Thursday, 28 January 2016

Light is on the Horizon!


In a bid to appear less vague I'm taking a leaf out of Lucy's book and editing the blog post bit by bit to ensure maximum information! Let's see how this one goes.

Alright so today (Sunday 24th), a few of us decided that we'd make the most out of the fact that it's the first weekend we've had in about 5 months where we haven't had some form of work that we've needed to do. Thus we strapped on our shoes and grabbed our cameras and went on the hunt for the famous Polar Bear sign at the edge of town. The overriding theme you'll see is that the sun is slowly peeping over the horizon and giving us some gorgeous lighting conditions!

On the way we got up to various shenanigans such as playing on a somewhat dilapidated swing set and attempting to climb a near vertical ice sheet. We saw some beautiful silhouettes cast by the rising sun in the south, some reindeer grazing peacefully with what seemed to be no cares in the world, and the governors house overlooking the town and making sure all is right in this remote haven. It's a special place here and I'm not sure quite how to describe and explain it all without dragging each and every one of you up here to see for yourselves.

After much dawdling and photo taking we finally arrived at the Polar Bear sign and took some more photos (surprising huh?). We got a short glance out across the open fjord and beyond and everything was still for a few moments as each of us took in a little bit of where we were and that just infront of where we stood was a place completely inhospitable to human life, yet we were stood there nonetheless.

For those wondering what the Polar Bear sign is:

Which loosely translates to "Applies to all of Svalbard". i.e. watch your back, there's likely a Polar Bear behind you.

Moving on to Monday it seemed like it was going to be a relatively uneventful day till I received an email from the gentleman that I'm applying to for a PhD and he thought a skype chat was a great idea to clear up any final pieces of information and to also get a chance to talk properly. I met David Long when I visited MSSL (Mullard Space Science Laboratories) at the end of November and had a chance to talk then but at that point it wasn't clear who was going to be the project supervisor.

FYI, I got the email in the middle of the first class of the day and nearly jumped out of it, sitting still was not an easy task. SO we skyped and it was great and he was encouraging, of course the system requires that all applicants are given full consideration before the 5th of February and then we move into interviews and the like, so I can't imagine there will be much more said about anything before that point. Nonetheless, it's encouraging! I can't describe how much I want to do my PhD there!!!!

Tuesday! The weather was on a whole other level today, gusts and snow blindness like nothing we've seen before with little snow twisters occasionally attempting to take us on a journey. Somewhat fun though! For a moment you get a real hint to what it must have been like back when Longyearbyen wasn't so civilised, when there was just a thin wall between you and the harshness of the Arctic and people likely dressed in less suitable clothing than us. It's somewhat of a far cry from the clear conditions of the previous night in which Lloyd, Ryan, and Kieran nabbed some fantastic star shots so go and take a look at them on their pages! Unfortunately no pictures here of either the stars or the crazy weather conditions though if I thought I'd have been able to hold onto the camera or the floor without being swept off into the abyss then I would have had something to show you!

In other news the building is making a weird creaking noise with each gust of wind and it sounds like something's about to be not so attached. I hope I won't have to move again... On that note too, we might be able to move into 11 at the start of next week! *win*

So Wednesday and Thursday passed without much of the interesting other than we finally have one of the Welfare rifles and equipment to go along with it; HIKE TIME!!!! I think we have plans to go up one of the plateau mountains and take some pictures of the town / sun / sky (if it isn't cloudy like it has been for the last few days), others are planning on going Skiiing at some point and a few other hikes have been discussed, personally I'm just glad to be getting out of town and back to exploring! More pictures too, so check back at the next post.

Also I experienced my first Norwegian class and learnt how to say a few phrases, repeat after me:

Jeg heter - I am called
Jeg kommer fra - I come from
Jeg er - I am
Engelsk - English

Though these phrases I'm sure Google is capable of translating, and the pronunciation you can figure out yourself and try it on me when I get back, good luck ;D

Right now, Kieran is on his way over to teach me about Age of Empires 2 so, gotta dash!

Time for a cuppah I think.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

End of Semester 1

So we're now all but finished with Aberystwyth. Mad!

The last 2 exams to be sat under their umbrella were on Monday and Tuesday of this week (18th / 19th) and whist it's so very nice to be free of exams, it does not feel like much of a victory. Not only was the EM Theory exam brutal but the last 4 months (or so) have been so draining on nearly every aspect of my life. The people that I've seen the least are the ones that I lived with last semester, I must have only gone airsofting twice, I could probably detail the insides of the University to a higher degree than that architect of the damn thing. *sigh*. On the plus side, Quantum Technology was an awesome exam so *yay*.

Alright, so, the last time I wrote to you all I was finishing one of the safety course days with 2 left to go. The penultimate day of training was spent doing rifle training and emergency shelters. The rifle training, as I'm sure some of my friends would know, was of course the thing that I was looking forward to doing most so I was probably bouncing in my seat whilst waiting to enter the range. Of course Rifles are severely dangerous when miss-handled so a lot of the time was spent going over the safety procedures and how to ensure that we would be most prepared for a bear attack without putting other members of the expedition in danger.

