Who goes there?

Being part of Seamstress project means a lot of research. For a PhD, however it also means participation in courses in order to gather sweet ECTS points. My name is Przemek Domel and I work on marine seismology within Seamstress and CAGE. On March 1st I boarded the plane heading to Longyearbyen, „capital” of Svalbard archipelago, under Norwegian jurisdiction. My plan was simple – take part in Arctic Seismic Exploration course, meet new people and get hands on experience with acquiring data in harsh arctic conditions. Last, but not least, we were supposed to blow a lot of dynamite out (in the name of science, of course). First days did not  promise anything out of ordinary. I managed to greet and meet a lot of other students and a few PhDs, most of them originating from norwegian universities. We received proper training how to handle rifle (requirement for being outside city) and why snowmobiles are so much fun (they really are). I was very satisfied with the quality of lectures we started to receive prior to fieldwork and it looked that the course will be both memorable and valuable for my future work.

Stability is a fragile thing. As I was focusing on the task at hand, I paid less attention to the situation outside the Arctic. The world was slowly realizing that the new virus pandemic (Covid-19) has become a global threat, but at the time of my departure it looked that still only China and Italy were the countries truly affected and the situation was under control. So, last thursday, cut away from the news, I put as many layers of clothing as I could on myself in preparation of the first day of fieldwork (with the temperature on the glacier well below -30 degrees centigrade). But… it didn’t happen, first of all because it was too cold for the equipment to work and second because the scale of disease in Norway started to increase exponentially. We were sent to our dorms. Then the fieldwork was postponed. Then all the classes got cancelled. All within few hours. In the next two days information flow became chaotic, it was hard to realize whether the course will be taught at some later time, whether it is safer to stay in Svalbard than go back and whether we actually stay there. I am lucky to have very competent people to reach out for when I am in trouble. I was actually planning to stay for a little while and not pay for additional ticket, but my department leader Matthias and my supervisor Andreia suggested me coming back quickly due to volatility of situation and not worry about the costs. The same day I flew back, all of the students in Svalbard from outside Norway were forcibly evacuated to Oslo to protect the small community of Longyearbyen. Crazy times. But as a sun rose above the small city in arctic last week for the first time, I believe this crazy, cloudy period of history will come to an end soon as well.

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Text and picture: Przemyslaw Domel