Surviving in the Arctic with Clive Johnson

By Clive Johnson

What a fantastic year I have had exploring the Arctic. It started with a journey to East Greenland in the late winter, with temperatures down to -25C followed by a month in Svalbard searching for Polar Bear, then a month back in East Greenland where I had a very close encounter with the largest Polar Bear I have ever seen and then a great few weeks in September cruising around Milne Land photographing some spectacular aurora!

I was in Mestersvig as part of an ongoing Geological fieldwork project from Cambridge University. The geologists are carrying out pure geological research and mapping to build up a greater understanding of the geology of the north Atlantic.

The Arctic polar winter has now taken a firm grip on the landscape and sea-ice is forming at a faster rate this year than in previous decades. Female Polar bear will be moving towards their ‘denning’ areas, where they dig a den in which to hibernate and give birth, while the males continue to wander the fjords all winter.

During my stay in Mestersvig in August, a rather large Polar bear tried to break into the building in which I was sleeping. It made a real mess and I had to see it off with rifle shots and a thunder flash. Unfortunately, the bear did not take the hint that it was not wanted and continued to visit me each night. As the bear was coming around the building at night when it was cooler, I decided that it was safer to work at night and then catch up on sleep during the day. I had full permission to kill the bear, but as you can guess, I had no intention of doing it. I’ve been coming to the Arctic for over thirty years and I would very much like to get to the end of my career without killing a bear.

The large bear I encountered this summer had learnt how to break into the original field station, so when I left the building at the end of the summer, I had to make sure the bear could not get in again. There were several spare steel; shipping containers available at the military station, so they gave me them to place around the field station as the ‘ultimate’ protection !

We eat a very basic ‘sledging’ ration while we’re based here, made up of freeze dried meals mostly. Tins of fish and tortilla wraps ( bread substitute ) are a favourite.

The next expedition planned back to the Arctic will be in the summer of 2020.

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