Field report from the North

Field report from the North, 


As I write this we are one week into our long awaited circumnavigation of Svalbard. So far all is going to plan, at least the revised plan that is. We were delayed by 4-5 days, as we had to wait for cinematographer Mark Romanov to get into the country from the US. With borders being closed, it was a bit of a challenge, but with the kind support of an ambassador, our scientific partners and the Norwegian authorities, an exception was made. Mark was allowed to join us following a 3 day quarantine at my mother’s place in Oslo. Getting crew in from abroad and dealing with the pandemic as a whole, has taken a lot of administrative capacity from our limited time, and as such the live communication of the project has suffered somewhat. 


Crew photo (left to right): Giulia Ercoletti, Andreas B. Heide, Ylva Carlsson, Arzu Askin, Mark Romanov, Tord Karlsen. Photo by Tord.


Despite this, we are doing the required field work, accepting that the greater part of the communication will need to wait for when we are back in Stavanger in mid-October. Prior to our departure, we had some busy days in port, stocking up on food and supplies for 3 weeks in the field for 6 people. The capacity of our 37 foot home is stretched to the limit. A total of 350 liters of diesel is stored on deck in flexible fuel tanks. With the onboard tank that amounts to half a ton in total. It’s probably more than what we need, but it’s better to be on the safe side. Winds are unpredictable, and when we track whales for hours at the time, sailing is not always an option. 


Although the plan was to be 5 people for this leg, we ended up being 6. With the risk of Mark not making it, we kept Tord onboard to make sure we had a visual storyteller with us. Ultimately, Mark made it, and we are now a happy family of 6. Space wise it’s a bit limited, but we are a good bunch, and we are all appreciative of the opportunity to be here. As opposed to the circumnavigation in 2015, Barba is also a far more welcoming home. She is fully insulated, and below deck it’s warm and dry. Giulia is making the most of the new gas stove, keeping us well fed with Italian cuisine. Both out of necessity, and from a storytelling perspective, living sustainably off the waters we are in, we have done a bit of fishing.  We caught 20 kgs of cod in half an hour, and Ylva won the Arctic Char fishing contest with a 3kg giant. Arzucan and I had a short test dive with the scooter. When diving, navigation is a particular concern. The compass works poorly this far North, the water is cold, and going ashore for pick-up is not an option, as a polar bear could find us before the Barba crew does.


Barba sailing past sea ice. Photo by Tord.


Although the land is barren, the waters are rich with life, providing for whales, walrus and polar bears. Our best polar bear encounter so far was an hour long encounter with a female bear nursing her cub. As for the biggest excitement, we had a sensational encounter with blue whales, about 10 in total. They came up close to the boat, covering us in their spray. 


When we meet whales, we try to get ID photos of each in individual, fly the drone with the laser altimeter for assessment of body condition and record content with the 360 cameras for the Nordplus educational program. In addition Mark and Tord, use high-end camera gear surpassing the value of the boat to document our entire journey. The footage will hopefully bring us closer to realizing a documentary we have been working on for some years now.


The following photos below were sent via satellite phone to our colleagues with Wifi connection – only low resolution photos can be sent at the moment. More more photos to come!


A mother polar bear with her cub. Photo by Tord.

Two blues whales, the largest animals on earth, parallel to Barba. Photo by Tord.


We are currently pushing North towards the pack ice. We have downloaded ice charts and the latest weather forecast with our satellite phone. On the horizon we see dense fog, and ice. We are about to reach the most northern point of the Arctic Sense expedition. The excitement is high, and we all feel humbled. Humbled by the challenges that await, the beauty of the North and most importantly, the opportunity to be back in the pack ice at last. 



August 2, 2021


Featured by photo by Tord

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