Life at research station Ny-Ålesund

By: Online team WUR · 8 July 2016
Category: Svalbard

– By: Tinka Murk –

Socks with holes

Life at research station Ny-Ålesund differs a lot from life in the Netherlands.

I feel at home quite easily. Not only because everybody here speaks Norwegian to me (I guess I look quite Norwegian), but also because life is quite easy going here. Ny-Ålesund is a small settlement with currently about 40 inhabitants. Doors need to be unlocked at all times, in case you need to run for ‘a big white friend’. Laptops, binoculars and other valuable items can be left alone easily without being taken by others.

Shoes need to be taken off when entering each building of Ny-Ålesund. © Tinka Murk

Shoes need to be taken off when entering each building of Ny-Ålesund. © Tinka Murk

Inside everybody walks on socks. Not a problem in itself, but it means we have a continuous task to take off and put on our shoes, wherever we go. If you need to go to the bathroom (in one of the other houses) you first put on your shoes, (check whether there is no polar bear), walk over to the other house, take off your shoes, and vice versa for the way back. Same procedure counts for going to the restaurant, the lab, or neighbours, and so on. At the end of the week I had holes in my socks… Next time I will bring clogs!

Waste is sorted in 33 categories. © Tinka Murk

Waste is sorted in 33 categories. © Tinka Murk

Also challenging were the 33 categories of waste. Sometimes it was a hard job finding the right waste container for an item (for instance my worn down socks…).

A short cut over the tundra vegetation is not allowed. © Tinka Murk

A short cut over the tundra vegetation is not allowed. © Tinka Murk

No short cut

The station only has dirt roads and tundra vegetation in between the houses. The highest trees are a few cm in height. Nobody is allowed to take a short cut by walking on the tundra. Because it takes about 30 years for the plants to recover.

The polar willow is the tallest tree on Svalbard. © Martine van den Heuvel-Greve

The polar willow is the tallest tree on Svalbard. © Martine van den Heuvel-Greve

During the summer months there is continuous day light. The first night I got up at 4 AM to place my backpack against the curtains to block the sun that was directly shining in my face. Funny is that you can take pictures during the night as well as during the day. And working late in the lab doesn’t matter when you still have magnificent views of the fjord, harbour and visiting ships.

A great canteen with a splendid view. © Tinka Murk / Martine van den Heuvel-Greve

A great canteen with a splendid view. © Tinka Murk / Martine van den Heuvel-Greve

24/7 coffee and crackers

The community shop is open twice an hour each week, and sometimes when a cruise ship visits the station. It offers basic super market items, souvenirs and drinks. Unless you want to buy alcohol there is no need for a supermarket, because we have great food three times a day at the canteen (more like a restaurant). As long as you are there at the right time slots that the meals are being served, because Norwegians are very punctual and will clean up everything according to schedule. Fortunately there is coffee and tea, lemonade and juice, cookies, crackers and fruit 24/7 available in the canteen. This is necessary because people go out to conduct field work at the strangest hours. Funny as well is when a cruise ship arrives and tourists look at scientists at work as an endemic and highly interesting species.

Before going off station the rifles need to be half loaded. © Tinka Murk

Before going off station the rifles need to be half loaded. © Tinka Murk

What I find hard is that you cannot simply make a hike around the station without a rifle, flare guns or other necessary equipment. You are potential prey for a polar bear and have to take that into account, even on station. When you leave a building you first look left then right, look behind you and you always take a wide corner around a building.

A Svalbard reindeer in town. © Tinka Murk

A Svalbard reindeer in town. © Tinka Murk

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An ivory gull. © Tinka Murk

A polar fox hoping for food around buildings in Ny-Ålesund. © Martine van den Heuvel-Greve

No feeding

On the other hand we are continuously surprised with the impressive wildlife in and around the station. Lots of bird species and reindeer, but also three polar foxes visiting the station daily. The foxes were individually recognisable from the stage of shedding their fluffy white winter fur. IN the beginning of our stay the polar foxes were feeding on eggs (fiercely but unsuccessfully defended by the tern parents). However, when all tern nests were gone they came closer every day, hoping for some food from us (they look so cute!). But that is a big NO at all times…

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Online team WUR

There is one comment.

  1. By: Shahnawaz Alam · 23-11-2016 at 6:44 am

    Thank you for sharing your experience.
    I have a deep desire to visit the place and will surely visit if I’ll be capable financially and allowed to do so.

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