Expedition - The Movie

Back in Holland

We have finally recovered a little from last week: long days out and about and just a few hours of sleep. And it was back to school again the day after the expedition (or jaunt, whatever you want to call it  ), back to sports and telling everyone all about the trip to Spitsbergen of course, as not many people will have been unaware that we spent the past week somewhere near the North Pole.

On our last evening we all quickly exchanged photos and went to bed at 2 am, only to leave for the airport 4 hours later full of beans (cough cough) to fly back to the Netherlands via Oslo. The snow-covered mountains quickly disappeared beneath the clouds and once we were above the Netherlands we had to make do with the flat, straight, bright green fields of grass with their cows.

Goodbye Spits mountains!

We said our goodbyes to everyone at Schiphol, and there we were, in our fleeces and thermal shirts, at the stinking hot airport (25 degrees difference in temperature compared to Spitsbergen). We also had a warm feeling about coming home again.

Now that I’m back in my room again—in the dark—looking at the photos, I am remembering the views in Spitsbergen. The trip was wonderful and a fantastic learning experience. We want to warmly thank PANalytical and the rest of the sponsors for this opportunity which we are not likely to forget in a hurry!

Some more great photos:

Can the sun be turned off?

Just like a real expedition!

You could see this every evening!

Nice too

Those on the trip + Andreas the guide in the top right

Transport for coal from the mine

Nice bottom Barbara!

Glacier collapsing

Flying free

Day 7— Saturday , August 30 - Barents Dredge

It’s already our last day in Longyearbyen. We shall certainly miss the surroundings here; it’s beautiful and the people are all really friendly and interesting. We still experienced a lot on this last day.

Another boat trip today, this time to the south in a slightly bigger boat. Once again, Maarten managed to find the best place with his camera and the clicking of Marc’s camera could be heard repeatedly.

The glacier we were visiting today was soon to appear, while the smell of the delicious boat barbecue spread out over the deck. Once we had moored we were able to start eating the fantastic meal, shouting, “It’s great to be back here again”.

Then we continued on towards Barentsburg, our destination. It was a huge contrast to Longyearbyen. It was clearly a Russian mining village, and not touristy at all. The conditions were awful and there were around 500 inhabitants. It felt very Soviet-Union-like with a lot of communist propaganda. Salaries are meager: people in the mines in Longyearbyen earn 20 times as much. To top it all, Barbara’s nose bled heavily and she managed to use Jan-Hendrik’s entire packet of tissues, only to start on Maarten’s packet.

At 4 o’clock we were back on the boat and it would be a couple of hours before we were back in Longyearbyen. We got very wet on the way home but it was definitely worth it. Appy and Marc also saw a whale but unfortunately we missed it. However, the beautiful scenery made up for a lot.

Once back home, we ate another Thai meal in the restaurant that belongs to the hotel. Barbara even ate fish as a starter and as a main course, something she normally finds revolting, but it really was tasty.
And now here we are, one of our last blog posts about this fantastic, adventure-filled week. Aside from learning a lot, we also had a lot of fun with the expedition members. They are all wonderful people and essential for the success of this expedition to Spitsbergen.


Day 6— Saturday , August 30 - Iceberg At Sea

Oh dear, slowly but surely we are starting to realize that the expedition is almost over, and that the slog known as “school” is due to start again. We’re not there yet, however, we still have two more days of fully organized sea trips out to glaciers.

Up and out early again this morning, wearing as many layers of clothing as possible. Once we had finally found the entrance to “Spitsbergen Travel” and had put on even more extra layers, we got into a small rubber boat heading for the Tuna glacier.
Once we got going we zoomed across the lake with a stiff (and cold) wind. It was fantastic how fast it was and what we saw on the way: seagull-like creatures, puffins, seals and other animals.

Then we stopped in front of the Tuna glacier for a while, which is a few hundred meters long, and waited for blocks of ice to come crashing down. We filmed a few beautiful collapses.

Falling ice pack — not very impressive but we did see better examples

Bobbing up and down among the ice we took many more beautiful photos.

Day 5 — Friday , August 29 - Core Matters

DRING DRING. The irritating telephone alarm went off at 6:00 am. We stirred but crashed out again and attempted to get a little more sleep. We were awake again at 7:45 am, to ensure we were punctual for “our” radio interview. Like zombies we went through to the living room and waited with Appy for the phone call from RTV Utrecht.

At 8:45 am Appy answered the phone and started chatting. Two minutes later it was over, with neither Robin nor Barbara having to speak live on the radio. Another chance at 10:15 am.
Appy answered the phone again and this time one of us had to speak. Neither of us was keen and Marc made the decision: Barbara was the unlucky one.
But she did really well (Robin’s words), although she sounded a little posh (Barbara’s words). Robin will do the next interview for radio Apeldoorn.

