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My Svalbard Story - Part 1: Pre-Campaign

It is often so that one thinks that there's enough free time in a field campaign to update one's blog and to be up to date in the social media. In every campaign I go with the mentality to do my best outreach ever but quickly realise that the actual scientific work is taking all of my attention. I first thought to write my stories down immediately after the campaign but the first weeks went in some kind of blur. Excitement and stress changed into exhaustion and rather than doing anything even remotely productive (like updating my blog) I chose doing absolutely nothing. Now, when it seems that the campaign is miles away and just a memories are left, it's time to look back and summarise my six weeks in the worlds northernmost town.

But before I even got the chance to step into the plane towards Longyearbyen, I was faced with a lot of preparation and endless traveling between Karlsruhe and Bremen, where the Polar fleet was located. The amount of preparation that is needed for a field campaign is often underrated. In fact preparing for an arctic campaign is as much of an adventure as the campaign itself. Learning of all the necessary survival skills is kinda the adult version of a childhood summer camp - swimming, shooting and learning of polar bear psychology. Altogether I made four trips to Bremen or to Bremerhaven, which makes 48 hours just sitting in the train - excluding the famous Deutsche Bahn delays. During the last preparation month I basically lived the weekdays in Bremen. Sometimes I had to travel alone so I would spend the evenings in my hotel room watching Netflix and eating nuts and banana purchased from the next door Alnatura shop. Talk about glamorous life of a researcher!

There were also the fun parts. My favourite was the sea survival course and of course the polar bear shooting course. The polar bear shooting course I covered here but so far I haven't told about the sea survival course. So here it comes.

Preparing for the arctic lesson 1: Without a proper sea survival course your chances of surviving a ship wreck or a plane crash are seriously worsened...

...or at least I didn't have a clue of many of the things related to surviving at the sea! At the end of the day I was really happy to have participated the course, even if I swallowed a tons of water. The course was performed at Falck Safety Services in Bremerhaven and covered a theory part and a practical training in a simulation pool. The most important lesson to take home from the theory part was the proper treatment of hypothermia patients.

Preparing for the arctic lesson 2: Don't move hypothermia patients around if not necessary and at any case don't elevate their feet.

The old rule that you should elevate the feet of an unconscious person would in this case probably lead to death. No kidding. In hypothermia the body conserves cold blood to limbs and tries to keep the warm blood near vital organs, like heart and brains. By raising a hypothermia patients feet, the cold blood will rush to heart and resulting to an unwanted outcome.

Preparing for the arctic lesson 3: Alone you pretty much don't have a chance.

The practical part of the training was to learn how to survive in the water and how to work as a group. The day culminated to an exercise in a dark and stormy sea. The exercise started by a 5 m jump into darkness (this was my least favourite part of the whole day!). Then we had to find our group and "group-swim" to a life raft. We were 12 people crammed in a small raft in the darkness and with waves rocking us up and down. The air was stuffy and no one could or would move. I have to say I have never seen my colleagues so worried - it's crazy how people change under life threatening situation (ok, no one was going to drown but it felt real!). At the end a helicopter (simulated) came to rescue us and the simulation was happily ended. What a day. Many of the exercises we had to perform were scary and uncomfortable but I was really happy that everyone was forced to go through them. No excuses - as there's no excuse in a real life-threatning situation.

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