Blog #3 – UNIS safety training

Spitsbergen offers a wonderful and fairly pristine environment, but with that come some dangers. Of course common dangers at home or at work (e.g. falling of stairs, throwing hot water over yourself) are present, but the rough environment poses some additional risks. In order to prevent such situations and to know how to act if an accident/emergency occurs, we participated in the UNIS Safety course (UNIS = University Centre of Svalbard). Since it is also illegal to die on Svalbard (since bodies do not decompose when buried in the permafrost and cremating bodies on Spitsbergen requires a lot of paperwork), it is good to know how to avoid this 😉

So how can you be injured or die due to the Arctic environment?

  • Hypothermia, e.g. because of falling through the sea-ice or because of bad clothing while being outside on the snow scooter and not taking your coldness seriously.
  • Frost bites. It is fairly the same as burning your skin, but also exactly the opposite, since the water in your skin is freezing during a frost bite. Just like burns, frost bites are categorized in to three groups and those three groups are the same (red skin, blisters and black skin).
  • Polar bear encounters.
  • Crevasses in glaciers.
  • Avalanches.
  • Snow scooter accidents.

You see, participating in this course just before heading off for 15 months in the Arctic wilderness, is very comforting. Ah-hum. I will just need to read some books like “Nooit meer slapen” (about a geologist getting crazy in Northern Norway during an expedition) and I will need to watch the film “The Thing” (a horror film about a research team in Antarctica) and I am ready to go.

All kidding aside, the course was very useful, interesting and actually assuring. When something would happen now at/around the station in Ny-Alesund, I feel more confident about acting in a correct and efficient way. So that mission was successful I would say 😊

Some pictures of our course as well as a bonus video are shown below. See you!

  • Leaving UNIS. Picture by Gregory Tran.

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