At around 12:00 pm we set out for the drill cores. The number of kilometers of cores there was amazing. Appy gave us loads of information about these round rods of stone and all in all it was incredibly interesting.

This is one century

So just think about how many years this is…

We were also shown the special layers from the temperature record and saw a lot of material that was almost coal.

After that we had a sandwich in the village and then the group (minus Barbara) set off in the direction of the valley and coast (Barbara wanted to be fit for tomorrow’s boat trip and wasn’t feeling too great). Robin got a private geography lesson and learned many interesting things. The coast provided us with some beautiful pictures, but we had to be careful that the cliffs above did not collapse on us.

All in all a very interesting day.

Day 4 — Thursday , August 28 - Dirty Hands

 Finally, we got to have a lie in. Well, not really because at 9:30 am we had to be at breakfast. The food was as good as ever, and afterwards we wrote part of our blog.

At 2:30 pm we went in a rickety bus to mine 7. You could not see it when we arrived but the plan was to go 4 kilometers underground. Before entering we had to put on full protection—that meant overalls and a helmet—and we even had to give our signatures. We were then finally ready to go down into the mine. It was pitch black but luckily our helmets had lamps attached (Robin only realized at the end how to operate the lamp).
After just a few minutes, the first stop came into view: 55 million year old footprints of a hippopotamus-like creature. It was strange to think that an animal that you would expect to find somewhere in Africa had once lived on Spitsbergen. Proof that there had once been a tropical climate within the polar circle.

After about twenty minutes we moved on — the roof was little more a meter about the floor. You had to keep your head well down unless you wanted to lose it (which almost happened to Pim and Wolters (a couple of “emos”)).
A short time later we came to the next stop: drilling machines. They were enormous and were positioned in an unbelievably low space (about a meter between the floor and roof — poor Appy had to crouch like an ape). The guide told us everything there was to know abut the working of the mine and showed us the machinery they used there. We came to the conclusion that we would rather go through life as drifters rather than work here. We would also not advise people who suffer from claustrophobia to enter the mine.

We arrived back at the surface in a very dirty state. Barbara in particular looked like a “Barbie factory reject” (Robin’s words this time). However, nobody looked at their best and the showers were soon all in use. Hence, no hot water for Barbara unfortunately, who was already feeling a little under the weather. An ice-cold shower on Spitsbergen certainly won’t have helped.

That evening it emerged that we might have found new fossils. LIVING fossils in the form of giggling and jubilant old ladies. We thanked Appy and Marc appreciatively for this log cabin, which also served as an eating place. Dinner was a game barbeque. You can say what you want about it but it was in any case warm and the food was delicious (unfortunately for the first half hour we had to listen to a Norwegian, Piet Paulensma, talking about a 14-day expedition (stumbling over his words because he had to speak English)). But the wait was worth it — the reindeer we ate was heavenly.

Later we went on an evening walk and at midnight Robin decided to usher in the new day with a bell that must have been heard in all of Longyearbyen. The governor will not have liked his “job” being taken over.
All told it was an eventful, enjoyable day.

Day 3 — Wednesday , August 27 - Slippery Slopes

Sorry — no blog yesterday. We arrived back at our hotel exhausted after having walked, climbed, slid and stumbled for eight hours, and went straight to bed after dinner (Thai food again, but very tasty) and an unsuccessful game of pool.
Yesterday the alarm went off even earlier than the day before (Robin had insisted on staying in bed for an extra 15 minutes) and we sat down to breakfast feeling rather drowsy. Our guide picked us up at 9.30 am and took us to the mountains where the climbing would commence.

People started playing around with their cameras right from the start, not knowing that the view would become so much better later on. But we soon had to put them back in our bags as our guide Andreas thought we were walking too slowly. It soon became clear that we would need both hands to catch ourselves if we slipped, so it was just as well that we were no longer carrying our cameras. We did take a couple of pictures every now and then though.

First of all we had to climb up a fairly steep cliff, which became a mini glacier. Robin suggested having a snowball fight, but Barbara wasn’t really up for it. She was far too busy keeping upright on the slippery snow.


Then we arrived at a real fossil landscape. Practically every stone was decorated with the dark imprint of a plant fossil. So now we have a genuine fossil collection. We also found some very beautiful ones along the way in larger pieces of rock that, sadly, we couldn’t bring with us. We did take photos of them though.

