Field work is primarily about research and our effort is to collect as much data as possible but we still need to spend time with everyday duties like cooking and doing the dishes. A special task that is associated with field work in the Arctic is polar bear safety. We are camping in the middle of a valley and at first glance it doesn’t look like a habitat frequented by polar bears, but valleys surrounded by sea ice on both ends are often used by polar bears as transects.
Each one of us have a shotgun to carry wherever we go, including to the toilet or into the tent at night. The gun is loaded and ready to shoot at all times. I think that we all have a kind of mixed feelings about the guns because it’s protection and a deadly weapon at the same time, we can be more relaxed about meeting a polar bear but we must be more careful not to put each other in danger.
The other precaution we use is a polar bear watch. We split the night between 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. into two-hour intervals and as there are five of us, every night one person can sleep all eight hours. I thought that those two hours of bear watch each night are going to be a nightmare, but it turned out to be a good time to catch up with filling in sampling forms and field journals; if it’s not cloudy, the sunlight usually makes the landscape photogenic and with a cup of coffee it’s perfect to just stop for a while and enjoy being out here.