The NASA GLOBE Clouds team highlights cloud observers Hilde Fålun Strøm (Norway) and Sunniva Sorby (Canada), who created Hearts In The Ice to call attention to all the rapid changes occurring in the polar regions due to the changing climate. These citizen scientists made history last year by being the first women to overwinter solo in the high Arctic. They spent 12 consecutive months without running water or electricity at a remote trappers cabin called “Bamsebu” in Svalbard, Norway. While they were there, they made numerous GLOBE cloud observations as well as collecting data for many other citizen science observations including recording and observing polar bears, collecting phytoplankton samples for Fjord Phyto polar citizen science project, and observing auroras through NASA citizen science’s Aurorasaurus project, to name a few.
We were able to spend some time with these amazing women and ask this duo questions about their experience in the high Arctic.
Hilde Fålun Strøm (left) and Sunniva Sorby (right) with their dog and polar explorer Ettra.
Question: What does the name of your mission, “Hearts In The Ice” mean to you?
We started “Hearts In The Ice” based on our shared love of the polar regions. We have each spent 25 years in the Arctic and Antarctic and have experienced first hand changes. The purpose of HITI is to engage and educate people on climate change and its impacts in the polar regions and beyond. We have a passion and love for the ice that moved us to do something.
Question: What did you do for fun while you overwintered in Svalbard, Norway?
Hilde finds it really fun to throw your body in the ocean while it is really cold (-1.8C water temperature). “One time, a westerly storm pushed the ice away and we were able to swim for a few seconds. We also love to train, go skiing, take lots of photographs, and do other things like read, play music, watch movies and cook great dinners. We spent a lot of time preparing meals using spices and making it a special occasion. Taste is really important when you are in these conditions” Sunniva shared, “I haven’t been happier without tv, traffic- there is so little distraction here. Observing wildlife in all their stages of life is a privilege like Arctic fox, ducks, reindeer and polar bears. I love being present in the Arctic, immersed in all the extreme elements and both of us are so grateful for all the resources we have with us, down to the last fresh apple.
Hilde Fålun Strøm (left) and Sunniva Sorby (right) standing in front of the trapper cabin ‘Bamsebu’ in Svalbard, Norway.
Question: What advice do you have for people in general?
Be curious. It is so important to be creative and have a spirit to play. Spike and ignite your curiosity, seize your moments. Stand up for what you believe in.
The weather changes so quickly and dramatically here in the high Arctic. We must seize the moment and take that sample or collect that measurement despite the conditions or how cold it is. Time waits for no one so make like there is a sense of urgency in your life; don’t wait for tomorrow. Time is a precious gift.
Question: Why is citizen science important to you?
Citizen science is vital because it fosters a sense of understanding, connectedness and curiosity in people and children. It also provokes engagement and builds stories about species and natural places. Gaining knowledge and learning about what is happening eventually changes behavior. This in turn can promote action. We came to understand that being in the same location for consecutive months (in our case now over 16 months) was a valuable asset to the researchers studying trends over time in the ocean, on land, in the sky and under the ice. We felt it was of value to be that conduit of understanding between the science/scientists and the general public- which is what citizen science is.
Bridging the gap between citizens scientists and the scientists studying these changes is important as we endeavor to highlight the importance of the studies being conducted that in turn can help educate people globally about what is happening in the polar regions. What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic -it is a mirror for the rest of the world.
Hilde Fålun Strøm (left) and Sunniva Sorby (right) inside the trapper cabin ‘Bamsebu’ in Svalbard, Norway.
Question: You are the first women to Overwinter in the High Arctic of Svalbard, Norway. What did you learn from this experience and achievement?
Nothing is impossible regardless of gender. You need the right toolbox and experience. It was a huge challenge and we are very proud of our achievement. We have very specific skill sets that helped us survive this experience.
We did not do this alone and this project and our mission was never about “us”, it is first and foremost a rousing battle cry for every single person out there to show up and stand up for our natural spaces and protect what they love. We have an entire community of “heartbeats” out there and this is what we are most proud of.
We learned to trust each other. We learned the importance of communication and body language. We celebrated small things and gave daily acknowledgements. It was a labor of love. We have now created a movement around understanding climate change. We learned that if you dream big and go for it, the stars will align if you are in it for the right reasons.
There hasn’t been one problem we haven’t been able to solve. One important thing is saying thank you and having gratitude. It does something to you and changes the atmosphere.
We also learned to ask again or what we call ‘double clicking’. That is what you do if you didn’t understand or assumed wrong. It gives you the opportunity to say it again in a different way. It also gives you the opportunity to establish the correct meaning of what you were trying to say.
We also used a gratitude book and used it every day. It was a place where we wrote down something for that day: what did you learn, what are you grateful for. It was an opportunity to write something that someone did for you and say thank you.
Life is full of moments and we feel like we have lived fully! We have appreciated the simplicity of our existence, the joy and love that our sweet Ettra brought us. We have lived in alignment with the razor-sharp purpose of why we are here- to share our deep, profound connection to this world we live in, to protect it, to use less and do more.
The explorers are back in Svalbard for another season through May 2021. Follow Hilde and Sunniva’s adventures through their blog posts www.heartsintheice.com/blog. They’ve also started an educational movement to bring together teachers, students, and scientists. Sign up for their live video hosted calls at: www.exploringbytheseat.com/hiti/ as they aim to inspire the next generation of scientists and explorers by connecting them with the science and the scientific community.