hi, my name is lauren.

here you'll find my blog.

i split my time between expedition ships in the arctic & antarctica, and a brownstone in brooklyn, ny.

drop me a line sometime, i would love to hear from you: laurenfarmer (dot) blog (at) gmail (dot) com

lauren farmer

True North

It’s 6am, I’m sitting in my hotel room in Helsinki. In just a couple of hours, myself, a few other expedition members and 120 well-paying travelers will head to the airport, board a charter flight for Murmansk, bus to the Atomflot Nuclear Base where we will board the world’s only nuclear-powered passenger icebreaker vessel, bound for the North Pole on the first of three 10 day trips. 

I will be the Expedition Photographer on board NS 50 Years of Victory for 5 weeks, 3 round trips from Murmansk to the North Pole. This morning it feels like the first day of school, I am full of nerves. I have come to feel at home on the MS Expedition, so venturing out to learn a new ship, a new team, a new itinerary is daunting.

Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, this ship will have no Internet connection so I will be radio silent for a while. I am hoping to get a bit of wifi on our first turnaround day in port on the 26th. 

So here we go, to the Pole! 

Stockholm

Stockholm

We saw 11 bears last week on our trip from Longyearbyen to the Northeast of Svalbard. They were fantastic. 

It was incredibly rare to see mating in the wild. So much so that some of our expedition staff who have been working in this industry for 25+ years had never seen it. 

Enjoying a week holiday in Finland, Estonia and Sweden. 

Today I’m in Tallinn, Estonia and it is absolutely gorgeous.

Photo by my friend and the MS Expedition’s newest Photographer in Residence, Reuben Hernandez. 

Photo by my friend and the MS Expedition’s newest Photographer in Residence, Reuben Hernandez

A few days ago we did a Zodiac cruise in Kronesbreen and encountered the bluest ice I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t stop shooting it! Just amazing that something like this exists in real life. 

alex-cowan:

Hunting Arctic Foxes and Ancient Whale Skulls

At the Kittiwake colony known as Diskobukta I saw Arctic Foxes, even lame ones, taking the birds with seeming impunity. Here the lame one is carrying two back to the den to cache before heading back out to increase his stock. Arctic Foxes are nomads par excellence, following Polar bears across thousands of square miles of sea ice through the winter and they appear to have little site fidelity, meaning they may not return to the same places every year.

Later, in the polar desert of Nordaustlandet far to the north of Diskobukta, I found a small fox den excavated inside the skull of a Bowhead whale, around 40m above sea level (see the bottom photo of another nearby skull).

The Bowhead population in Svalbard is estimated to once have been the largest in the world (approx. 35,000) but post-whaling they number in the tens. They are incredibly long-lived, with estimates ranging as high as 200 years. Individuals killed in the 1990s (a sustainable hunt still exists in the Pacific) were found to contain stone and jade harpoon heads, indicating they had survived hunts over a century before. Despite their slow reproduction (females become mature at around 15-20 and produce a calf perhaps every 4 years or so. They are believed to go through a menopause but a 90 year old individual was identified that appeared to still be breeding) their numbers are increasing and the Pacific Bowhead is doing well, having never been exposed to the full might of factory whaling. The Svalbard population is very fragile but appears to be increasing.

Bowheads are a right whale and float when they die, so it’s common for Bowhead carcasses to wash up on shore. This is almost certainly an example of this, but oddly it is 40m above sea level.

During the last glacial the vast weight of ice on the land caused it to sink into the viscous magma beneath. With the recession of the ice the land has rebounded, slowly rising from the sea. Carbon dating of Bowhead skulls on the beaches that are now far above sea level indicate that the highest ones are approximately 10,000 years old. In the Canadian Arctic Art Dyke, among others, has done fascinating work using the presence or absence of Bowheads on high raised beaches to reconstruct the extent of sea ice throughout the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

Arctic Foxes living a timeless lifestyle inside 10,000 year old skulls of a whale that is so emblematic of the Arctic, the whale whose migration routes drew the Inuit across the Arctic. These skulls are providing evidence to scientists of great continental movements and of changes in our climate…this is why the Arctic is such an incredible and mysterious place and why I can go back to the same place several times and look around in wonder and curiosity, unable to imagine the many events that have taken place as bears, foxes and whales went about the exact same lives they live now.