At some point in the prep the leader of the training asked if anyone had any previous experience with weapons of any kind and of course me being the slightly over-eager person that I am, mentioned Airsoft and to my surprise he didn't laugh at me. Win. Though this was somewhat short lived. After learning how to half-load the rifles we moved on to the fun part. There were targets placed 35m away (not far) and were asked to shoot 4 rounds at the center of the target. It was a given that the sights would be slightly off from center but so long as the drift was systematic and our rounds ended up in the same place then it would be fine. I, of course, thoroughly enjoyed this and here's my attempt whilst lying down; the easiest position:

SO MUCH FUN! Okay so that's out my system. But it really was and I was so stoked to see how I'd done.

I completely missed the damn target whilst the rest of the group did fantastically. Not even a single bullet. What.

I couldn't believe it, especially after having spoken to the instructor about Airsoft and everything. BUT. Turns out the sights were ridiculously off, seriously, they were. 

So me and my partner were handed a new weapon and the next pose was the kneeling position (the most likely position to take upon attack). This was somewhat harder to do because you have a lot more freedom to move the rifle around. Nailed it. I'm not going to lie, I was quite proud of my grouping. :D

With the shooting done, that concluded the majority of note worthy occurrences for Friday.

Saturday was the last day of the safety training and consisted of a round of tasks to be done based on what we had been learning for the last week. Tasks from saving people from a crevasse in which I was one of the victims and I joke not when I say that I had my manhood wrenched back from whence it came. Uncomfortable. There were Avalanche rescue scenarios and also a chance to take a lovely seat in a Jervenduk (Yourvendook) in a makeshift shelter made from snowmobile sleds.

The main idea of the training is really to do the best with what you have and to make sure that whatever the scenario, you're prepared for anything BEFORE you leave so as not to be left in a situation where this would be your only option.

The gentleman in the picture above that's sharing the Jervenduk with me is the author of the video below. He and another friend made a short clip synopsis of the survival training week which can be seen here:
So Woo! Week over and we all survived and none of us contracted Hypothermia contrary to the expectations of everyone. To celebrate we took a quick exam on the safety training to see whether any of us had actually been paying attention and then moved quickly into the Gathering. For those that have been paying attention to my facebook page, you'll have seen the general gist of what happens.

We drink. We laugh. My camera gets stolen and copious amounts of pictures are taken of people around the room. We laugh some more. Something else of mine is then stolen and returned to me several days later. *Sigh* But seriously, it's so much fun with everyone up here, they're all fantastic.

With the high of the previous week behind us, the Aber 7, as we seem to now be called, found it difficult to change our mindsets and get back to the revision for the exams that were still ahead of us from the previous semester. It was hard. After the adjustment to the new environment and the late evenings and lack of sleep, the last thing that anyone had was energy to sit down and revise Quantum Mechanics and Electromagnetic Theory. But we did and the exams came and went.

Aaaaaaaaaand then immediately back into the lecturing. Our lecturer for the week was a gentleman called JΓΈren (pronounced yuuren) from UiO (University in Oslo) and he was absolutely outstanding. A brilliant guy who flew through a lot of material in next to no time, yet in a way that was engaging and fun and I don't think I've ever met a teacher or lecturer like him before but I certainly hope I do in the future.

Other than that, there's not been a huge amount of things happening this week with a combination of tiredness and laziness but what's nice to see is that the Sun is slowly but surely returning. Some of my cohorts will no doubt have some fantastic pictures on their pages soon so I suggest you take a look but the ones that I have been able to capture are below along with other miscellaneous snaps from the last week. I hope you enjoy:

As you may be able to make out in one of the smaller images above, there were some Reindeer that decided to come exploring the outskirts on Nybyen whilst we were waiting for friends to walk to town. I managed to capture a small amount of footage with them on my phone, so I'll leave this entry on that note and say that I wan't wait till the next post, who knows what we'll have done by then!

Time for a cuppah I think.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Survival. Or lack there of.

"You're going to die"

I cannot hope to be able to count the number of times that we, here at UNIS, have heard this phrase since Monday. If we step here, we die. If we don't step there, we die. If we don't have a specific shoe, we die. If we're wearing mismatching colours, we die. Hell we may as well be told if we sneeze we die.

Funnily enough the Arctic is an inhospitable environment in which bad choices will likely lead to someones death or at least severe injury. This is nothing new and we were aware of this before coming here, that's why we were constantly told not to be eaten by a polar bear. NOOO, YOU DON'T SAY. The arctic survival course may as well be 1000 ways to die on Svalbard (not taking credit for that joke) but it's true.

