It is less than 48 hours after school let out for summer break, and I am on a plane headed for the Norwegian Arctic! This summer, I am traveling with National Geographic on an expedition in search of polar bears, walrus, and reindeer, in a place so far north there are no trees, so far north the sun will not set for 126 days in a row.
Traveling to such a cold and remote location can be difficult (try finding a direct flight to the North Pole from LAX), and so my first stop is Newark, New Jersey, where I will catch an international flight to Oslo, the capital of Norway. In Oslo, I will meet the rest of my group – two more teachers, a team of National Geographic naturalists and photographers, and a few paying passengers along for the ride – and together, we will take a private, chartered plane to the island archipelago of Svalbard. Svalbard is a group of islands located well within the Arctic Circle, at the edge of the Arctic Ocean. It is one of the best places in the world to view polar bears, as the bears outnumber people almost two to one. More than half of Svalbard is covered in glaciers, and the water surrounding the islands contains so much ice that the northern and eastern parts of the archipelago are often inaccessible by boat, even in the summertime. We will be flying into the small town of Longyearbyen, a place originally settled by miners and whalers looking to profit from the rich resources found on and around the island. Once in Longyearbyen, we will take an ice-breaking ship into the Arctic Ocean, to seek out polar bears on the floating ice, and to kayak and hike the fjords carved out by glaciers long ago.
My travel is being funded through a fellowship sponsored by National Geographic, Google, and Lindblad Expeditions, so that I can bring back data on this unique ecosystem for use in my classroom.