Doing Something About the Weather, and Bears

A geoscientific database for high Arctic research

“Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

The line was written by Charles Warner in 1873, but made famous by Mark Twain.

When it comes to providing a geoscientific database for areas that are in constant battle with the worst that weather can bring, it would be nice if someone actually did something about it.

The University Centre in Svalbard, in the Norwegian high Arctic archipelago, has taken that challenge head on. Svalbard is a rugged, remote terrain and one of the world’s northernmost inhabited areas. Nevertheless, UNIS has created a geoscientific database for high Arctic training and research, a unique approach to the retrieval, coordination and cataloging of data in a less than hospitable area. It will be the subject of a discussion at this year’s AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition called, “Svalbox: A Geoscientific Database for High Arctic Teaching and Research.”

The weather may come, but that doesn’t mean the scientific data can’t be retrieved.

“For a start, it’s completely dark four months of the year, and snow-covered more than half the year,” said Kim Senger, associate professor of structural geology at the school, who will be leading the session. “The field season is greatly reduced. Most of the area is reachable only by boat in summer (if in coastal regions) or snowmobile in March or April, so one not only needs to plan well, one has to have polar flexibility with respect to doing fieldwork when the visibility is good.”

Image Caption

A virtual field trip to the Billefjorden Trough

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“Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

The line was written by Charles Warner in 1873, but made famous by Mark Twain.

When it comes to providing a geoscientific database for areas that are in constant battle with the worst that weather can bring, it would be nice if someone actually did something about it.

The University Centre in Svalbard, in the Norwegian high Arctic archipelago, has taken that challenge head on. Svalbard is a rugged, remote terrain and one of the world’s northernmost inhabited areas. Nevertheless, UNIS has created a geoscientific database for high Arctic training and research, a unique approach to the retrieval, coordination and cataloging of data in a less than hospitable area. It will be the subject of a discussion at this year’s AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition called, “Svalbox: A Geoscientific Database for High Arctic Teaching and Research.”

The weather may come, but that doesn’t mean the scientific data can’t be retrieved.

“For a start, it’s completely dark four months of the year, and snow-covered more than half the year,” said Kim Senger, associate professor of structural geology at the school, who will be leading the session. “The field season is greatly reduced. Most of the area is reachable only by boat in summer (if in coastal regions) or snowmobile in March or April, so one not only needs to plan well, one has to have polar flexibility with respect to doing fieldwork when the visibility is good.”

Integrated Data

So how does the database help such an effort?

“We utilize emerging technologies like photogrammetry to produce cost-efficient virtual outcrop models of key outcrops and use these both when planning field excursions and for post-excursion analyses,” he explained.

Specifically, the database includes geo-referenced maps (geological, tectonic, paleogeographic) at different scales, terrain models, bathymetric data, published stratigraphic logs, seismic data, Transient Electromagnetics and Magnetotellurics (TEM/MT) data, exploration well logs with well tops, grav-mag data, published cross-sections, and satellite images. Such models form an integral part of the database, which links existing surface and subsurface data in a 3-D environment within Petrel, an industry-standard software package.

UNIS is home to more than 300 geology undergraduate and postgraduate students. The makeup, Senger mentioned, is roughly 50 percent from Norwegian universities and 50 percent from international universities, bringing in students and skillsets from around the world. Not surprisingly the Arctic Geology Department is the largest of the departments. Further, the school hosts field excursions held for oil companies interested in better understanding the geological evolution of the Barents Shelf. Regarding the database, Senger said the goal is to compile and acquire key data sets in their correct spatial position.

“We bring modern technology, in particular cost-effective virtual outcrops, to complement more than 200 years of geo-scientific research on Svalbard, providing a sustainable platform for sharing results, workflows and teaching material with the wider geo-scientific community,” said Senger.

Senger spoke of the research potential of the database, both its internal and external parts (much of it is available in a public portal), which allows anyone interested to see some of the data available on Svalbard’s unique geology. Senger said UNIS, located in the area’s largest town, Longyearbyen, has a desire to share both data sets – virtual outcrop models and teaching resources – from its website and believes its value is the ability for other geoscience-lecturers to incorporate such information in their courses. irrespective of their physical location.

“The online portal contains publicly available WMS data from the Norwegian Polar Institute like topographic information and geological maps,” he said.

While the models online are not in full resolution due to space limitations, high-resolution versions can be requested.

“We also show locations of seismic lines, exploration logs and a three-dimensional reading list – these we have in-house at UNIS, which are so useful for planning e.g. and research projects,” he said.

Why It’s Called ‘the Arctic’

When it comes to talking about work in the Arctic, though, whether it is actual exploration or compiling a database, the topic of weather and other natural challenges, is never far away.

“All field activities on Svalbard are highly dependent on the seasons (polar darkness versus midnight sun), transportation (snowmobiles, boats or walking) and health, safety and environmental considerations (harsh weather, polar bears etc.),” he said.

Wait. What? Polar Bears?

Really?

“Plenty,” he said, “but I’m not sure if any of the stories are publishable. But of course we want to avoid conflicts with bears.”
Of course.

“Almost every year some of my students get evacuated from their field work because a bear is in the area.”

Which can be potentially more of a problem than the weather.

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