A Summer in Svalbard

Hello, I’m Clara Wilcock, a 23-year-old French. Last summer, I spent several months in Svalbard, a place where nature’s beauty and harshness intertwine. Svalbard is known for its unique landscape, rich wildlife, and the critical research taking place there. In this post, I’d like to share my experiences of this remote Arctic Archipelago as I have now completed the third year of my Bachelor’s degree in conservation biology.
My journey in Svalbard was made possible through the TERRA project working alongside the talented Ph.D. candidate Emelie Winquist. One of the core objectives of the TERRA project is to assess the impact of climate change on Arctic ecosystems. For my bachelor’s dissertation, I focused on the effects of goose grubbing, rain-on-snow events, and warming on soil decomposition.

My time in the field was an unforgettable experience. I participated in a range of activities, from measuring snow depth and RAM sonde snow hardness to handling Plant Root Simulator probes, Open Top Chambers, Tiny Talks, and HOBO loggers. I also conducted vegetation observations for another project conducted in the Reindalen valley south of Longyearbyen and compiled data sets.

Living in such an extreme environment required learning new skills, including essential ones for polar bear safety and the use of rifles during fieldwork; crucial “accessory” during our fieldwork. It’s a thrilling but crucial part of life in Svalbard.

What made my stay in Svalbard particularly extraordinary was the transition from sunny winter in April to the beginning of autumn in late August. At the start, we enjoyed fun excursions on snowmobiles and snowy hikes, with the beautifully white arctic landscape. With summer arriving whale watching became a popular activity, with boat trips and hikes showcasing the unique beauty of the midnight sun.

During my stay, I was fortunate to witness the rich diversity of Arctic wildlife. From the Svalbard reindeer and Arctic fox to the rock ptarmigan and the iconic polar bear. I also marveled at the enchanting seal and walrus sightings, but the true highlight was witnessing the minke and humpback whales the true giants of the Arctic oceans.

Before my summer in Svalbard, I lived in the lively city of Lyon. The shift to Longyearbyen was a welcomed change. The town’s warm and tight-knit community offered a sense of relaxation and calm that I hadn’t experienced before.

The ever-changing landscapes and the abundance of Arctic wildlife left a profound impact on me. Svalbard may be unforgiving in nature, but it is also the most peaceful places I have ever had the privilege of visiting. The conservation work conducted here is of paramount importance, and I’m grateful to have been a part of it. As I continue my academic journey in conservation biology, my time in Svalbard will forever serve as a reminder of the beauty and fragility of our natural world. As I look back on this journey, something tells me I’m not quite done with Svalbard. I hope to return someday soon.

Clara Wilcock

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