Svalbard is an incredible place to be. And extremely fun and superchallenging to work, when you are plant ecologist. “There is no vegetation!”, supposedly said Brian to Vigdis when he arrived. And yes, we decided to study plant functional traits there!
Vegetation in the arctic is adapted to unique harsh conditions of cold, wind and water and nutrient availability. Species are thus of very low height, with tiny persistent leaves, sometimes cushiony character… To work with them, you have to be patient and careful, have a good eye sight and proper labwork playlist.
When I went to the course, I wanted to learn as much as possible, dive into trait ecology, meet amazing people of science, experience arctic and meet a walrus. Except the walrus goal (although Kai promised!), the course achieved everything and I am really happy to be part of it – I came back with this great injection of motivation to do science, learn more and possibly continue with PhD, lots of new knowledge, useful field tips (e. g. pink rulers!), new friends and the reborn of my ability to use R (great thanks to Richard, Aud, Brian, Ruben and Jonn again).
With my group, we have focused on leaf traits along elevational and nutrient gradients, which was great chance to understand why study plant traits and how they can be used. Also, it was fun to recognize sweet Svalbard flora, even though graminoids apparently like to trick you a bit there! And superinteresting was also to learn about our other projects and the linkage between them, along with different study areas of other participants.
Public perception of climate change in Svalbard seems to be not surprisingly accurate, as it is a place, where you can really feel the changes going on, through decrease of glacier ice mass, changes in weather etc. This topic is not controversial there and even though the understanding of human influence on climate change was in the survey mixed a bit with other types of human impact on our planet (e. g. garbage pollution), people of Longyearbyen are aware of the problematic and think about it often. In my home country, it seems to me that the idea of human-caused climate change is also accepted mostly, but people are not that educated about it.
One of the struggles of surveying Longyearbyen is that people of Svalbard are too close to UNIS, basically because students or UNIS staff constitute notable part of all Svalbard inhabitants. Information about researc
h is more accessible for them, thus they are in general more familiar with the knowledge about climate change and standardized questionnaire does not really reveal any unexpected facts. Another thing I would not do next time – because of low number of local people questioned, in the survey we have also included answers of few tourists – and I think that these can bring interesting information, but answer a different question. My personal experience with surveying people on Svalbard was all the time positive and everyone I reached was keen to answer the survey, when not immediately, he kept the questionnaire for some time and filled it by himself. But, I have questioned very low number of people and other students met an opposite reaction also.
Other things I learned on Svalbard about myself: I can handle the responsibility for my friends lives (and protect them with a riffle against polar bears). I like reindeer pizza. I can’t eat chocolate every day and I think salted liquorice is a crime. I am almost always late for morning lectures. I like rules when written on blackboard. I love when people are enthusiastic about science and about what they do! (Well, I knew this one before but it needed to be mentioned.) And I really want to come back to the arctic again and study and explore it more.
Thanks everyone for such an amazing, friendly and fulfilling atmosphere, I hope we will meet sometime somewhere again!