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A world in crisis inspires two female citizen scientists

Hearts in the Ice, created by Hilde Fålun Strøm and Sunniva Sorby, is a platform for social engagement connecting students, scientists, manufacturers, environmental organizations, and all who care about the health of our planet, in the conversation around climate change.

As the world spins off its axis, Covid-19 has significantly slowed down much movement around the globe “but climate change does not take a break so neither are we”, says Sorby and Strøm.

Sunniva Sorby was born in Norway and raised in Canada and was part of the first team of women to ski to the South Pole in 1993 and has since been pushing the boundaries of her physical and psychological limitations. She has travelled to Antarctica over 100 times as a history lecturer and naturalist/guide.

Hilde Falun Strom was born in Norway and has been living in Svalbard for 25 years. Svalbard has been the playground for her many expeditions and adventures. Her experience on a snowmobile has netted over 60k km (which equals a trip around the globe) and has had more than 250 Polar Bear encounters.

1.What is 'Hearts in the Ice' and what do you hope to achieve?

We started Hearts in the Ice (HITI) to raise awareness about climate change in our polar regions and to inspire a global dialogue around it. We are using our time at the remote cabin Bamsebu to contribute to projects from organizations around the world as citizen scientists.

Educators want to bring meaningful, experiential learning into their classrooms and they are constantly seeking resources that can help them facilitate these experiences for their students. Usually this might involve expensive technology, they don’t always engage the students or the resources often aren’t relevant or lacking variety around current issues.

We are 2 driven passionate women with over 25 years each of experience in the Polar Regions. We are explorers, adventurers, polar ambassadors and citizen scientists. We’re at the frontline of pressing global issues and can share powerful firsthand stories and experiences with students. We understand the importance of connecting with the current generation and sharing our work.

Our goal is to engage and inspire youth- our future leaders to stay curious, informed and engage in the climate care conversation- be thoughtful users.

Citizen science is one way to accomplish that – and for the past year Hilde and I have been active citizen scientists collecting data and observations for a group of international researchers studying climate change.

We are not here to save the planet- we are here to show people the planet needs saving.

2. You are the first women in history to have overwintered in the Arctic without men - how do you cope in this extreme environment?

It might be akin to going to the moon with just one other person. You are cut off from life as you knew it. You leave a world where mediocrity is tolerated and you go to one where you are needing to show up with 100% of your awareness and a sense of urgency with how you move and how you problem solve. We are living with darkness outside for close to 3 months.

We are contributing to studies on coping and isolation as we are prime targets for this sort of investigation into the “ toughness” of what we are doing: The answer will help us to better understand what constitutes psychological resilience; also, it will provide a foundation for advising professional organizations such as the European Space Agency and NASA in astronaut recruitment, selection and psychological support during long duration space exploration missions to the moon, Mars, and other planets. Moreover, it may inform psychological health services for people during societal lockdown due to the pandemic.

3. You’ve had so many incredible adventures and moments, what’s been the highlight for you so far?

Tough question to answer as every day another magical moment appears. It is a simple life here and that alone is a highlight!

One highlight might be our random trip to a glacier in April only to find a female and her 4- month old cub in a display of pure love, protection and joy! We were on our Lynx snowmobiles when we spotted them so we stopped, cut the engines and just watched. We photographed such tender moments between these two - it felt like a window into this Arctic world that we are so desperately wanting to protect -so that these beautiful Marine Mammals can thrive!

The female had a tracking collar on – she was nr N26131 according to Jon Aars from Norsk Poalr Institut and they were not sure if she had given birth this year so we were able to confirm that yes indeed she had. It was truly a priceless afternoon at the glacier!

4. What dangers do you have to protect yourself from, besides the cold and bears!?

Life here is challenging. The darkness, the isolation, coming back from a scooter ride to find a massive polar bear on your doorstep a metre away from your dog- one that would not leave !!!

..The ice conditions, being in a boat and the engine not functioning, waking up after a storm and discovering that the front door has several metres of a snow drift in front and you absolutely cannot get out and then the places that your mind goes- like sawing a hole in the door and then what?