All this aside of course it's incredibly important to have this training and so we started the week with advanced arctic first aid and dealt with those infamous manikins which we were forced to ask whether they were okay before administering CPR; we were told to ignore the fact that they had no arms and legs, a "flesh wound" as the black knight would say. It was super fun actually and we had a huge laugh with each other, making new friends such as Benjamin (Resident skyscraper), Emile (Resident funny guy), and Heather (Resident dwarf). Unfortunately I didn't manage to get any pictures of the practical first aid but the essence was tightly wrapping people up in many many layers of super warm (sort of) sleeping bag, take a look at Lucys blog for some pictures. The day was wrapped up with a tour of the facility and a chance to see where we'd be spending the next 4 months.

Onto Wednesdays tasks, in the morning we had some avalanche training in which we practiced techniques used to dig into the snow that has more than likely completely buried a person. It's not likely that someone caught in an avalanche is able to remain on their feet and more often than not is dragged under and encased in a frozen hell for what can be between half an hour and several but must feel like a lifetime to person trapped. We're said to have about 35 minutes to save someone in such conditions before their survival rate drops to about 35%. Scary. Nontheless it was a lot of searching and digging and all in all quite eye opening to the kind of conditions out there that made the lecturers initially say "you're going to die". 

In the afternoon we took a trip out to a freshwater lake just outside of town dressed in snowmobile kits and had the scenario that someone had fallen into the sea ice and had to be saved. The best part of this is when Heather offered herself as the victim to be in the water to which the lecturer looked her up and down and concluded "We're going to need a smaller suit". I was so gone. But the pictures are amusing.

The following gentleman was required to get in to save Heather. Sporting a very fashionable survival suit that you'll no doubt see on the catwalk next season.

The next section contains the rescue procedure and a few attempts of people getting into the ice and having to claw themselves out using ice-picks.

It's safe to say that it was cold and we wanted to get home as fast as we possibly could to get into something warmer! Though saying that, being in the water wasn't an issue, it was getting out and realising that your feet had been left behind, or they may as well have been as there was no feeling left in them...

Moving in to today, we had glacial rescue and map work to ensure that we could recover someone who had fallen down a crevasse and also to be able to inform anyone we were calling for help from, where we were. The Glacial rescue procedure was quite simple in theory but when the adrenaline is pumping and you know you have a finite time frame to the point where you're the deciding factor between whether someone is rescued or dies whilst trapped, I can imagine getting those ropes in the right place can be difficult. We were told a story about an incident in which 3 people fell down a crevasse with one casualty in which the person had become trapped by their head, meaning their head was wedged and the rest of their body was hanging underneath. Yeah, unpleasant.

So I hope by now you've got some of the feeling as to how much we've been told we're going to die this week and quite rightly so as if proper precautions aren't taken and if people don't listen to the established rules, accidents will happen. But the training has been invaluable and will almost definitely improve anyone present chances of survival in life threatening scenarios.

On a lighter note, Rifle shooting tomorrow; Something I've been looking forward to all week! I'll be sure to let you know how I do :)

On that note I shall bid you all farewell and let you know that despite the apparent danger, none of us have been harmed and I think the only fatality has been part of Lloyds coat that became ripped in an exercise. Hazaar! Also the first part of the video with us travelling to Longyearbyen is completed:

Check back soon for more!

Time for a cuppah I think.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

We're here!


Hazaar, finally in the place that each of us have been dreaming about for the last 4 years since we heard that Aberystwyth University students were privy to an exchange trip up to the arctic circle to work on arctic studies. Fantastic. Great. Brilliant. - 

 - Where's my suitcase you say? oh that's not important, let's not focus on the fact that I was the only one out of our group to have had their suitcase dropped somewhere in Europe and is now without clothes till Sunday. *Sigh*

Alright so complaining over I'm ecstatic. We took a short trip down to the Centre yesterday after we arrived and got a hold of the ID badges we need, some information, and a small chance to meet some of the people we're going to be spending the next few months with. After which we went shopping and immediate confusion set in. Everything was labelled in Norwegian so thank god we knew what bacon looked like but it was like £3-4 for a pack of 5 rashers! So now not only are we translating food (unsurprisingly) but we're having to take out a small loan to pay for it all. Yaaaaaaaaaaay

Myself and Lucy are in Brekke (Block) 3 for the next week before we're moved back to our ordinary block 11 after some work has been completed on it. In the meantime we've settled into our rooms which are super spacious and really quite warm. I'll take a picture when we're settled into our actual rooms as I doubt we'll fully unpack till we are.

On the menu for today is revision it seems, people are having issues getting out of bed, myself included as I was waiting for the room to get a bit lighter... I imagine that will happen a few more times before I fully get used to the fact that won't happen. During the revision I'm sure there will be points where we go outside to have a little look around or simply explore the centre itself. So to leave you all I've chosen a few pictures of the journey over and I'll have a video up in a little while:


And I only managed a single selfie. Excuse the somewhat bedraggled presentation; I was wearing the same clothes and hadn't had a shower for 15-16 hours.

Time for a cuppah I think.