Our faculty visited Arctic
October 13-19, 2019 in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, the SVF-8063 School of Society and Advanced Technology in the Arctic, organized by the Arctic University of Norway (UiT), was held. Senior colleagues and research assistants of the Higher School of Economics participated in it as students and teachers. There were also specialists and students from other countries. A number of disciplines were in the training course, including mathematics and data analysis. This is the second school of the “Arctic project” of the HSE DeCAn lab -the first one was held in 2018 in Tromsø, Norway.
This Arctic story began with our meeting with colleagues in the Aeroexpress waiting room to Sheremetyevo. It was an autumn morning, but we were dressed in winter. There were two flights ahead, one to Oslo, and the second to Tromsø, a city in northern Norway, from there there are air flights to Svalbard.
But the adventure began even before arriving on the archipelago. At Gardermoen Airport in Oslo, when checking in my luggage, an airport employee noticed that I had a single-entry Schengen visa. It turned out that that Svalbard is not a Schengen area, so after arriving there from Oslo, my only opportunity to enter Schengen will be exhausted. But the return journey will also be through Norway, so it will be necessary to enter the Schengen area again. Soon the same problem was noticed by five more members of our team; it was decided to begin to resolve this issue upon arrival in Norway.
At the Tromsø hotel, Fuad Aleskerov met us with his colleagues, and said that the issue of visas was already being resolved at the level of the Governor of Svalbard. After dinner, we went for a walk in the city center. It is a very nice and cozy town, but it was amazing that the streets are so deserted. We also saw, although not very bright, but still wonderful northern lights.
The next morning, we flew to the city of Longyearbyen, the administrative center of Svalbard. Sometimes the plane flew so low over the sea and snow, and maneuvered between the peaks so neatly, that it almost touched mountains by the wings.
Svalbard is an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. The largest city and administrative center is Longyearbyen, its population is about two thousand people. About two thirds of them are Norwegians, the rest are foreigners. There are several other towns, one of them, Pyramiden, is a sparsely populated Russian village, populated mainly by researchers. Interest in the archipelago, among Norwegians and Russians, appeared at the beginning of the last century, when it became known that there are large deposits of coal, and there are wide opportunities for fishing. Now coal production is being decreased for keeping the nature. However, one interesting tradition still remains - in any organization, shoes must be removed at the entrance. Previously, it was necessary due to the fact that the streets were covered with a layer of soot, due to the very intensive coal mining.
Now Svalbard is a unique place in its purity. Due to permafrost here are fewer bacteria and dust than in other parts of the world. But, there is not a single tree - plants are generally absent, with the exception of dry grass. In the middle of summer, you can see flowers - according to the law they cannot be collected. Also, hunting is prohibited on most of the archipelago. Vegetables here are grown in greenhouses, but mostly provisions are delivered by plane or ship. Our lunches and dinners consisted mainly of meat. The polar night lasts half a year, our training took place shortly before it began.
All houses are fully built of wood. Despite this, both outside and inside, they almost do not differ from the usual brick houses. All buildings stand on stilts, because it is easier to place then on the ground, and this method of construction helps to keep heat in houses. There are no building materials here, a tree for them is fused here on water. Houses are very intensely heated.
Deer and fawns walk freely around the city. Birds were seen only by the water. The main danger to humans are polar bears, the number of these animals on the archipelago is gradually increasing. The polar bear is to some extent a symbol of this place. Various souvenirs, images, signs constantly remind of them; sayings and jokes about polar bears are heard in any conversation.
Some of us had to skip the first lesson - six students with single-entry visas were delivered to the governor's residence. We handed over our passports, and after about forty minutes we got them back. Such a rare souvenir appeared in them - Svalbard visa!
Every day we had classes, and also was given time to work on projects in groups. These projects were dedicated to the development of Svalbard. For each day, we had a tour planned. We were at the University Centre in Svalbard, whose students, in addition to other subjects, study shooting, because of the danger of polar bears. We have often seen people with a gun on their backs on the streets of the city.
The most surprising thing about me at the museum was the reconstruction of the work of a miner. This man, lying in a gorge, with a face covered with soot, does his job. Also there were scenes of hunting for whales and seals, in crimson colors. On the residence of the governor, where some of us have already been, the vice-governor of Svalbard spoke with us. She said that their biggest challenge is to keep the balance between human and nature.
The location of Svalbard makes it very suitable for space exploration. At one of the peaks is a satellite station. We went there by bus along a mountain serpentine, the turns were sharp, and the angle of elevation was high. Once our bus could not go further, and the driver asked everyone to move to the end of the bus. As we ascended, amazing landscapes appeared before our eyes. And then there was a lecture under the huge antenna, and lunch at the research center of the satellite station.
So, our training ended, and the defense of our projects took place. On the last day of our trip, in the morning we walked around Svalbard, and in the evening we were already in Oslo.
Our plane to Moscow, did not leave for a long time. The crew reported that additional time was required before departure, and then we were asked to leave and get our luggage. We were given vouchers from the airline to purchase food at the airport, and then we were sent to the Radisson Hotel. It was placed directly opposite the airport. In addition to all possible amenities, the room had a large marble writing desk. The window overlooked Oslo, and this view was very similar to the view of Moscow. New air tickets have already arrived on our emails. The new flight was planned for tomorrow, one o'clock in the afternoon. In the morning, some of us even managed to take a train to the city and have a walk around Oslo!
When the plane was already low, and I saw the cities near Moscow, I felt that I really missed Russia. We got off the plane, it was raining, it was +16, and Pushkin’s autumn again surrounded us. But Svalbard fascinated all of us, and memories about it, still warm our souls. :)
Elena Zamiatnina, research assistant at HSE DeCAn lab