Random encounters in the dark, communication equipment suddenly failing…

We are very vulnerable here…And we are alone.

5. What are your top tips for protecting the environment in our everyday lives?

  • Adopt “Expedition Behavior “ a way of being that can help in challenging times during confinement, hardship and isolation as we all forge a way forward, together.

  • Engage yourself. Stay Curious.

  • Try to live with nature, not against it.

  • Lead by example. Be a thoughtful user

  • Have discussions at home-make small changes - No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.

  • Set expectations for sustainability in your surroundings, where you work, shop, etc.

  • Become a Citizen Scientist for a project that interests you! Learn and then Act!

  • Re-use, Re-cycle, Re-purpose, Respect!

6. One of The Female Lead’s themes is to find strength in setbacks. Give us one example

of where this applied in your life?

We are powerful beyond our wildest dreams - we must take the risk to stretch ourselves!

We have had many setbacks here that could have rendered us exposed and in danger. We are master problem solvers. We have the tools, we use our creativity and problem solving ability to make something work. We were not able to call someone to help us fix what was broken so we have learned to be patient, and to exercise the creative genius that resides in all of us.

We are not here to save the planet but we are here to tell people that the planet needs saving. The time is now. There is a sense of urgency around the collective need to play an active role.

We have both worked in male dominated industries. You are not often taken seriously until you prove yourself. Well- here we are. Mother nature needs her daughters and we have answered the call.

The only thing we need to prove as women is that we are equal -now the world, policies and the gender pay gap just need to catch up.

7. You’re an inspiration to so many, tell us about the women who inspire you?

The women in our network inspire us, the silent heroines that support our efforts on the front lines. We are so much stronger when we all stand together in this crisis- some of us are out front as we are, some are back at home-back at Basecamp, some are out there “holding space” for us in their thoughts.

Power of collaboration! This is what we women are so good at. Leading with our hearts!

They are Ellen Kvam, Sandy O’Keefe, Fabian Dattner, Bettina Breckenfeld, Anne-Margrethe Tveit, Pascale Lortie, Anne Manuum.

8. What’s next for you? How can we get involved?

1. Our book is coming out late January 2021 and is available for presale-

2. Our amazing designer Ellen Kvam has made Polar Bear Arm bands so that we can spread the love for these magnificent mammals and continue to provide education outreach

3. Help promote our twice monthly video hosted calls with experts on Climate change topics ( Dec 10 and 15 are Polar Bears), We- Sunniva and Hilde will call in via satellite 2 times a month.

4. We are still needing financial support for our citizen science work for January/Feb/March /May 2021 – the Citizen Science projects we are doing for these months is:

November 2020 Drones, Ice Cores & Science Apps

December 2020 Wildlife Observation – UNIS

January 2021 Aurora , Nasa & Polar Night

February 2021 Ocean & Phytoplankton- Scripps Institute of Oceanography

March 2021 Wildlife Observation – Arctic/Antarctic -Norsk PolarInstitut

April 2021 Micro-organisms and Ice Cores Sampling – UNIS

May 2021 NASA Clouds, Glaciers & Weather

We are aligning Feb and March with UN National Day for Girls and Women in Science and March 8th International Women’s Day. We are currently looking for sponsors, please contact us.

5. When we return from our stay here late May 2021 we will host inspiring, informative, engaging talks to schools, special interest groups, corporations, leadership groups so any help in connecting us would be helpful.

6. We would like to have the keys to the UN to advocate for Citizen Science as a recognized and powerful way to encourage curiosity, civic engagement and climate care.

“Hearts in the Ice is more than a project, more than two brave women managing to stay on their own during a polar winter. It is a model for how scientists, industrial partners, explorers, artists and other stakeholders can meet in a common action to focus on polar climate changes. They are following in the footsteps of other polar pioneers, but this time not hunting for fur and skins, but knowledge and wisdom” -Borge Damsgard Director of UNIS


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