recipients of CoScan travel award
Photo: Brita Green
Returning to Sweden
by Oliver-James Dyar
In September last year I returned to Sweden for the first time after completing my master’s programme in global health at Karolinska Institutet (KI), supported by a travel grant from CoScan. I travelled with my partner to Uppsala where we spent two days walking around our favourite city in Sweden. We first came here in mid-January earlier this year, when the city was covered in snow, so it was nice to see the contrast that the summer weather brings. There were many more students out on the streets as the semester had just started. Uppsala reminded us a lot of our hometown, Oxford: it’s a university town, located about the same distance from the capital, with a river flowing through its centre. Perhaps it’s for this reason that we’re hoping to move here when we start our specialist training as doctors. We walked to the hospital and were impressed by its size and architecture; it is quite different to the hospitals we are accustomed to in England!
We continued by train to Stockholm. I went back to KI and met with my thesis supervisor, where we made research plans for the coming months. Since graduating from KI in June I’ve continued to help editing research papers written by the group, and this time I was able to help review an application for a large research grant from the European Union. It’s been a great way to keep in contact with the research group, whilst also improving my research skills.
One evening we met with fellow graduates of the master’s programme and enjoyed reminiscing about the previous year over coffee. This was also a great chance to practise speaking Swedish, and I was a little worried that my ability would have declined a lot since leaving Sweden. I was delighted by how much I remembered – continuing to listen to Sveriges Radio whilst back in Oxford must have helped!
Overall the trip was very enjoyable, and we both feel more certain than ever that we will move to Sweden in the future. Thank you to all at CoScan for providing financial support to enable this trip.
To Svalbard with BSES
by Emma Jones
Ever since reading Philip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials as a child, the name Svalbard has conjured up images of mysterious icy lands, armoured bears, and adventure. Never did I think I would have the opportunity to visit this frozen archipelago until, quite by chance, I discovered that BSES (British Schools Exploring Society) were running their 2011 environmental studies course to this area of the Scandinavian Arctic. I was particularly attracted by the opportunity to carry out investigations on remote and untouched glaciers - something which I may not have the chance to do again – and to learn expedition planning and fieldwork techniques which might prove useful to me later at university. To be one of the few visitors to the more inaccessible parts of Svalbard also felt like a huge privilege which could not be passed by.
Photo: Emma Jones
I was certainly not disappointed with my experience. During the course of my time in the Arctic, I felt that I learnt and achieved so much, both personally and academically. Over the five days that we spent camping at the foot of a glacier, not only did I learn about the fieldwork skills needed to conduct research into the new location of the glacial snout, but was also taught important mountaineering safety skills which were put into use when we climbed up and over the glacier. The use of ice axes, harnesses and ropes, previously unknown to me, quickly became part of my daily equipment. Travelling to and from the glacier on skis, dragging our kit behind us on sledges, was also a new experience. The outward, uphill journey tested my endurance and fitness, while the downhill return journey back to our coastal camp was more a test of perseverance (and of conquering a fear of falling on my part!). Having never skied before, each of these journeys presented a new challenge, and I was full of a sense of achievement on completing them safely.
On our return from the glacier, we spent the remainder of the trip camping by the coast, carrying out investigations into the ecology of the area. This was another great learning experience – by the end of the trip I could identify many of the birds we encountered, as well as a number of the plants. During this time, I also took on the challenge of independently planning, conducting and writing up my own project investigating patterns in the distribution of flora around the coast.
In addition to these academic achievements, the sheer fact that I spent two weeks camping, often in sub-zero temperatures, in such a hostile environment, and actually learnt to be quite comfortable by the end of it, was a huge personal achievement. The satisfaction that I felt when we finally climbed to the top of both the glacier, and many of the coastal cliffs in the area, to be greeted by a stunning, panoramic view of the surrounding pure white ice caps, mountains, and icy blue waters was an incredible feeling that I will never forget. I am extremely grateful for the generous contribution of the CoScan Trust Fund towards the cost of this amazing trip and I would like to thank you very much for helping me to get to Svalbard for this experience of a lifetime.
Report from Finse, Hordaland, Norway
by Christopher Fitzsimmons
The flow of water underneath the front of the glacier taken by sticking my
head below the ice! Photo: Christopher Fitzsimmons
In late July and early August my father and I travelled to Finse, in Western Norway as part of my dissertation research for my BA (Hons.) Geography degree at the University of Cambridge. I spent two weeks working on the nearby Midtdalsbreen glacier, a northern outlet glacier of the Hardangerjøkulen ice cap. The focus of my research was the elucidation of the subglacial hydrological system of the glacier; how what flows beneath the glacier, and in particular the form and geometry of the system. For my report I was able to draw upon previous investigations of the subglacial hydrological system over the past twenty years, allowing conclusions on the potential effect of global warming on the flow of water under the ice.
