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The Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences includes staff with interests in biological sciences, conservation, ecology, environmental sciences, environmental statistics, geography and waste management. We offer a range of degree programmes and have a number of postgraduate research students. For more information about studying with us please visit http://www.northampton.ac.uk/.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Five weeks in Finnmark with the British Exploring Society

Naomi Holmes

In July and August 2014 I spent five amazing weeks in Arctic Finnmark (Norway) as the Chief Scientist on a British Exploring Expedition. British Exploring is a personal development charity which aims to ‘develop personal and practical skills that are of genuine long-term value to those taking part’. British Exploring allows young people (ages 16-25) to take part in scientific expeditions to challenging environments. A trainee leader programme is also run during the expedition allowing a small group of 18-30 year olds to develop their leadership skills in an expedition setting.

The whole expedition numbered nearly 80 in total, with nearly 50 young explorers who were split into five groups. The groups, known as fires, spent time exploring and carrying out fieldwork in the areas surrounding the Langfjordjökelen and Öksfjordjökelen glaciers. Each fire had an adventure and a science leader, and my fire, Stor, was lucky enough to have the expedition photographer (and Creative Media Leader) attached to us for a while.  Other leaders included a Chief Leader, a Base camp Manager, a Trainee Leader Mentor, and two Doctors.

The expedition base camp (Photo 1) was in a valley called Sörfjorddalen. All fires spent the first days of the expedition here, carrying out science projects around base camp and receiving rope, crampon and ice axe training further up the valley. Science projects carried out around base camp focussed on investigating the environmental impact of the expedition, with a particular focus on trampling/soil erosion. About 45 minutes up-valley from base camp was the lake Tenvatnet. The lake was home to an Arctic Tern colony and all young explorers spent time observing the colony. Many explorers also spent some time in an inflatable kayak (Photo 2), collecting lake depth data in order to produce a bathymetry of the lake. Freshwater ecology studies (Photo 3) were carried out on the stream outflow from the lake; with cased caddisflies a common finding. 


Following the initial period of scientific fieldwork and mountain training the fires all set off on their own adventures.  During the expedition Stor visited a number of locations, basing ourselves in each for a few nights while we explored the area.  At the first location (Fjorddalen) we spent a day on the glacier (Photo 4).  After a wet start the sun came out, spoiling us with some fabulous views (Photo 5).  The next day I spent some time with the young explorers undertaking a study on pollination of flowering plants.  This work was carried out alongside a photography workshop, allowing everyone to develop their photography skills (Photo 6).  After this, Stor returned to base camp to prepare for their next adventure – a trip to Langfjordhamn.  


After an exciting fast catamaran ride to Langfjordhamn we spent the night in a disused school.  The next morning we set off to Skalsa Bay (Photo 7), where we spent two nights.  The young explorers were to carry out their 24 hour personal development ‘solos’ here, staying in their bivi bags overnight, but due to very heavy rain, along with thunder and lightning, this was abandoned with many of the young explorers returning to the relative safety of their tents overnight.  From Skalsa Bay the group walked almost to the snout of the glacier they would be exploring next; one of the fastest retreating and downwasting glaciers in Europe.  Indeed, when I plotted the position of our camp (Photo 8) onto the 1979 map of the area, it appeared that we were camping nearly 1km up the glacier! We were definitely not sleeping on the ice.  Due to the recent retreat of the glacier a number of geomorphological features were visible (Photo 9).  The next day we had an early start in order to spend a full day on the ice.  The retreat rates of this glacier are studied and the young explorers saw a number of ablation stakes which are used to monitor the glacier.  Unfortunately the poor weather conditions meant that we did not make it to the ice cap, but after about four hours turned around and retreated down the glacier to the safety of our camp.


Following this we returned to Langfjordhamn and took the fast catamaran back to Nuvsvåg, the nearest harbour to base camp.  Two full days of science followed.  The young explorers spent a day taking water samples (Photo 10) from the meltwater stream in Sörfjorddalen, travelling from base camp up to the glacier snout.  The samples were filtered at base camp (Photo 11) in order to investigate the suspended sediment present.   A TV news reporter from the Norwegian broadcaster NRK spent the day with us and we featured on the national evening news programme ‘Norge i dag’ later in the week.  The following day the final trampling survey was undertaken at base camp.  In the afternoon Stor visited a lake in Brattnesdalen, a nearby valley, and had a go at sediment coring (Photo 12).  The last few days of the expedition were spent drying kit out at another disused school.  While here all fires prepared a ‘performance’ which they gave to some of the Norwegian residents on the penultimate evening of the expedition. 


I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent in Finnmark and I would encourage you to take a look at the adventures on offer with British Exploring in 2015.  If you want to find out more about British Exploring visit their website or email me and I will happily talk to you about it!  [naomi.holmes at northampton.ac.uk].  If you do decide to sign up for an expedition, I'd be grateful if you named me on your application form!