Student - 9 oktober 2014

‘We saw our first polar bear straightaway’

Who? Marijn van der Meij
What? Soil research for his MSc thesis
Where? Adam Mickiewicz University Polar Station, Spitsbergen

‘I was very keen to go to Spitsbergen to do my thesis research, together with Christian de Kleijn, who is on the same programme. It proved to be difficult to arrange from Wageningen, though, so I looked for partners myself. Eventually we found a Polish university which was willing to help us, and we could set off for Spitsbergen, that vast archipelago with a population of only 2000. 

It was a long journey to the AMU Polar Station. There were eight of us there for about two and a half weeks. Luckily there was enough whisky to stop us getting fed up with each other. On the first day, after climbing a mountain, we saw our first polar bear straightaway. Later the same bear came past the station at five o’clock in the morning, given away by the movement sensor. It was very close, which was quite an experience. There were two polar bears which were regular visitors. They came in search of food so we had to chase them away. At another station they didn’t manage that, and the bears ate five kilos of Nutella and cookies. So they must have good taste. 

What I missed most from home was my girlfriend and simple things like pizza and a hot bath. We bathed in the fjord, in water of 4 degrees Celsius. That felt very primitive. It was such a beautiful area that you would advise everyone to visit it, except that too many people would soon spoil its charm, of course. 

On the way back we had 22 kilos of soil samples and Christian had a few more kilos of stones. We lost our luggage on the way, too; it got left behind in Copenhagen. Luckily it was then delivered to our doors. That is briefly stressful but at least then you don’t have to lug your stuff yourself. I certainly want to go back one day, but not as a researcher. I would like to enjoy the area more.’