Wednesday 30 October 2013

Science Camp cultural visit to 79 degrees North

Another report from Esa Turunen in the far north...

The morning of fourth day in the Finnish students "Space Weather Science Camp" in Longyearbyen finally gave us the starry skies and clear weather. This in Svalbard means at least -15 degrees C cold temperature and increasing chill factor with the ever blowing sea winds. Specially you could imagine the chill factor onboard a ship, such as the M/S Langøysund. This boat, with a staff of 4 persons, one of them a very competent international guide speaking several languages, took us on a cultural visit to Pyramiden. Pyramiden is an abandoned settlement at nearly 79 degrees north, once a lively coal mining town of 900 people, including whole families. While Longyearbyen still in 1970's only was a town of a few male mining workers, Pyramiden had a swimming and sports facility, cultural house with indoor basket ball court, theater and cinema, own hospital, farmed animals, school and children play grounds.

Today Pyramiden is inhabited normally only by 2 persons, and even they move away for the winter. There is a hotel, which offers services at some tourist season times and tourist visits are organized by boats from Longyerbyen. When the original inhabitants left the town, they only had 48 hours to collect their personal belongings and the whole town was emptied at once. The houses and rooms were left as they are. Today you can make a museum time trip to a complete small town of the Sovietunion time here. Some houses are even renovated, so that Pyramiden is slowly changing its face from a ghost town to a cultural heritage attraction in the far, far north.

The boat trip itself was an extraordinary arctic experience. Lunch was served as barbecue on the front deck, despite of the wind and freezing temperature. Vegetarians got their own icebergsalad plates, hot omelettes, salmon and naturally a taste of grilled whale meat was available, too. As sun painted the morning sky with golden colors in the east, pastel shades were seen allover the rest of the sky, above the sharp and layered mountain peaks, which are characteristic to Svalbard. The ship brought us near to the glacier Nordenskiöldbreen for the lunch break. As extra surprise for 2 minutes we could admire the fins of a few whales as they swam away from the boat. At Pyramiden we saw typical arctic animals at a very near distance. Two ptarmigans were eating seeds by one street and an arctic fox was searching for food near to the hotel building. They seemed to belong to the current inhabitants of the town letting us to photograph them at 10 m distance.
M/S Langøysund waiting four the students at
08:30 in Longyearbyen, ready for the trip to
Pyramiden. (Photo: E. Turunen)

Discussing space physics on the front deck
of M/S Langøysund. (Photo: E. Turunen)

Nordenskiöldbreen, a glacier named according to the
famous Finnish-Swedish arctic explorer, who
once was here, too. (Photo: E. Turunen)

Pyramiden, an abandoned ghost town at
nearly 79 degrees north. (Photo: E. Turunen)

The main square of Pyramiden, view from the cultural
house towards Nordenskiöldbreen. (Photo: E. Turunen)

The sun is above horizon but behind the mountains.
Skies are painted by pink and blue pastel
shades in Svalbard. Note the stunning geology
of these mountains. (Photo: E. Turunen)

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