AMASE 2007: Beginning of the End
I wish today could last forever. The weather and landscape has been magical
and I feel as if I never want to leave.
We've been sailing back from Wahlenberg Fjord since last night. Some time in
the middle of the night, we stopped at a cabin and picked up a girl who is a
student at UNIS. She has been camping with some friends for the last nine
days and had arranged a ride back to Longyearbyen.
We drove into Raudfjord this afternoon for a sightseeing trip. There is a
cabin on the eastern side, Raudfjordhytta, where Hans spent his first weeks
in the field in Svalbard. This is one of the numerous "trapper cabins"
scattered around Svalbard. The cabin consists of two tiny rooms made of very
old, sun bleached wood. The roof is flat and covered in corrugated tin. It
is not a shelter most people would find themselves looking to spend a winter
in. Four workers from the Svalbard Governor flew in by helicopter to repair
roof leaks while we were there. It is unclear when the cabin was built-
there were a few diary entries scribbled on the wall from the 1930s,
accompanied by a few pieces of paper with entries from more recent
inhabitants. Scattered on the ground around the cabin were old remains from
the days when the cabin was in use; a wooden dog sled, a rusty stove pipe;
all looking a bit ancient.
We took a short hike up a hill behind the cabin. There are two graves from
old sailors on the hill. Their coffins sit on the ground and are covered in
cobbles as the permafrost prevents underground burial. Their life up here
must have been very hard and little is known about them or the cause of
their death, but their final resting place is among the most beautiful
places on Svalbard.
The last Zodiac of people lingered on the shore. The fjord was bright and
beautiful as it had been all day. The sky was blue, the wind was light,
sharply cut mountain peaks circled the fjord, their surfaces glistening with
recent snow. Standing on the shore, avoiding returning to the ship we were
quiet and I was reminded of my final Zodiac ride in Murchison Fjord last
year. Hans, Ivar and I had motored so slowly back to the Lance, not wanting
to leave the magic of the far northern reaches.
Back on the Lance, many of us wandered the deck for the next few hours
watching the spectacular series of mountains, glaciers, fjords and icebergs
flow by. After dinner the Spanish Raman team's request of yesterday came
true. The captain was able to gently sidle our ship up alongside a
relatively large iceberg. Slowly, the Raman laser gear was hauled up from
below deck and they fired their bright green laser at different points on
the iceberg, capturing its spectral signature.
In one way, it seems perfectly normal to want to measure the spectra of
something as common as ice. Good plan for an instrument team hoping to find
evidence of habitability on Mars, right? In another way, it was an
obscenely hilarious sight to watch a large ship "cuddle with an iceberg" as
Steve Squyres put it and shoot it with laser beams!! Lance kept adjusting
slightly to keep the iceberg at the correct angle for the laser sitting on
the deck and nearly everyone was on deck watching the sight. The green light
bounced around the iceberg surface, some measurements on the ice, some in
the adjacent water. When a bird landed nearby, we wondered what might happen
if it crossed the path of the beam, but luckily that did not become an
We are leaving northern Svalbard now, headed towards Ebbadalen, our first
field site from last year. It is about an hour and a half sail up Isfjorden
from Longyearbyen. I know there are four more days of AMASE 07, but I can't
help but feel that my favorite part of the trip is coming to a close.
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center