Smithsonian Magazine Instagram, May 23rd

June 23, 2014

On the final day of my week-long editorship of Smithsonian Magazine’s Instagram page exactly one month ago, here are the last three Arctic Oracle images and texts published. Click each photo to retrieve the corresponding Instagram page:

Post 19

Scientist walks across thinning pack ice 500 miles from North Pole. © Randall Hyman

Post 20

Newly-hatched kittiwake chick. © Randall Hyman

Post 21

Northern Lights shimmer over Lofoten Islands. © Randall Hyman

Smithsonian Magazine Instagram, May 22nd

June 22, 2014

On the sixth day of my week-long editorship of Smithsonian Magazine’s Instagram page one month ago, here are the three Arctic Oracle images and texts published. Click each photo to retrieve the corresponding Instagram page:

Post 16

Sea angel. © Randall Hyman

Post 17

First night of midnight sun in Svalbard, Norway. © Randall Hyman

Post 18

Russian trawler’s catch. © Randall Hyman

Smithsonian Magazine Instagram, May 21st

June 21, 2014

On the fifth day of my week-long editorship of Smithsonian Magazine’s Instagram page one month ago, here are the three Arctic Oracle images and texts published. Click each photo to retrieve the corresponding Instagram page:

Post 13

Scientist releases weather balloon at science base in Svalbard, Norway. © Randall Hyman

Post 14

Emaciated, stranded polar bear looks for meal on land. © Randall Hyman

Post 15

Scientist sets up GPS to track glacial flow. © Randall Hyman

Smithsonian Magazine Instagram, May 20th

June 20, 2014

On the fourth day of my week-long editorship of Smithsonian Magazine’s Instagram page one month ago, here are the three Arctic Oracle images and texts published. Click each photo to retrieve the corresponding Instagram page:

Post 11

Bearded seal on ice in Svalbard, Norway. © Randall Hyman

Post 10

Randall Hyman sits on iceberg in Arctic Ocean.

Post 12

Scientist researches Arctic tern migration. © Randall Hyman

Smithsonian Magazine Instagram, May 19th

June 19, 2014

Next in the Smithsonian Magazine series, here are the three Arctic Oracle images and texts published exactly one month ago on the magazine’s Instagram page. Click each photo to retrieve the corresponding Instagram page:

Post 08

Scuba diver gathers marine samples in the Arctic Ocean. © Randall Hyman

Post 07

Diver triumphantly pumps fists after finding plankton beneath ice 500 miles from North Pole. © Randall Hyman

Post 09

Entire face of glacier calves in Svalbard, Norway. © Randall Hyman

Smithsonian Magazine Instagram, May 18th

June 18, 2014

Following up on the previous post, here are the three Arctic Oracle images and texts published exactly one month ago on Smithsonian Magazine’s Instagram page. Click each photo to retrieve the corresponding Instagram page:

Post 06

Puffin portrait in Svalbard, Norway. © Randall Hyman

Post 05

Dog sledding in Svalbard, Norway. © Randall Hyman

Post 04

Young Svalbard reindeer. © Randall Hyman

Smithsonian Magazine Instagram, May 17th

June 17, 2014

From May 17th through May 23rd, I hosted Smithsonian Magazine’s Instagram page and featured my Arctic Oracles project. I posted text and photos three times a day covering important aspects of the changing Norwegian Arctic. Here are the postings, one month later, day by day. Today’s three photos and text originally published May 17th. Click on each photo to retrieve the corresponding Instagram posts:

Post 01

Randall Hyman stands on ice pack beside research ship 500 miles from North Pole.

Post 02

Scientists take core samples of fjord ice in Svalbard, Norway. © Randall Hyman

Post 03

Norwegian children celebrate 17th of May in Kirkenes, Norway. © Randall Hyman

VIDEO & PHOTO GALLERY: Return of the Sun

January 21, 2014

It is soldagen, or Sun Day, here in Tromsø, Norway, far above the Arctic Circle. Last time folks here saw the sun was mid November, and there is great anticipation on this clear frigid day in the third week of January, especially among the children. My day begins at 9:00 a.m. (still very dark in mid morn), attending a speech by the Norwegian prime minister on Arctic foreign and domestic policy in the wake of climate change. While she is from Norway’s right-wing party, there is no debate in Scandinavia about whether climate change exists, just debate about how to deal with the problems and opportunities, as avidly discussed this week at the Arctic Frontiers international conference. After another speech from Greenland’s first female prime minister about her determination to put traditional indigenous lifestyles above exploitation of the country’s lucrative mineral and petroleum resources, I slip out of the dark auditorium to catch a city bus for the coast.

