Top image: R/V Helmer Hanssen in Bellsund. Photo: Inger Lise Næss/UNIS
From 9 until 15 June, the annual Outreach Cruise took place on board R/V Helmer Hanssen in the waters surrounding Spitsbergen.
Text and photos: Inger Lise Næss
The cruise is organized by UiT the Arctic University of Norway with collaboration from the Institute of Marine Research and the University Centre in Svalbard with invited guests. Business executives, politicians, researchers, and representatives from public management took part in the cruise to witness the changing Arctic and to learn about the research activity taking place in the archipelago and surrounding sea areas.
In addition to participants from UNIS, the Longyearbyen perspective was represented by Community Council leader Arild Olsen and Marit Karlsen Brandal, head of Innovation Norway’s Svalbard office. Longyearbyen is going through a transition period as the traditionally large coal mining industry is being brought to a halt and new businesses are emerging, and Arild and Marit took part in the Outreach Cruise to form new connections and to receive input and ideas on further development of Longyearbyen.
In Arild Olsen’s opinion, the Outreach Cruise is an important venue bringing together people from different professional backgrounds. – This is a cruise for the future and a unique platform for a common understanding across disciplines, he said. – Another upside to the experience is the time element, as the cruise spans over several days with ample time to engage in deep discussions.
Marit Karlsen Brandal agrees, saying that she has learned a lot about different research areas and Arctic issues and that she plans to put this new knowledge to use for Longyearbyen’s future development. – My role in a setting like this is to bridge the gap between science and business. Like Arild, Marit highlights the extraordinary setting and relative isolation (with no cell phone coverage on most days during the cruise) as a facilitator for fruitful dialogues.
As for the future of Longyearbyen and UNIS, the two Outreach participants are optimistic: Arild Olsen emphasizes the advantages and opportunities that exist in Longyearbyen. – There are more upsides than downsides, as I see it. UNIS is an important participant in the further planning and building of Svalbard’s future, and it is important that the politicians give UNIS room for further growth, he says.
Marit Karlsen Brandal thinks that people and institutions of Longyearbyen must seize the situation and be even more creative in starting activities. – Be relevant and active! For example, she suggests developing a centre for entrepreneurship in collaboration with UNIS.
Who knows what else might come out of these educational days at sea with a diverse group of people with knowledge about and interest for the Arctic?