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NASA Arctic Mars Analog Svalbard Expedition Field Report: Packing Begins - 19 August 2006

Status Report From: AMASE 2006
Posted: Wednesday, August 30, 2006

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Thursday

Today was our last day on land before sailing back to Longyearbyen. The stylolite search party was out in full force with some additional folks in tow, but most of us had successfully completed our science goals. I opted to “go out for a stroll” on shore to enjoy the scenery with a small group led by Hans. Unlike many folks, I find the Norwegian hiking pace quite comfortable and enjoyed not only the scenery but also the fresh air in my lungs and fabulous company. Sanja, a Finnish UNIS student who was working on Lance, and Alef, one of the crew, were able to join us for the first part of the stroll until their morning breaks were over. I can’t say enough about how wonderful the Lance crew is and I hope we can get all of them back for next year.

The highlight of our stroll was finding two polar bears!!! Ok… they were really the remains of polar bears, but still! One was pretty small and appeared to be a cub, the other one found 400m away was significantly larger. All that remained of the bears were bones with some torn fur scattered around. The bear skulls and teeth were thicker and stronger looking than I had expected. It enforced the need for extreme caution and serious self-defense in polar bear country.

It is unclear how they two bears died, but life has been hard for polar bears in recent years. The pack ice has been melting increasingly quickly causing the bears to get stranded on islands miles away from the pack ice where they usually live to hunt seals. I was also saddened by the abundance of plastic bottles and junk that had washed up on the beach. Even in the arctic, you can’t get away from human pollution. I have to think that all that junk in the environment can’t be good for the fragile arctic ecosystem that fights hard to stay alive.

After a long stroll, some lunch, tea and a look at the bears it was time to get back to the Lance for the departure to Longyearbyen. I didn’t want to leave. Like the rest of Svalbard, Nordauslandet is a bare brown land, but you could see the massive ice shelf that covers the majority of the island off in the distance. Light sparkled on the ice and mountaintops in between short bursts of sleet. As many visitors to Svalbard have noted before me, this place has a calm feeling of home about it. I sat on the shore with Hans and Ivar, all of us dragging to put our survivor suits back on, no one wanting to leave. As I stepped into the Zodiac behind Ivar he said to me, “You know, this will be the last time you set foot on ground until we reach Longyearbyen”. The end of the expedition really hit me. We had a slow Zodiac ride back to Lance with Alef, trying to soak in as much of the view and presence of place as we could.

Once onboard Lance, instrument packing was in full swing. In the midst of running errands on deck, I made the mistake (at least in terms of my packing productivity) to stop by the hot tub that the crew had built and was now steaming away on the stern deck. After little encouragement by the group already in the tub, I hopped in. The rest of the night was spent sitting in a hot tub on a ship in the arctic watching birds, whales and walruses go by. Bliss.

Kirsten Fristad
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

About Kirsten Fristad in her own words...

My name is Kirsten Fristad. I am a budding planetary scientist working in the highly talented Sample Analysis of Mars (SAM) Lab at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. I graduated from Macalester College in 2005 with a major in geology and core in astronomy knowing I wanted to pursue a research career in planetary science. Through summer internships with several planetary scientists, I developed a background in analyzing martian and lunar planetary remote sensing data and Mars analog field work in Alaska. Since starting at Goddard in May, I have been organizing the Goddard/SAM Team contribution to AMASE 2006. I will continue working in the SAM lab until fall 2007 when I will commence graduate studies in a yet to be decided location to pursue a PhD in planetary science.

Before starting at Goddard in May 2006, I worked and traveled around Australia, coached high school hurdlers, and pondered the mysteries of the universe. Aside from pondering, I love to laugh, dance, listen to music from the '80s, and travel to remote locations. I'm really hoping I can make a career of this expedition thing.

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