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 !!!