Maarten works on Spitsbergen every summer: ‘Already seen six polar bears’ | NOW

About 40,000 Dutch people emigrate abroad every year. How do you like working in their new (temporary) home country? And do they really want to return to Holland? This time we talk to polar researcher Maarten Loonen at Spitsbergen.

  • WHO: Maarten Loonen
  • Function: ecologist at the Arctic Center at the University of Groningen and associate professor of arctic ecology
  • Where: Spitsbergen, an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean
  • When: every summer since 1998

What brings you to Spitsbergen every year?

“Every year I study what happens to the goose population on Spitsbergen. Climate change is happening much faster here than in the Netherlands. This has resulted in the consequences being much more visible. Since I came here, the glaciers have become 3 kilometers shorter. For example, large difference.”

“As a scientist, I say: it’s very interesting what’s going on here. But as a person, it makes me sad. With my work, I want to make others aware of all the changes that are now going on. We are the reason for that. “Many young people see Fortunately, there are also many who see that the climate is under pressure, but do not want to give up anything. I also try to reach them.”

“I have sometimes been called the cheapest embassy in the Netherlands.”

Why can you do it for so long?

“I have been coming here since the 1990s. The ‘Researcher Village’ that we are researching from has become bigger and more important. Also for the Dutch government. They want to be able to talk about what is happening in the Arctic. Called the cheapest embassy in Holland, haha. “

“Prince Albert of Monaco is coming soon to look. But we’ve already had John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and Ban Ki-moon visit. It’s very special. I try to represent the Netherlands well: I walk around in clogs and wear. Often a shirt from the university. “

What does an average working day look like?

“This week I have spent a whole day at the computer, because I also teach at the university. I prefer to be out all day. Unfortunately, there is less work than last year, the polar bears ate many goose nests. So we are now quickly finished with our check-round along the nests. I also measure a lot of plants and for example the presence of polar foxes. Also very interesting, but it is born of necessity. “

Have you ever encountered a polar bear?

“I’ve already met a polar bear a few times in the field. Then you shake. Fortunately, it always ends well for both parties. I do a safety training every year. There we also learn to protect ourselves from polar bears with a gun.”

“We notice that more and more polar bears are coming. They are also more often on land. A few years ago they did not come to our village, this year we have already seen six. But we keep a close eye on it and warn each other. That “there is still so much wilderness, it is very special at the same time. I have a completely different lifestyle in that regard than when I am in Groningen.”

“The sun does not set here and literally circles around your head.”

Isn’t it terribly cold?

“We’ve had a storm the last two days, now the weather is beautiful: lots of sun and about 5 degrees. The sun does not go down here and literally orbits your head. I have to take into account that I do not have to out too late at night, otherwise you will not sleep well. “

How long do you want to go to Spitsbergen?

“Maybe I will stop when I am allowed to retire. It is so unique that I have been allowed to come here for a long time. Nowadays, projects last a maximum of four years, and then you have to invent something new to get money for research again. I was just allowed to go back to the north. Now I can not stop. “

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