I woke up early this morning and after figuring out our little shower, got dressed and went to find tea. I eventually found my way to tea and the bridge where I chatted with Karen (our naturalist mentor on-board) and Cristina before heading for breakfast. The routine the last couple of days has been to have breakfast with Karen at 7:30 and check in. She is great and answers most of our questions or points us to someone who can.
After breakfast we entered an eerily beautiful fjord and sailed towards Samarinbreen, a glacier at the fjords far end. While I was on the bow of the ship taking pictures they announced that a polar bear had been spotted, which was miraculous in and of itself, because it looked so small swimming in the water. It swam for what seemed like ages (apparently the longest recorded swim was over 400 miles) and we continued towards Samarinbreen. I stood on the bow with Cristina, and whispered that if would be amazing to see a glacier calf: Samarinbreen must have been eavesdropping because minutes later, the glacier did exactly that. The noise was otherworldly, and eventually we stopped taking pictures and simply observed. We eventually began our return to the mouth of the fjord and found the polar bear just in time to see him leave the water. We then watched, probably for over an hour while he ambled along the coastline searching for food. This was a dangerous bear because it was thin, malnourished, and obviously hungry. A carnivore, we watched as the bear ate seaweed that was strung along the fjords rocky shoreline. Because this area did not have fast ice during the winter, the bear was looking for food: seal, in a place where seals would not be easily found due to the lack of ice. According to our on-board naturalists, this area did have ice here in the past, but because of global climate change, the ice, and therefore the polar bears habitat, is diminishing.
We had lunch, during which I was able to sit with Andrew Clarke (the Global Perspectives lecturer) and his wife. According to Karen, he is a legend amongst polar experts. He answered some of my questions, very graciously, despite my lack of scientific knowledge . Talking with him reminded me that so much of what we hear about global climate change (global warming is an example of this) in the media is an oversimplification. Teachers have a unique challenge in that we need to teach these complexities in a way that is academically rigorous, yet easily accessible to our students, regardless of what grade they are in. Hopefully the experiences I have on this expedition will better help me to accomplish this.
After lunch we went on our first zodiac landing to a starkly beautiful place called Gnålodden that featured a giant cliff that was home to thousands of seabirds, primarily Kittiwakes. My inner history geek was thrilled to pieces because we were able to learn about the unique human history on Svalbard that dates back to the 17th century. There was a Pomor (from Northwest Russia) settlement from the 1700's as well as a Norwegian trapper cabin that was used throughout the 20th century. This cabin is still used as a rescue hut by a Polish research team. In addition to human history, we saw thousands of seabirds and a very bedraggled (he was shedding his winter coat) looking Arctic fox.
Stepping onto land also meant that I had my first experience with the tundra. Growing up in Canada and learning about the North, I felt like I knew a bit about the tundra, but nothing prepares you for being there and experiencing it for oneself. It is like memory foam for your feet, and wonderful to walk on. I had the fleeting thought that camping on it would be a dream (who needs a sleeping pad when you have tundra?), but laying down to take pictures I quickly discovered that it is incredibly wet: thank goodness for waterproof outerwear!