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Crop Trust - Svalbard Expedition - Svalbard2

1st Contact with the Vault - Day two


Before going further, make sure you have already read our two first blog posts explaining how and why our digital agency EPIC got the opportunity to go to the Arctic for the international organization The Global Crop Diversity Trust.

Day 1 : An EPIC journey to the Arctic
Day 2 : this article
Days 3 & 4Blowing in the wind

Tuesday October 14th, 2014

One of the most important quality you have to grow when it comes to work in a creative agency is empathy. Empathy helps us indeed to better understand a product, a market, an idea, …, and in the end, when you got to spend a lot of time working on a specific client’s project, it somehow becomes yours too.

The Global Seed Vault is certainly one of them!
It is therefore easy to imagine how thrilled the whole team was to have the opportunity to literally experience it one day.

And Tuesday is THE day we have been waiting for a long time! However, there is really no time to waste: in one day, we are supposed to organize and shoot a portrait reportage and interview of Marie Haga (Executive Director of the Crop Trust), visit the Seed Vault to foresee where we will have to organize the photo shooting the next day, and take as many outdoor views of the building as we can.

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The whole team is up at 6:00 am to prepare the photo material and be at the vault before 8:30 am.
The good thing is that the weather is actually perfect: blue sky, orange rays of sunshine, light wind and only -10°C.

From the very beginning we knew weather conditions could not be anticipated nor controlled .We therefore prepared ourselves to be able to quickly adapt our planning according to that parameter but luckily, we did not have to…

The island, the mountains standing across the sea, the sky and this typical low light of October are offering us the most wonderful sight ever.
At 8:30 we are standing in front of the first of the 5 security doors that separate the world from the ultimate seed backup. For security matters and also because we do not want to spoil the surprise for the launch of the new Crop Trust website, we will save some details regarding the inside of the vault.

We still can give you a sneak preview, though…
The best way to explain the inside of the vault would be to compare it to a gigantic frozen bunker with one single entry and exit: a 100 meter-long tunnel that dives deep in the mountain and the permafrost.
The bunker is divided in big chambers similar to warehouse storages. All walls are curved and covered with white concrete mixed with synthetic material.
But what is actually most impressive within the vault is the silence… A cold and deep silence… As the vault does not need any external power to maintain a frozen temperature, there is nearly no machine nor ventilation inside. It is only you and the permafrost.

Even if we are delighted about the idea of visiting the vault, we must stay focused given the fact that we have less than 2 hours to review the different rooms, select the right ones for the interview and portrait of Marie, make all the light tests (using Carole as the understudy of Marie :-)) and organize the shooting in sort that our lenses will not suffer from the temperature difference between the different zones of the vault.

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Marie's Portrait

Marie arrives right on time and we spend the next 1.5 hour to shoot pictures and record the interview. Both Marie and the team are doing a great job (and believe us, Marie does an incredible job to look warm and friendly with -18°C) to stay ahead of the schedule. And after 1 hour and 15 minutes of intense shooting, Marie is already ready to go back to Longyearbyen’s airport and take her flight to Germany.

The Night is Coming...

After a light lunch break at the hotel to check up the visual material of the morning, we head to the vault area to take a few outdoor pictures of the building.
At this time of the day (2:00 pm), the sky is still very clear but the sun is not visible (and won’t be for the rest of the week) and the colours look like it is still dawn time which is beautiful yet confusing. This is explained by the fact that we are located 78°N (latitude wise).
If you take a look at the following link: http://www.timeanddate.com/sun/norway/longyearbyen?month=10&year=2014 and click on days from October 13th to October 18th, you will see how low the sun is on the horizon and how much light we loose in less than one week.
In fact, in 10 days, the dark-time will descend upon Svalbard and the sun will not raise again before February 15th!

On Top of the Hill

The vault is located 160 m above the sea level on the slope of the mountain. Considering its wonderful surroundings, we want to take pictures from above the hill (which is already 500 meters above sea level).

This is how we decide to take our car to follow the only road that seems to go to our goal.
Unfortunately, we are rapidly stopped by a fence crossing the road with cameras, digicode and big « No Trespassing » warnings. After a few hesitations, we decide to try to pass that gate which we eventually achieve thanks to Carole’s tenacity (yep, she rang the bell 5 times to explain what we wanted to do)… and 10 minutes later, after driving a very steep snowy road to the top, we understand why the road was blocked… We have just entered the Svalbard Satellite ground station area.

The view is just incredible: dozens of white bubbles dropped on the frozen plateau surrounded by a pink-blue clear end-of-afternoon sky. It is unreal.
Right after, we stop at the main building we called a few minutes to talk to the staff and explain the reason of our presence before giving our IDs and kindly asking them if they would allow us to take some photos from the edge of the hill.
A few minutes later, with an official authorization, we drive between the white bubble antennas until the road ends.

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The Team, The View and the Bear

From there, we walk 1.5 km in fresh powder snow to reach the « cliff » and benefit from a great overview of the Vault, the airport and the white Fjords.

Did you know that more than 3,000 polar bears live around Svalbard?

They are curious and sometimes hungry after not eating for months at a time.
It is therefore highly recommended to carry and know how to use a rifle anytime you leave the settlement.

Of course, we did not take the time to bring one with us…

Seriously speaking, it is actually very dangerous (not to say unconscious) to walk in this area of the island without being armed but this is only a few hours later that we realize the risks we have taken when we learn that a woman got eaten by a polar bear a few years ago at the exact same place we were standing taking pictures of the vault.

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Afterwards, around 5 o’clock, we drive down the hill to take other pictures in the vicinity of the settlement before heading back to the hotel for a debrief and some delicious waffles.
Did we already tell you that in Svalbard, everyday at around 4 pm, hotels provide free coffee and waffles to be served with marmelade and sweet goat cheese? (This is a must-try!)

Night Lights

One of the greatest things you can observe in Svalbard is Northern lights, an incredible natural phenomenon that occurs when sun radiations hit the top of the earth globe.
On Tuesday, the Aurora forecasts are really good thanks to the clear sky.
Unfortunately, in less than 2 hours, our chances to see Northern lights drop drastically as light clouds start invading the sky.
Nevertheless, we decide to drive back to the vault after dinner to take night pictures and hope for the weather to be better. Because of the polar bear spotted around the city earlier that day, we decide to stay close to the car with 2 people looking around while Long and Jonathan are taking pictures.
With the night, the wind, the cold and the polar bears… we are pretty efficient not to say in a hurry to finish this shooting!
When we are back at the hotel around midnight, snow is falling and the wind is really strong and this is going to be unchanged for the next 24 hours…