When I was last here in July, kids were swimming in skimpy suits in the cold waters, but today the rocky shore is covered with snow and sheets of ice. Only three girls with a sack of cordwood get off the bus with me. The shore is empty, save for a couple of photographers shivering in the 15F° weather. Distant snowy mountain peaks are already glowing in the rosy first light of sunrise at 11am, but here the southern tip of Tromsø Island is still in shadow. The three girls begin building a fire, and soon more groups arrive, lighting fires along the shore. Suddenly a woman runs forward excitedly pointing and shouting. I swing around and, lo and behold, at 11:04 a.m. the sun has returned from her winter slumber.

Even I, having only spent a few days here, am giddy with excitement. It is the sun, in all her glory, beaming across the ocean from behind a mountain, dancing across the calm waters on this frigid winter day. I run along the shore photographing people’s reactions, and then it is over at 11:11am just as I catch a group of kids sitting on ice-covered beach rocks around a fire with the sun setting behind them.



Norwegian schoolchildren celebrate sun’s return in Tromsø, Norway. © Randall Hyman

(click above photo for video!)

I ask someone where all the school groups are that traditionally come each year to celebrate along the shore. A woman tells me they are on their way and will still see the sun rise. Impossible! It has already set! I suddenly hear the distant commotion of hundreds of boots shuffling down a snowy path carrying hordes of chattering children. Here they are, crowds of them, with suns painted on their faces and decorated paper headbands.

As the kids gather above the beach, the sun magically reappears from behind the distant mountains, as promised, playing peek-a-boo between peaks, tracing a low path along the horizon. Kids are darting wildly everywhere, waving, pointing and jumping with glee. Before it is all over, an hour has passed and the sun has set and risen three more times. I finally join the crowds of happy children and teachers marching from the beach up icy streets back to school.

For me, the celebration is still missing one thing. A girl walking her huge, fluffy white Samoyed dog (never did a dog look better suited for such an icy climate) suggests I duck into the Tromsø Museum to warm up and get some hot chocolate. I discover they have no cafe, but the receptionist escorts me into the staff cafeteria where a party is underway with workers happily drinking hot chocolate and munching on the traditional solbolle, or sun buns— sweet dough, fried like donuts and sprinkled with sugar, some with cream or raspberry filling. My hands are thawing, my spirits are high and my celebration is complete.  The sun has returned home to the Arctic, and so have I.



Norwegian schoolchildren greet sun after almost two months without sunrise in Tromsø, Norway. © Randall Hyman

VIDEO: Shattered Arctic lecture

January 6, 2014

For those who have the stamina, here is a link to a video of my lecture, “Shattered Arctic,” at the St. Louis Zoo in December 2013. It contains much of the same material used in my lectures across North America about the impact of climate change on the Arctic. Through photos and videos, I present the Arctic as a crystal ball for the rest of the globe, exploring what is happening there and what it is telling us about our future. I also delve into what North Americans can do to improve that future. It’s over an hour long, but the first ten minutes are the most important. Enjoy!

CLICK POSTER TO GO TO LECTURE:Shattered STL Zoo poster-page-001




More radio interviews

December 27, 2013

Many Americans seem to be waking up to the reality and threats of both climate change and the poisoning of the Arctic Ocean, with NPR, The Weather Channel and even conservative talk-radio shows eager to discuss the various topics I explored during my four-month Fulbright project in the Norwegian Arctic.  Here are two more radio interviews:



Puffin colony in Svalbard, Norway. © Randall Hyman



Bearded seal in Svalbard, Norway. © Randall Hyman


The Weather Channel article

December 26, 2013

As word spreads about my climate change work as a Fulbright Scholar, so does media coverage.  Here is a link to a recent article about my work and photography posted on The Weather Channel’s website.



