A Snapshot of Working in the Arctic

Research can try your patience. It can be frustrating, tedious, demanding, exhausting and occasionally even boring.

Some scientists, engulfed in their specialized interests, can be introverted and difficult to befriend.

In the tiny village of Ny-Ålesund, the strain and anxiety of performing and maintaining world-class research is magically transformed into enjoyment, mutual stimulation, multicultural experiences and glee.

Ny-Ålesund is today a place of creativity and scientific excellence. People go there to do research and usually leave with new friendships that last for life. To understand how this remote location can have such extraordinary qualities we must look into its history and remarkable heritage.

The island group of Svalbard has a unique status under the Svalbard Treaty.

Svalbard was discovered by the Dutch navigator and explorer Willem Barentsz in 1596. Since the 17th century, people from many countries have been drawn to Svalbard for whaling, fishing, mining, research and tourism.

For a long time, they went about their business in a land that did not belong to any particular country. Svalbard was an international free-for-all: There were no rules, no regulations, no tribunals to solve conflicts.

In the early 20th century, the mining industry called for new rules. The Svalbard Treaty was signed in Paris on Feb. 9, 1920.

The treaty provides for full and undivided Norwegian sovereignty over Svalbard, while at the same time providing for certain rights for the other signatories.

Citizens and companies from all treaty nations enjoy the same right of access to and residence in Svalbard. Right to fish, hunt or undertake any kind of maritime, industrial, mining or trade activity is granted to them all on equal terms.

All activity is subject to the legislation adopted by Norwegian authorities, but there may be no preferential treatment on the basis of nationality.

At 78° 55´ N, 11° 56´ E on the west coast of Spitsbergen island in the Svalbard archipelago, Ny-Ålesund is amongst the very northernmost communities in the world.

Even the briefest history of Ny-Ålesund must mention the polar expeditions that began there. The most well known are the airship expeditions.

In 1926 the Norwegian hero Roald Amundsen together with Umberto Nobile (Italy) and Lincoln Ellsworth (USA) were the first to fly over the North Pole. Their journey went from Ny-Ålesund to Teller in Alaska aboard the Italian-designed airship named "Norge."

In 1928 an all-Italian expedition also set out to repeat the deed but crashed on their return trip from the Pole. During the rescue operations that brought home survivors of the Italian team (including Umberto Nobile) several rescuers also lost their lives (most notably Roald Amundsen).

Ny-Ålesund was originally established for coal mining.

This activity had its ups and downs from the beginning in 1916 until a tragic accident on Nov. 5, 1962 when 21 miners lost their lives. The mine was closed forever soon after.

The accident had a profound influence on Norwegian politics at the time.

The combination of the historic role in polar exploration era, the human tragedies in the mining era and the political impact gives the village of Ny-Ålesund an exceptional ambience.

After the demise of the mining industry, research activity has steadily grown in Ny-Ålesund.

Researchers are attracted by the unique qualities of the place which includes easy access to modern communications, pristine, virtually unpolluted surroundings and a place on the globe that provides special opportunities to study climate change.

Around the village are numerous glaciers, permafrost areas, a fjord that serves as a climate indicator of the state in the ocean as well as sensitive ecosystems in the water and on land.

The Svalbard treaty has made many nations look towards Svalbard when pursuing Arctic research. The international scientific cadre comes from many research fields to this settlement in the high Arctic, giving great opportunities for interdisciplinary research.

The surroundings and enticing history give great inspiration for co-operation, friendship, scientific creativity, hard work and devotion towards finding knowledge that can help us make good choices for the future of culture, peace and our environment in the Arctic.