We stayed in the Finse Alpine Ecosystem Research Station run jointly by the Universities of Oslo and Bergen, located about 5km away from Midtdalsbreen. The station is predominantly used by botanists and ecologists studying the effects of the local climate and altitudinal gradients on the richness of Alpine flora. Other interesting project studied during my stay was the colonisation of recently deglaciated terrain in front of Midtdalsbreen by spiders. Research was carried out at the level of my dissertation research, to a number of Master’s and PhD theses, to that of established professors conducting their own research.
My research on the glacier focussed on dye testing – injecting a known amount of a hydrological water trace into the subglacial hydrological system, predominantly through running supraglacial (surface) water flowing into moulins - holes opened up in the ice by supraglacial water connecting the surface to the bed of the glacier. The movement of the dye through the hydrological system is detected by instruments in large streams that emerge from the terminus of the glacier. During my two weeks on the glacier I conducted 23 dye tests, of which 19 gave useable results.
Most days I spent up to six hours on the glacier, during which time I saw a number of interesting glaciological features. Overnight after our first day up on the glacier, an area of snow collapsed near the snout of the glacier creating a hole down to the bed that was large enough to fit a house into! A sizeable river flowed at the bottom of the hole, and one would not have wanted to fall down! Across the glacier there were also a number of other sizeable crevasses and moulins that evolved during my time there as the volume of surface melt increased. The ice itself also contained a number of interesting items that were revealed as some of the ice melted. I found the majority of the skeletons of a reindeer and a dog scattered across the ice, as well as a number of old wooden human experiments, various items of clothing and a toothbrush in a hole a mile upglacier!
The scenery was spectacular and inspiring, and in the winter, covered by ten metres of snow the surrounding countryside is even more impressive.
During my stay the area officially became a national park and was opened by the Norwegian Prime Minister and Environment Minister, ensuring that the glaciers and natural beauty would be protected for future generations. The area is extremely remote and can only be accessed by train, which is often disrupted by heavy snowfall and landslides. House building is restricted and there is little tourism making the region around Finse idyllic and unique, and a visit is highly recommended.
The COSCAN Travel Fund awarded me £50 which contributed to my train tickets from Oslo to Finse. I was also offered free travel on a DFDS Seaways ferry to Norway, unfortunately I was not able to take up this offer as I needed to book transport in time to ensure a place in the research station so I had to book my flights.
A View at sunset of Blåisen and Midtdalsbreen over the Finsevatn.
Photo: Christopher Fitzsimmons
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Photo: Martin Leng
Meeting in Axvall
by Martin Leng
During the summer of 2011, I spent three weeks at Axvall Folkhögskola in Västra Götaland in order to take part in a Swedish Institute summer course entitled Ett möte i Axvall. The course was designed to give students of Swedish – of all ages and nationalities – a chance to experience Swedish culture and improve their language skills. As someone who loves all things Swedish, I jumped at the chance when I heard about the opportunity from my tutor, and thankfully my application was accepted.
I had been to Sweden previously but had not ventured outside the big cities, and so the journey north from Gothenburg marked an interesting trip into unknown territory. Axvall is a small village surrounded by picturesque woodland and countryside. It has a small lake with a wooden jetty, plenty of places to ride a bike and an ICA [supermarket] shop – pretty much everything I needed!
The school itself consisted of a handful of old buildings gathered around a pretty garden. I was given my own room in one of the buildings, which I shared with around six others. In another building there were classrooms, and another served as our ‘mess hall’, where we ate our meals. These were particularly good – delicious Swedish food three times a day for three weeks. The cooks deserved a medal!
We had three Swedish classes each day, covering grammar, literature and culture. Our three teachers socialised with us in the evenings and became more like friends than teachers. They made a great effort to make us all feel included, and as a result I feel like my Swedish social skills have improved just as much as my language ability! As well as classes, we went on excursions to Gothenburg and the nearby towns, where we got to enjoy art galleries, museums and – of course – ‘fika’!
The three weeks I spent in Sweden were among the best in my life. The classes were great, and my Swedish improved greatly, but the real joy of the trip came with the experiences outside of the classroom – playing kubb during sunny evenings, swimming in the lake, making new friends from all over the world and being made to feel part of a real Swedish community. It was truly wonderful.