Zodiac Cruise at Samarinbreen, Svalbard

One of 11 polar bears we were fortunate to see in this past week. This big boy is roughly 1100 lbs. and 11 ft. long! 

The incredible bird cliffs of Alkefjellet, Svalbard.

I’m not carrying yet, but nearing my NRA certification to carry a rifle for polar bear protection. As someone who did not grow up around guns, and grew up in a very anti-gun family, it is beyond bizarre to spend a day at a firing range once a week shooting a 30.06 rifle. But you know, SKILL SETS, y’all. 

I’m not carrying yet, but nearing my NRA certification to carry a rifle for polar bear protection. As someone who did not grow up around guns, and grew up in a very anti-gun family, it is beyond bizarre to spend a day at a firing range once a week shooting a 30.06 rifle. But you know, SKILL SETS, y’all. 

7 more days in Svalbard, Norway. Unfortunately we only had 1 distant bear this past week, but plenty of amazing walrus, sea ice and birds. 

Gull GIF! A Glaucous Gull takes off at 14th of July Bay in Svalbard, Norway. 

Gull GIF! A Glaucous Gull takes off at 14th of July Bay in Svalbard, Norway. 

alex-cowan:

Arctic Silence
While travellers landed several hundred metres away in the high Arctic archipelago of Svalbard I was standing on bear sentry duty.
My job is to continuously scan the hillsides and (especially) the water for Polar bears that may be approaching the landing site, so that I can either deter the bear with flares or warn better-placed sentries.
On nights like this, with the sun getting lower in the sky (this was taken at about 22:00) it is naturally very tiring on the eyes. But with bears never far away (a mother with two cubs was seen here by us just three hours earlier) it’s a necessary task!
The sea is seen by many as a natural barrier that does not need to be paid attention to, but bears are just as likely to come from the sea as from the land and they are much harder to see in the water. By the time a bear is obvious, it’s amongst your group and you’ve left it too late.
Most bears are travelling through and not really interested in people. In fact many will purposely avoid people. But there is a minority of hungry bears (often adolescents with lots to learn about hunting) who pose a real risk to us. Maintaining a perimeter involves not just being able to spot bears but also be in a position to deflect them from our group and, in the very worst of circumstances, be in a position to open fire with rifles without endangering our travellers and kill the bear.
It’s a sometimes-tricky role and it’s easy to let your mind wander, but it does afford an opportunity to be alone with your own thoughts, and be able to focus on a task without distractions. Being alone in the still silence of the high Arctic is an experience I chase and treasure and a couple of times a season I get to really experience it. This photo sums it up.

alex-cowan:

Arctic Silence

While travellers landed several hundred metres away in the high Arctic archipelago of Svalbard I was standing on bear sentry duty.

My job is to continuously scan the hillsides and (especially) the water for Polar bears that may be approaching the landing site, so that I can either deter the bear with flares or warn better-placed sentries.

On nights like this, with the sun getting lower in the sky (this was taken at about 22:00) it is naturally very tiring on the eyes. But with bears never far away (a mother with two cubs was seen here by us just three hours earlier) it’s a necessary task!

The sea is seen by many as a natural barrier that does not need to be paid attention to, but bears are just as likely to come from the sea as from the land and they are much harder to see in the water. By the time a bear is obvious, it’s amongst your group and you’ve left it too late.

Most bears are travelling through and not really interested in people. In fact many will purposely avoid people. But there is a minority of hungry bears (often adolescents with lots to learn about hunting) who pose a real risk to us. Maintaining a perimeter involves not just being able to spot bears but also be in a position to deflect them from our group and, in the very worst of circumstances, be in a position to open fire with rifles without endangering our travellers and kill the bear.

It’s a sometimes-tricky role and it’s easy to let your mind wander, but it does afford an opportunity to be alone with your own thoughts, and be able to focus on a task without distractions. Being alone in the still silence of the high Arctic is an experience I chase and treasure and a couple of times a season I get to really experience it. This photo sums it up.

First trip of our Arctic season complete! Today we are in Longyearbyen, our Svalbard turnaround port. The past 2 weeks sailing from Edinburgh up the coast of Norway to Svalbard, NE of Greenland has been fantastic, but not without its challenges.

This first trip only had the past 2 days in Svalbard, but we still managed to encounter 4 bears, Beluga whales, calving glaciers and hauled-out walrus. Very much looking forward to what’s to come in the next 7 day trip, will post again after it, when back on proper wifi! 

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