After having clambered up for another couple of hours we finally reached the top. What a fantastic view! After a nice lunch on one of the few flat areas it was time for a photo shoot.

>> Film of the view

We thought that we would descend via the same route (not that that was wrong, as we were surrounded by a winter wonderland). Instead, we went down via a slope of around 65 degrees, half a kilometer down. Not climbing but sliding on our heels through all the rubble, and later on our bottoms on another mini glacier. You can still see our tracks (this proves that human influences really do cause the landscape to change). Marc and Appy went on to look for the Elmo layer (unsuccessfully) and then we went down to an enormous glacier.

Film Appy

It was incredible — you could hear the water flowing beneath your feet, and in some places you could see how unbelievably thick the layer of snow and ice was. It was also a perfect place for a photo.

Film Glacier

After descending via the glacier we still had to go down past a pile of rocks, by which time we had nearly reached the bus. Despite Barbara having caught a cold, we had a great day.

Day 2 — Monday, August 25 - Sightseeing Longyearbyen
Brrrrr! After a rush to the dining room (which is on the other side of the building, so we had to go outside to get to it), we met the early birds at the breakfast table. The plan was to have a quiet day and explore Longyearbyen. This involved buying souvenirs in a small shop filled with polar bears, eating a tasty sandwich in the Spitsbergen Subway and being amazed by a shop selling the pelts of seals and polar bears.

But we did also learn a few things! In the morning we spent time with the Spitsbergen students, receiving a briefing from Appy and Marc. In the afternoon we went back to that same building — because it’s a museum as well as a university.

But the best part of the day was walking in the valley between the snow-covered mountains and taking in the beautiful view of the bay. The landscape here is truly wondrous.

Thanks to friends of Marc and Appy, we got a lift to the bay, enabling us to see a hovercraft close up.

There’s even a campsite (you have to respect anyone who dares to camp here)!
Later we ate some Thai food and took an evening walk, which had an unpleasant surprise in store for us. As we were walking to the bay, with sticks in hand to prevent the terns pecking our heads, we were told that we had to give an interview. Neither of us particularly likes being in front of the camera……
Right now we’re sitting in our hotel enjoying a pleasant drink. It’s surprisingly warm here. We’re preparing ourselves for tomorrow’s trip to the glacier!

Robin and Barbara


Day 1: The journey

 11:27 a.m. — Sat on the train bound for Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, finally getting our amazing and exciting journey to Spitsbergen underway. In a great mood. Robin was thinking about who deserved a ticket (and more importantly who did not!) and wondering what the hotel would be like. On the Internet it said that we’d be sleeping in the quarters of former miners(!).


We managed not to get lost at the airport (and of course Barbara had to take charge of the luggage — men are so lazy these days!). Thanks to Robin’s resourcefulness (women have no sense of direction), we quickly found the other members of the expedition group: Appy, 2 meters 20 centimeters tall and a geology encyclopedia (meant in the nicest possible way); Tine, the only friendly woman in the group (Barbara’s own words); Maarten, our camera expert; Pim, the oldest in the group but certainly not the slowest, whereas Jan-Hendrik in contrast….(luckily he understands our humor ;)). Then we have Lucas, who feels at home in the laboratory with the algae (really!), and finally Marc, our celebrity expedition leader, who arrived late as is only fitting.

The film we were watching on the plane soon ceased to hold our attention as we saw Denmark, Sweden and finally Norway below us. That view alone was worth the long journey.

In Oslo we enjoyed some international food and then three hours later boarded a second plane to Longyearbyen. Neither of us had ever been further north than Friesland before this trip. The closer we got to midnight, the brighter the sky became, which was a really strange feeling.



After a couple of hours of flying over the sea, we were finally greeted by snow-covered mountains. Between the oohs and aahs of the passengers, you could clearly hear the clicking of cameras (and of course you could also decide to make a film: )

Arrival Longyearbyen

We finally arrived in Spitsbergen around midnight, in bright polar light. We travelled by bus through the valley to the village. The first stop was our hotel.
After drinking a toast to a great week ahead, we went to bed at about 2 a.m. (sorry mom!). We were woken up at 8 a.m. by a very irritating wake-up call.

Robin and Barbara 

Expedition to a future greenhouse world

 Fossils of a hippopotamus-like creature and fossil footprints of sequoia-type trees show the climate was once 55 million years ago on Spitsbergen. Barbara Terlouw and Robin van der Bles are two scholars who are going to Spitsbergen at the 24th of August together with polar explorer and expedition leader Marc Cornelissen and a team of Dutch scientists from Utrecht University. Barbara and Robin won this expedition in a film competition about climate change. On this weblog they will tell their experiences.