Mapping Arctic Research Stations on Svalbard

As a part of an EU infrastructure and collaboration project, the father-son team that photo mapped the Faroe Islands last summer is now inviting you to take a virtual tour of the Ny-Ålesund Arctic research station on Svalbard.

As a part of an EU infrastructure and collaboration project, the father-son team that photo mapped the Faroe Islands last summer is now inviting you to take a virtual tour of the Ny-Ålesund Arctic research station on Svalbard.

Since this year, Mapillary has been involved with INTERACT—an EU project seeking to get all the Arctic research stations (currently 83 of them are part of the network) to effectively work together through better infrastructure and tighter collaboration over country borders and other hurdles. Also, climate change negotiations can be conducted much more easily using the fact-backed and neutral environment of these stations and their researchers—also known as "research diplomacy".

One way to make the research and the remote locations more accessible is to provide on-site imagery for them, which is why I, together with my son Oskar, did a trip to Ny-Ålesund—the biggest collection of international research stations in the Arctic. The goal was to provide examples relevant to the other station leaders so they could map their respective stations as well in the coming two years.

The Ny-Ålesund pilot mapping team The Ny-Ålesund pilot mapping team

You can already see some of the stations now having Mapillary coverage on the INTERACT website, like the Station Dirigible Italia and the United Kindom Arctic Research Station. With the imagery collected during the pilot, we invite you to take a peek into the everyday at an Arctic research station.

History

The old remote mining town of Ny-Ålesund is the northernmost permanent human settlement on the planet. Mining has been stopped long ago; instead it is now one of the most famous Arctic research stations—being the start of both the first expedition to reach the North Pole by airship, and the place where Amundsen (who has a statue in the middle of the town) gave his life to rescue the Italian explorer Nobile.

Harsh environment—be prepared!

On and around Svalbard, temperatures are low; there are almost no settlements but around 3,000 Polar Bears, who see humans as potential prey. Safety is extremely important for research field trips and is handled centrally by the University Center in Svalbard (UNIS Svalbard) in Longyearbyen.

Safety gear

Extremely sensitive equipment

The whole town has strict radio silence, since some of the measurements are so sensitive that they can get disturbed by a wireless transmitter several kilometers away. Every internet connection is ethernet, all cell phones must be switched to flight mode at all times.

The Italian Station "Dirigible Italia"

We were staying with the researchers at the Italian station. Every involved country has their own station buildings, the most prominent being Norway, Germany and China. Russia has their own polar stations elsewhere on Svalbard.

Glacial river flowing into the fjord

For sampling water from the glacier to the sea, scientists need to take probes from the river every day at different places from the glacier down to the coast to examine the conductivity and sediment content of the water. Glacial river sampling

On our way to the Gruvebadet station

If you leave the town, you are required to have a loaded gun with you and rather not go alone. There are around 3,000 polar bears roaming freely. They are curious and might check you out. If they are hungry or feel threatened, they might attack and you are required to first fire a warning shot with a flare gun to scare them off, and if it doesn't help then eventually you have to shoot to kill. Nobody wants that.

Inside a measuring station

The equipment is both very expensive to build and very expensive to bring up here. Also, in order to get good and statistically relevant data, measuring series need to be maintained over several seasons and years.

Measuring equipment at Gruvebadet

A lot of equipment is highly sensitive and can only be placed outside the town, even though there are only around 100 researchers living there during summer and only 35 during winter.

Huts

The researchers are living in very cramped conditions very close together for weeks, sometimes months. Both for research and recreation, there are a number of small cottages and huts strewn out over the surroundings of Ny-Ålesund so you can get away for a night. Just make sure you have your polar bear safety kit with you!

We're grateful for the opportunity to visit and help show this fascinating place, and are looking forward to seeing all the other research stations documented as well.

/Peter

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