Focus on safety

Focus on safety is an important part of doing fieldwork in Svalbard. That's why every year a three-day safety training course is carried out, to provide the team with basic knowledge before heading out into the field. Here's what we learned.

Day 1: First aid training with Longyearbyen Red Cross

We went over what to do in case of an emergency in the field. Part of what we learned was how to handle cuts, burns, hypothermia and broken bones. We also had CPR training.

Day 2: Snowmobile mechanics and rifle training

Silje and Jørn working on a snowmobile in the workshop

Silje and Jørn fixing a snowmobile. The steering mechanism was broken after we hit a rock. Photo: Eva Fuglei / Norwegian Polar Institute

Jørn, Kine and Hanna at the shooting range

Instructor Jørn, Kine and Hanna at the shooting range. Photo: Eva Fuglei / Norwegian Polar Institute

Since the Svalbard rock ptarmigan often sits up in the mountain sides and because we need a good overview from the points, we need to get relatively high up in the hillsides. In order to work as efficiently as possible, we use snowmobiles and skis to reach the counting points.

We were trained (by the Norwegian Polar Institute) on how to fix a snowmobile if anything gets damaged. We also learned about how to pack the sleds in a safe and efficient manner, as well as what to do if a snowmobile should topple over.

As most of you know Svalbard is polar bear territory, and they can be encountered anywhere here. Polar bears can be very dangerous to people and it's important that we know how to act in case we encounter a polar bear, and that we are able to protect ourselves in case of an attack.

The Norwegian Polar Institute runs safety courses on this. We often travel by snowmobile and if we were to encounter a polar bear, we can head away from it to avoid getting into a critical situation. If we find ourselves in a situation where we cannot leave, we can use the flare gun to scare the bear away. We were also trained on how to shoot a bear in self-defence. Shooting a polar bear is of course a last resort, but we always carry a rifle with us out in the field.

We received good instructions and got to practice using the flare gun and rifle at this course.

Day 3: Avalanche course

Three people digging in the snow

Digging snow profiles. Photo: Eva Fuglei / Norwegian Polar Institute

Small avalanche

This is what a small avalanche can look like. Photo: Silje-Kristin Jensen / Norwegian Polar Institute

Two people digging in the snow

Digging snow profiles. Photo: Kine Hokholt Bjelland / Norwegian Polar Institute

The avalanche course was held by Longyearbyen Red Cross this year, and consisted of theoretical education and practical exercises. The course was intensive and specially tailored for us, concentrating on the areas we work in.

"Todalen" is a valley we work in and also where we often observe avalanches and snow drifts. This is the valley we normally use for the practical exercises. Here, we practiced using avalanche beacons and how to create and assess a snow profile. Snow profiles are taken in every valley we work in, and when the weather changes we dig a new snow profile.