Hilde Fålun Strøm and Sunniva Sorby are two dedicated citizen-scientists that are nearing the end of their very long journey and difficult winter in high arctic Svalbard, Norway. The two women moved into a tiny hunting cabin -dubbed Bamsebu-on high-Arctic Norway in August last year. Usually, the winter chill reaches around -30 degrees Celsius, and polar bears also roam around the area.
Few polar scientists themselves collect data from the area during winter because the conditions are so harsh. It is now the job of Strøm and Sorby to gather observations about wildlife and the environment for the scientists that could help them with their research on how rapidly global warming is changing Arctic ecosystems.
The two women were inspired to support climate research because they were concerned about the health of the Polar Regions. Hilde Fålun Strøm has lived in Svalbard for 23 years has watched how the land get greener while glaciers are slowly melting and retreat, and also the rise of the average temperature of the area. While Sorby is an Antarctic guide who has skied the Greenland ice cap and across the Antarctic to the South Pole.
Their experience at the Arctic
Throughout their research project, the Bamsebu team-as they call their duo- have been taking pictures and observing wildlife in that area such as reindeers, polar bears, arctic foxes beluga whales and other animals.
Additionally, while making observations of cloud formations and patterns in the aurora borealis the duo has also been collecting samples of phytoplankton. All the data they gathered will be turned over to different organizations including the Norwegian Polar Institute and NASA when they get back. The idea is that they can get a better sense of how things are changing in the Arctic by living for months in this part of the world.
Strøm and Sorby encountered a polar bear in November that had recently hunted a deer which was odd because polar bears staple diet are seals. Scientists suspect that warmer ocean currents have drastically melted the ice sheets where polar bears hunt seals, thus forcing them to change their eating habits.
The long winter night presented a new challenge to Sorby who had never before lived through months of darkness, stretching from sunset in October to sunrise in February. According to her, the darkness has opened up another world because the night sky is full of stars, planets, satellites and the aurora which made her feel showered with lights.
Originally, they planned to return home in May to be greeted by their family members, friends, and international science partners. However, according to Science News, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has postponed all those plans. Sorby says that it feels so surreal to think of living the simple and purposeful life they've been living for months now and coming back to a world that has been turned upside down.
As the world is on lockdown and nations such as Norway look for ways to contain and control the virus by restricting travel and keep people in place, Strøm's and Sorby's homecoming is not yet in sight. This means that their stay in the Arctic is extended while they wait out the pandemic. For now, these two women are safe and isolated. Hopefully, they find a safe way to return on schedule.