as cooking tent and one sleeping tent for the night guard. We put up a washing station and collected water from a nearby creek. An environmental friendly toilet facility was also put up. The security guidelines regarding hygiene and polar bears are gone through once more. Since a mother polar bear with her two cubs has been spotted in this area only two days ago and several times before that, we have to be extra careful not to disturb them.

The view from our site is great. On the other side of the bay we can see Skottehytta and in the distant we can hear the cracking from the Nordenskjöld Glacier. The sound is similar to thunder, spreading through the landscape, making us feel quite small. The vegetation in this area consists of low growing flowers, mosses and grasses between the rocks. This evening we spend combining geology, hiking and dinner cooking at 78 degrees north.

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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