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> July 15, 2006 - Lectures and Glacial Hike
post Jul 16 2006, 01:55 PM
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Today we started our day with some really interesting lectures. First we learned about the meteorology (weather) of Svalbard from Dr. Ole Humlum, a professor here at UNIS. Some of the interesting bits we learned were that at 1000 km (600 miles) from the North Pole, it is totally dark here from mid-November until February, and totally light from April until August. Try to Imagine living in total darkness for 3 months! It is strange for us to go to sleep in the light right now, but I think it would be very difficult to wake up in the morning if it were totally black outside.

Ole also taught us that the Spitsbergan current, a section of the gulf stream, brings warm Atlantic waters up from the south. This influences the weather here a lot, making it relatively warm and quite wet. The permanent ice margin (where the sea ice stays frozen all year) is located near the northern coastline of Svalbard, but that has changed a lot over time. Wind also plays a big role here, as snow from the high plateaus gets blown down into the valleys, adding more snow to the glacier. This way, the glaciers receive more snow to help them grow than they might just from their own snowfall. 60% of Svalbard is covered in glaciers.

We also had a lecture from Dr. Al Werner and Dr. Mike Retelle about climate change. In a nutshell, we learned that most of earth’s long history showed cooler conditions than humans have ever seen, and that over the last 1000 years there has been a long cooling episode. This suggests that we were heading for another ice age BUT then in the last several decades, we jumped out of that trend and abruptly warmed. The rapid increase in the world temperature we are currently experiencing is unlike anything we have any record of. We also learned about how sea level changes as glacier grow or melt, and how to see evidence of them as shorelines on the side of valleys. Very cool stuff!

Listening to Lectures at UNIS
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We were also really lucky to get to go to a lecture by Icelandic geologist Dr. Olafur Ingolfsson. His talk was about the geology of Svalbard and covered the astonishing 570 million year old record recorded here in the rocks. Apparently, one of the big things about Svalbard’s geology is that 650 million years ago (mya) Svalbard was located way down by the South Pole! This means that because of continental drift, it has cruised from one pole to the other, experiencing a lot of different climates and several ice ages at each end! Imagine if you walked this same path, and experienced all the different temperatures, weather, plants and animals – wow! Svalbard has really been through a lot.

This story is told in the rocks everywhere we look. Svalbard has also been squished between Greenland and northwestern Europe, forming the great Caledonian mountains. Folds (big bends) in the rock strata are visible in lots of areas of the island. There are lots of different kinds of rocks exposed near where we will be living, and we are excited to see them. The Tertiary aged fossil shown below was one of many underfoot today. What do you think it is? What sort of place might you look for that same kind of organism today?

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You all know by now that we have been in Longyearbyen. Longyear was an American coalman who established the mines here 100 years ago and the town was named for him. Most features here on Svalbard are linked to the nearest town’s name, with the Norwegian ending tacked on. For instance, BYEN = town, BREEN = glacier, DALLAN = valley, ELVA = river and VATNET = lake. Now you try! Starting in 2 days, we will be living in the Linne (pronounced Lin-nay) valley. What would the lake there be called? How about the glacier? You got it if you said Linnevatnet and Linnebreen. Make you’re “a” sound long like car, and roll your r’s. Norwegian is really a fun language to try to speak!

OK. So we took our afternoon walk up Longyearbreen to see what we could see. It was a very nice day and it felt good to get out and stretch our legs. We saw the fossils I talked about and many others along this hike, like horsetails and other leaves. These rocks were pushed way out in front of the glacier as it advanced like a bulldozer pushing dirt, forming what we call an end moraine. This happened several hundred years ago during a cool period known as the Little Ice Age. You can see the end moraine as the big dark pile in this picture. The glacier has melted quite a distance back behind the moraine.

Hiking up Toward Longyearbreen
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We ran across some really interesting features, and had a lot of fun discussions about what we were looking at.

Stopping to Discuss the Glacier
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When the glacier melts fast in the summer, a lot of water is rushing all over the place. This stream is called a Supraglacial meltwater stream and it was running on top of the ice along the side of the glacier. The way it cut into the ice reminded us of the slot canyons in the American Southwest. The water was really moving through here! We could also hear it moving below us, either in a channel within the ice, or on the gravels at the bottom of the ice. It made a kind of distant roar.

Eric Checks Out the Supraglacial Stream
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We really enjoyed our day together on Longyearbreen.

Group on Longyearbreen
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Question of the day: what is the location nearest to where you live that has a present day glacier?

Answer from yesterday: the kids in Longyearbreen believe that Santa lives in the mountain right next to town. Since there are mine shafts, the adults place a large light inside one of the shafts, and the kids are told that is Santa’s workshop. For weeks, his light shines in the dark night, giving the kids at the North Pole all the hopes and dreams of kids all around the world.
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post Jul 17 2006, 05:53 AM
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I love your questions of the day and in particular this one about Santa....very interesting! I'll have to share it with Landon and Kalena.

As for your question about glaciers -here in Alaska we are surrounded by glaciers. Some of them can be even reached by car!

Thanks for the great journals!
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