Ice Bears Trip: Day 8

Saturday 6/28

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This morning I snapped some photos of the ship’s logbook records, and vowed to take full advantage of our last day on the Explorer.  I then headed out to the bow before breakfast – the water was glassy and the wind was calm, and we were back in Hornsund.  We cruised deeper into the fjord this time, and I stood alone on deck for a while to watch the landscape reflected on the water.  Soon, however, I was quietly joined by everyone on the ship – because another bear had been sighted!  A healthy male this time, walking along the black sand shore at the foot of a retreating glacier.

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This bear, in this spot, could be the poster child for climate change – right?   No ice floes to be found, an ice bear on land, a glacier retreating.  But as I watched him, I put on my science hat and wanted to know more.  How long had this bear been here?  Where else had he been in recent weeks and months?  When and what did he last eat?  What is this glacier’s history of advance and retreat?  When did the sea ice disappear from Hornsund?  When will it return?

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Scientific research is one of the top occupations in Svalbard (along with coal mining and tourism).  I look forward to connecting my students with scientists in the field who are helping to answer questions like these.

Next, we headed even deeper into Hornsund and I hopped into a zodiac to cruise along the face of the Storbreen glacier.  We had the good fortune to witness this glacier calving several times – each time echoing like a gunshot and sending up a spray of water and causing some decent-sized waves.  The water around the glacier face was littered with the most gorgeous blue glassy glacial icebergs, most of them dotted with birds that let us visit them up close.

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After the cruise, it was time for the polar plunge!  A good number of crazy folks, myself included, lined up to jump in the fjord.  The water temperature was actually below 0°C/32 °F, since it was salty ocean water that freezes at a lower temperature than fresh water.  Periodically, icebergs had to be pushed out of the way to make space for the plungers, and the water was shockingly cold and literally breath-taking. Here’s a video of my plunge, taken by Demetria – you can tell that I was not at all interested in a prolonged swim!

As we cruised out of Hornsund today, we were greeted by another pod of humpback whales.  They were bubble net feeding and we saw several flukes in the air simultaneously.  Glorious!

Saturday brainstorming:

  • Have Linda and Don (guests who live very close to me) come talk to my class about their Antarctic and Arctic trips
  • Skype with naturalists and scientists working in the Arctic
  • Have students follow Arctic topics that interest them on social media and write up a weekly summary of something they discover.



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