Royal interest in Arctic science

HRH Crown Prince Haakon and HRH Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway visited the University Centre in Svalbard today. Students informed the royal couple about their field work and emphasized the importance of safety in the field.

The Royal couple visited one of the teaching labs at UNIS. Here, Douglas John Robinson is showing them the use of the microscope. Photo: Maria Philippa Rossi/UNIS.

Text: Maria Philippa Rossi

The Royal couple was greeted by UNIS director Jøran Moen and introduced to UNIS’ work towards greener energy solutions. The director told about the great diversity of students, hosting tomorrow’s Arctic experts from more than 50 countries. 

After the introduction, the Royal couple continued to MSc student in meteorology, Florina Schalamon and PhD candidate in meteorology, Lukas Frank who told them about Iwin, the Isfjorden Weather Network Information. It can be difficult to predict the weather on Svalbard because of mountains, fjords, and valleys. There are a lot of parameters within the 2,5-kilometre grid that can affect the weather. Nevertheless, the human activity and field work in the Isfjorden region is critically dependent upon accurate weather data for the safety of people and material values, and Frank and Schalamon explained how they work on improving this.  

The Royal Couple were then escorted to the Operations room. Here they were greeted by Thom Christian Steen, section leader of Operations and field safety, who explained about field preparations and the safety considerations that have to be made prior to field visits.   

Royal operations room
Section leader, Thom Christian Steen held an orientation about how students and staff prepare for field work. Everyone going out in the field participate in a week-long safety course at the start of every semester. Photo: Maria Philippa Rossi/UNIS

Meeting students straight from the field  

The Royal Couple were then introduced to “logistics”, where all field preparations take place. UNIS has summer- and winter equipment for hundreds of students. PhD candidates Erik Schytt Mannerfelt and Gabby Kleber, and BSc student Solveig Solem came straight from field work in Van Mijenfjorden and told the Royal couple about glacier surge and methane emissions. 

HRH Haakon in logistics
HRH Haakon talking to students from the geology and technology department who told him about methane emissions, surging glaciers and field work. Photo: Maria Philippa Rossi/UNIS.

BSc geology students Ole Jørgen Sæves and Carl Lie explained about their studies. They both mentioned that the extensive opportunities for field work had been a major motivation for applying to UNIS.  

Last stop in logistics was the multi-purpose room, where the final field preparations take place. BSc technology students Nils Michalke and Lukas Sander showed the Royal couple the typical gear that students bring to the field, consisting of snow mobiles, sleds, safety equipment, scientific equipment, chain saws etc. They also demonstrated how to use an ice core drill, which impressed their Royal highnesses.  

The Royal couple were then escorted to the teaching lab. Associate professor in terrestrial biology, Simone Lang and students showed samples taken from the field during the Arctic Winter Ecology-course, which are then investigated under microscopes. 

“We are very fortunate that we have a Royal family who shows such a keen interest in our institution, our students and our research”, said UNIS director Jøran Moen and noted that the Royal couple have visited UNIS often over the past 15 years, the last time being in August 2018, to mark UNIS’ 25th anniversary. 

Royal weather talk
You can always talk about the weather, right? PhD candidate Lukas Frank explained about weather prediction challenges on Svalbard, and why it is so important to know the forecast before going out in the field. Photo: Maria Philippa Rossi/UNIS
Official visits