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Researchers stranded in Arctic at start of pandemic head back for second winter

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Two women, whose homecoming from a winter expedition in the Arctic last year was delayed by months due to coronavirus, have set out again – this time with new gear and experience.

Sunniva Sorby, of Canada and Hilde Fålun Strøm, of Norway, became the first two-woman team to spend the winter in remote Bamsebu, a few hundred miles from the North Pole, last year for their Hearts in the Ice project.

They ended up staying in their small, isolated cabin for a full year. There is no running water and limited electricity and they face harsh weather and frequent visits from polar bears – more than 50 “close” encounters last time.

“We brought an infrared night vision scope this year – enabling us to see for kilometers away – this is both safety… and peace of mind,” the duo told Fox News in response to emailed questions.

Right now they’re in darkness under the polar night until February 2021. But with a combined five decades of expedition experience, they said they’re prepared and confident.

The Bamsebu Hut.
The Bamsebu Hut.
Hearts In The Ice

“We never venture outside, not even for a second, without our heavy safety belt that has a flare gun, a revolver, a Swiss tool, a knife,” they said. “We both wear headlamps that have 10,000 lumens and we also carry an infrared night vision scope.”

They also wear insulated clothing that weighs around 20 pounds.

For heat and cooking, they collect logs with their Lynx snowmobile, chop them up and have a wood-burning stove. For water, they have a 700-liter container of freshwater ice that they can thaw and use.

In addition to the physical labor remote living requires, they said they do yoga and work out a half-dozen times a week. And they brought some entertainment for the rare opportunity to relax.

“I brought a golf club, a five iron, with bright red golf balls — so we’ll have the world’s most northernmost driving range when the ice is here,” Sorby said. “We brought more books, movies and plan to have more time to have fun this year.”

Sunniva Sorby, of Canada, and Hilde Fålun Strøm, of Norway.
Hearts In The Ice

But much of their time will go toward a variety of “citizen science” research and educational work, with a focus on climate change, polar bears and the Arctic environment.

And although they said they dropped from 55 sponsors to 12 dedicated “sponsor/partners,” the new commitments are more focused and will allow them more digital connectivity to the outside world this time around.

For example, their new satellite communications partner, Marlink, provided equipment that allows them superior telecommunication access to what they had last year.

“This is different from last year and a huge improvement in our ability to receive and send emails and host our twice monthly global school calls around climate change topics,” they said.

Other partners are Legacy Partner BRP, Canada Goose, DEWALT tools, Telus, Citrix, Hyundai, UNIS, Polar Bears International and Hurtigruten.

Bamsebu Hut
Hearts In The Ice

It also will mark their second consecutive holiday season away from friends and family. One plus: They told their young Facebook followers that they can hand-deliver letters to Santa for them.

They said the sacrifice is worth it for the data they’ll collect.

“No regrets,” they said. “Of course we miss our family and friends. [But] we are living here on purpose … and using our stay here to learn more about isolation and how we cope.”

To that end, they are also part of a study on how they handle remote Arctic isolation, collecting data that they hope to share with NASA and the European Space Agency to use for astronaut recruitment and psychological support during future space missions.

“We have deep respect for this precious life we have been given and the beautiful land upon which we dwell,” the adventurers said. “We don’t need a dictionary or Google to define commitment, camaraderie, love, perseverance, care, adaptation and routine.”

Sorby and Strøm are releasing a book on their Hearts in the Ice experiences in January. They set out for Svalbard in November and plan to return to civilization in May.

Last time, their planned nine-month stay turned into a full year on the remote, frozen Svalbard archipelago after the global coronavirus outbreak halted travel and prevented boats from bringing them home.

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