None of it would have been possible without the grant from CoScan, which paid for my flights from Edinburgh to Gothenburg and back again. Your generosity allowed me to have this wonderful experience, and I would like to thank you for that. I encourage you to keep awarding this grant in future years – what I thought would be an interesting and useful three weeks turned out to be so much more, and I hope that others can enjoy the same in future.
Prize winning report
by Rebecca van Hove, Greenland
Photo: Rebecca van Hove
The idea of Greenland, to me at least, always conjured up somewhat vague images of a remote, desolate and vast empty place. I had seen pictures of the landscape, had read about its history and knew of its current central stage position in the climate change debate, so I felt quite well prepared to spend five weeks on the shore of a remote fjord in South-West Greenland. Yet the experience of the expedition was so much more than I had ever imagined it would be: more amazing, more intense, more adventurous and more inspiring!
The BSES Greenland 09 expedition comprised of 4 groups or ‘fires’, each one made up of about 12 Young Explorers and 3 leaders. We arrived in Greenland after a long journey from Heathrow via Iceland to Narsarsuaq, from where we made a 6-hour boat journey to finally arrive at Tasermiut fjord. Everyone looked similarly stunned by our surroundings and we all enthusiastically walked up to Base Camp to set up camp and start our adventure!
The four disciplines which our expedition was focussed on were glaciology, geology, fluvial hydrology and social science, with each fire focusing on one in particular. I was part of the social science fire which was studying group dynamics and individual change within the expedition environment. We spent a lot of time visiting the other fires to interview and observe them, examining the very different ways in which they operated as teams. We worked out specific research questions and compared the attitudes of participants on topics such as the environment and the human impact on it at the start of the expedition to their attitudes at the end. It was a really interesting study and gave us the opportunity to explore many of the valleys around the fjord – really beautiful, grand and quite desolate sometimes. We quickly got into a routine of setting up camp and moving off again: sleeping in tents, cooking very very simple food (lots of dehydrated packets!), washing in the freezing (but very fresh!) rivers and wearing our mosquito nets nearly all the time! We used HF radios to communicate with Base Camp and the other fires, sending situation reports every evening – we all huddled around our little black box very excited about receiving some news!
In between interviewing the other fires and analysing our data we also did a fair amount of trekking, both in the valleys surrounding the fjord and up on the glaciers. Halfway through the expedition we set off across the fjord to Mountain Base Camp, ready for our adventure on the ice. We spent quite a few days first carrying all our supplies up and then completing our ice training by learning how to use all of the equipment correctly. We spent time on the glacier and surrounding snow learning how to walk in crampons, stop ourselves from falling down a slope using ice axe arrest techniques and what to do if someone falls down a crevasse. When we felt prepared enough, we set off on our journey up one of the glaciers. Travelling over the ice roped up with harness, helmet, ice axe and crampons was quite hard work and slow-going - especially when walking over snow-covered ground with hidden crevasses – but really exciting! We got up around 5 o’clock and travelled during the morning, when the sun hadn’t made the snow too sluchy yet, then set up camp on any rocky ground available. As we had left some tents behind at Base Camp to save weight we slept four people in every three-man tent, so it was warm, cosy and slightly cramped at night! One of the highlights of the trip was the trek we made up to the summit of a ridge: the views from the top were absolutely amazing. Looking ahead we could see all the way down the glacier to Tasermiut fjord, while behind us the ice stretched out all the way to the horizon, connecting our glacier to the enormous Greenland ice cap. Our journey back down the glacier was quite exciting to say the least: a strong wind and snow blizzard forced us to stay in our tents all morning and eventually we set off after a long 9 hour delay. The strong wind made it quite hard-going but we all made it back safely to Base Camp without having to use any of our emergency techniques!
The rest of the time in Greenland seemed to go by really quickly. We looked at archaeological remains of a Norse settlement from the 11th-15th century, spent some time doing re-take photography and attempted to brighten up our meals with interesting experiments of chapatti bread and sponge cakes! After more than a month in Tasermiut it felt really sad leaving the fjord as we made the journey back to Narsarsuaq, the small village where we would fly back from. We spent two days there and all got very excited about the ‘real’ food in the tiny shop! Some of us also braved the cold and had a quick dip in the sea, even swimming out to an iceberg. By this time the nights had become much darker so we slept out under the stars twice and were rewarded with amazing displays of the Northern Lights! It was really colourful and beautiful - the perfect ending to the expedition.
Thank you again very much for your generous support which helped make this expedition possible for me.
Photo: Rebecca van Hove
The hole that opened up in the snow overnight that was the size of a house
Photo: Christopher Fitzsimmons