Diver prepares to slip through seal hole and explore Arctic Ocean beneath ice pack 500 miles from North Pole. © Randall Hyman

NPR interview, traveling exhibit and lecture show

December 15, 2013

More and more Americans are becoming concerned about the fate of the Arctic and how it relates to their own actions and future.  With growing concern comes increased media coverage. Link to my interview of December 9, 2013 on NPR’s St. Louis Public Radio affiliate, KWMU, which focuses on my traveling lecture show and exhibit, Shattered Arctic, and includes photos, embedded videos and podcast audio of three segments of the interview.



Northern Lights shimmer over Lofoten Islands, Norway. © Randall Hyman



November 5, 2013

This video joins fifteen scientists and divers as they sail from the Svalbard archipelago toward the North Pole aboard the Norwegian Polar Institute’s research vessel, RV Lance, monitoring disruptions in the Arctic marine ecosystem due to climate change. (For details, see previous posts: Thin ice: Uncharted waters of climate change and In the beginning… there were protists)


Diver from Norwegian Polar Institute research vessel RV Lance surfaces through pack ice at 82 degrees north latitude on mission to collect plankton specimens; Svalbard, Norway. © Randall Hyman

PHOTO GALLERY: In the beginning, there were protists

August 24, 2013

It is perhaps fitting that my four-month journey across the Norwegian Arctic should end at the beginning… of life, that is. I am traveling aboard the Norwegian Polar Institute’s research ship, R/V Lance, with a team of marine microbiologists and oceanographers monitoring shifts in salinity, temperature and plankton to track incursions of warm Atlantic waters into Arctic seas. In two seasons I have come full circle, from ice maximum in April to nearly ice minimum in August, when the frozen ocean retreats to the highest, most remote latitudes.

After 10 days of watching scientists analyze chemical data and microorganisms scooped from some of the Arctic Ocean’s deepest waters, I find their work every bit as fascinating as studying polar bears or whales. They examine some of the most varied fauna and flora on Earth that are as tiny as they are crucial to the planet’s health.

The earliest form of life, blue-green algae, was a simple bacteria, or protist, that became the template for thousands of single-celled organisms, themselves roots of the five kingdoms of the phylogenetic tree. They bequeathed us our atmosphere and replaced the poisonous gasses that originally enveloped the Earth. While polar bears, whales, seabirds and seals are exciting, they all look boringly similar in the eyes of Lance’s microbiologists, who revel in the dazzling and diverse structures of diatoms, dinoflagellates, amphipods and copepods.

Pea-sized sea angel (Clione limacina) is a shell-less cold water gastropod, one of many zooplankton collected at 82 degrees latitude beneath polar sea ice latitude north of Svalbard, Norway. © Randall Hyman


Having sampled waters on the western and northernmost coast of the Svalbard archipelago, we have spent the entire sunlit night zig-zagging northward, crashing through huge ice floes, searching for algae which thrives on the underside of the Arctic Ocean’s frozen lid. The few of us awake on the bridge and deck scan for the telltale brown of algae on shattered floes that flip over and slide across each other like massive ice cubes as our ship crashes forward. Lance’s hull shakes and grinds with each headlong rush through another fracture line smashed open by the 23-centimeter-thick (nine-inch) reinforced bow.

Finally, we anchor on a sheet of ice two meters thick that extends to the North Pole. The vast snowscape is eerily quiet and still after a night of bone-rattling ice breaking. Wasting no time, scientists and deckhands auger two holes in the floe and insert steel tubes that serve as mooring posts. Five divers pull sledges full of scuba tanks and other gear to a melt pond that has a seal hole in the middle.

Using saws, they enlarge the opening and, after careful equipment checks, disappear under the ice with special suction canisters for collecting plankton. The ocean here is nearly 4000 meters deep. I crouch in the slippery melt pond 2.5 miles above the seabed floor, hand plunged in the freezing water taking photos, and imagine slipping down this hole into the bottomless blue.



Scientist collects marine samples beneath the Arctic Ocean ice pack 500 miles from the North Pole. © Randall Hyman

We have little luck finding plankton, but at a second dive site the next day divers find plentiful phytoplankton and zooplankton thriving in some of the coldest yet nutrient-rich seawater on Earth. We finally have ice algae, which is later exposed to Carbon-14, a radioactive isotope, and resubmerged in special vials under the ice for 24 hours to track the energetics of carbon dioxide uptake and oxygen output.

