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Hearts in the Ice

Hearts in the Ice

2 women, 1 trapper's hut, 9 months and 140 km away from civilization

Welcome to Bamsebu!

Arctic silence. The Northern Lights. Closeness to nature. Fascinating animal life. These are some of the things visitors to Svalbard hope to experience during a few days or perhaps a week on the island. Meet two women who will experience all the beautiful things Svalbard has to offer – every day for nine months while overwintering at the trappers’ cabin Bamsebu.

Before departure

It’s early September 2019. Norwegian Hilde Fålun Strøm and Norwegian-Canadian Sunniva Sorby walk, no run, around Longyearbyen arranging the last practical details before starting their overwintering. There were provisions to buy, clothes to pack, tools to arrange, a new dog Ettra to become acquainted with and family, friends and colleagues to bid farewell.

Hearts in the ice

“The reality of what it means to overwinter for nine months has started to sink in,” says Sunniva Sorby, who was born in Norway, but has lived in Squamish, Canada, for many years.

She has worked side by side with scientists in Antarctica for almost 25 years, and their discoveries in recent years have scared her more and more: the emergence of new species, the steady melting of glaciers and the disappearance of enormous ice caps.

“We have witnessed climate change and that’s one of the reasons why we’re doing this. We want to contribute to a global dialogue about climate, and we want to do so in a positive way. Every person must understand that they can make a difference! Every piece of plastic, cigarette butt or plastic bottle cap that ends up in a rubbish bin doesn’t end up in the sea. Every action makes a difference!”

Hilde Fålun Strøm has lived in Longyearbyen since the 1990s. She has seen huge changes locally, too. Longyearbyen used to be an Arctic desert, but now experiences more precipitation – rain as well as snow.

“Seeing the changes in Svalbard has been frightening. We hope that through the project ‘Hearts in the Ice’ we will be able to create social engagement around climate change. We hope overwintering at Bamsebu is just the start of something bigger,” says Hilde.

Bamsebu is a small trappers’ cabin situated 140 km from Longyearbyen, in the Van Keulenfjord south of the island Akseløya. The cabin is accessible by boat during the summer months and by snowmobile in the wintertime. However, access is limited since the cabin is in a national park. The tint cabin is just 20 m² and consists of a small hallway, a kitchen (which becomes a bedroom at night) and a living room (which also becomes a bedroom at night).

Hearts in the ice

Two months into the overwintering

The two ladies have now been to Bamsebu since the middle of September, and through limited contact with the outside world they tell about the first two months. 

“We live a very simple life here at Bamsebu and naturally have a much smaller carbon footprint than usual, but we have everything we need. We have worked long and hard to plan everything, but it feels very meaningful!”

During their stay at the isolated cabin, the two women are writing a blog and have sporadic contact with family via a satellite phone with internet access. You can follow the women on Instagram or Facebook and get the latest updates from Bamsebu.

“The first day we were here, we saw a polar bear. It’s the largest one in the area and is estimated to be at least 600 kg. That’s a lot of polar bear! I have ‘met’ it a couple of times before during the winter, but it’s extremely shy and, like the previous times, it turned away and went in a different direction. After that, we haven’t seen polar bears. But there are lots and lots of beautiful reindeer, especially since the mating season is now starting. Today alone, we counted 21 reindeer around the cabin,” says Hilde excitedly.

Hearts in the ice

One of the main challenges is that it’s extremely difficult to get additional supplies if anything is damaged. However, this triggers a mindset that it’s important to take care of things and repair anything that get damaged rather than simply throw it away.

“We have been tested during the first few months. Several things have stopped working and we needed to perform repairs we have never done before,” says Sunniva, adding: “We’re doing many things for the first time but that’s life in the nature in a nutshell. You face unforeseen challenges and are forced to find the solutions on your own.”

Hearts in the ice

Sharing experience with school pupils worldwide

During their overwintering at the isolated cabin, the pair will collaborate with several international research institutes such as the Norwegian Polar Institute, NASA, UNIS and Scripps Oceanography. They will photograph clouds, observe the Northern Lights, take samples of water and phytoplankton (a type of algae that produces oxygen) and report on the animal life. Hilde and Sunniva wish to share these experiences with school pupils worldwide. They will engage young people around the world through monthly interactive satellite calls.

Does your school class want to take part?

Click here to read more.

Video by Halvor Mykleby

Written by Maria Philippa Rossi

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