Two women, a Norwegian and a Canadian, will spend seven months, including three in complete darkness, on Svalbard over the coming winter, acting as citizen scientists collecting environmental data and making weather and wildlife observations for stakeholders including the Norwegian Polar Institute, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UNIS, BCIT and NASA. They are aiming to plug the data gap created by the cancellation of Arctic cruise itineraries due to COVID-19.
Hilde Fålun Strøm former Product Manager for Hurtigruten in Svalbard and Sunniva Sorby, former Director, Global Sales for Polar Latitudes left their jobs in expedition cruising to found Hearts In The Ice in 2018. The two spent 12 months at their Bamsebu basecamp in 2019-2020, becoming the first all-women team to over-winter in the Arctic.
“The expedition cruise sector does a lot of work to encourage citizen science and bring knowledge to its guests; we met many of our science partners through the expedition cruise operators,” Hilde explains. “The fact that we have not been able to sail this year is huge problem in terms of collecting plastic marine debris.”
Using satellite communications donated by Marlink, the two will collect and share phytoplankton, ice core and saltwater samples, perform cloud and aurora monitoring and wildlife observations, including plastics in wildlife and “collecting polar bear poop”.
“The heartbeat of the project is communication, with scientists, students, our followers and stakeholders,” adds Sunniva. “We want to push citizen science; the data is real, we need to tell stories and build bridges. We’re not trying to save the world, we’re trying to show up.”
Having moved to Svalbard over 23 years ago, Hilde’s experiences have ranged from hunting to dogsledding, months at remote huts, ski expeditions and well over 200 polar bear encounters. A former Product Manager for Hurtigruten in Svalbard she was responsible for operations of the classic ship M/S Nordstjernen.
Sunniva has deep expertise in Antarctica having skied across the Greenland icecap, King George Island, and across Antarctica to the South Pole with the first woman’s team in 1993. She has spent 23 years working in Antarctica as a guide and historian.
Combining their 46 years of observations and experience in the Arctic and Antarctic, Hilde and Sunniva are uniquely qualified to promote dialogue and understanding about the changes taking place in the Polar regions, why these changes matter for the rest of the world, and what can be done to protect the environment.
“It’s important to understand that what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic, it has implications for all of us,” says Sunniva. “We want to start a global dialogue, to engage people with our shared love of ice to take people out of climate despair and into climate inspiration.”