The next morning we turn southward, back toward Longyearbyen on southwest Spitsbergen Island, a 34-hour trip.  In the evening, a few of us relax in a hot tub tucked above the back deck (yes, scientists do allow themselves occasional luxuries!), relishing icy winds and choppy seas.

I see a sudden spray of water erupt on our port side from amid the waves and shout, “Whale!” A moment later an enormous, shiny back surges to the surface, passing our ship and disappearing beyond our stern in the stormy seas. We have just seen a blue whale, the largest animal ever to roam Earth.

My long journey across the Norwegian Arctic is coming to an end. Over the course of four months I have covered everything from glaciers and reindeer to ski marathons, dog sledding, the petroleum industry, seabirds, trawlers, geopolitics, and polar bears. In these last two weeks, I have feasted my eyes on both the humblest and the grandest forms of life known to science. Turning my sights toward home, I reflect on the tremendous challenge all nations face in protecting this amazingly rich legacy for millennia to come.

PHOTO GALLERY: Uncharted waters of climate change

August 23, 2013

“What you are looking at,” laments marine biologist Haakon Hop of the Norwegian Polar Institute, “is the melting of the Arctic Ocean.”

We are nearing 82 degrees North latitude aboard the research ship R/V Lance, just 800 kilometers (500 miles) shy of the North Pole, in search of continuous ice.

“In 1992 we came to a full stop in the middle of the Barents Sea at 76 North,” recalls Hop.  “We hit solid ice and couldn’t go any farther. Now look at it.”

Circumpolar ice approaches its annual minimum in August-September, but we have traveled far north of the Svalbard archipelago into waters nearly 4000 meters (2.5 miles) deep and still not encountered the ice that once extended much farther south, even in summer. Since records first began in 1979, satellite imagery has tracked a 50% decline in the circumpolar minimum, but this year the meltdown halted after rapid retreat in midsummer, actually expanding 20,000 square kilometers in late July.

Increasing ice is unprecedented for this time of year, but such data is deceiving. While storms in the second half of July brought counterclockwise winds and cooler conditions that spread the ice out, age and thickness are far more important than actual coverage, which may be thinly stretched out or thickly concentrated. Most of what we see around our ship is thin, first-year ice, not the 10-year-old, meters-thick variety that used to dominate the Arctic Ocean and ensure good coverage year in and year out. (Later satellite imagery eventually placed 2013 as the sixth lowest sea ice extent on record.)

Arctic skuas perch on ice edge 500 miles from North Pole. © Randall Hyman

Does this matter if you’re not a polar bear dependent on a frozen platform for hunting seals? Only if you need air to breathe. On the underside of the Arctic Ocean’s frozen lid grows ice algae, blooming like a rainforest each year when intense, 24-hour sunlight returns in April. Zooplankton and the entire Arctic Ocean food chain depend on this phenomenon, as do humans. This algae and all of the phytoplankton in the Arctic Ocean sequester vast quantities of carbon dioxide, a climate-warming gas, and produce abundant oxygen.

For 10 days, our retinue of 17 scientists and scuba divers has been sampling and analyzing ocean temperatures, salinity, chemistry and plankton at varying depths to track shifts in marine ecosystems. Starting with Kongsfjord near the Ny-Ålesund research village and sampling at specific GPS points in the Fram Strait toward Greenland, we concluded with a similiar set of measurements in north-facing Rijpfjord, 270 kilometers (about 175 miles) to the northeast at the northernmost tip of the Svalbard archipelago. The two fjords are normally affected by dramatically different ocean current systems. While Kongsfjord faces westward and receives warmer Atlantic waters, Rijpfjord points directly toward the North Pole and has a deep-water sill that impedes the last, weak push of the Gulf Stream. Despite this, our measurements this year show that Atlantic waters have invaded farther north than ever.

Meanwhile, we continue north in search of ice, an increasingly elusive prey, with some scientists predicting that the North Pole will be ice-free by 2030. (See earlier post, Climate change: Going bananas in Greenland)



Scientists gather marine samples in Arctic Ocean north of Svalbard, Norway. © Randall Hyman

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