What life is like for 2 women stranded in a tiny cabin in the Arctic, where polar bears and freezing temperatures are constant challenges

The two women are the first to spend a winter in the Arctic without a man.Hearts in the Ice
  • Sunniva Sorby and Hilde Fålun Strøm are citizen researchers who planned a nine-month trip to the Arctic to collect data for scientists.
  • The coronavirus caused an unexpected delay, and the women won't be able to leave for an additional five months.
  • However, the duo plans to continue collecting data and sparking dialogue around climate change.
  • "All we want to do is shine the light and hold up a mirror so people can see how powerful they are as a species," Sorby told Insider.

Sunniva Sorby and Hilde Fålun Strøm wake up each morning reminded that they're living their dream.

A dream that happens to include negative-degree weather, 24 hours of darkness, and a constant threat of polar bears.

But it also involves something much more important: sparking a conversation around climate change.Advertisement

"We're trying to ignite and inspire action and change as it relates to people connecting with our natural world," Sorby told Insider via satellite phone.

Strøm, 55, and Sorby, 59, have spent the past nine months in Bamsebu, a cabin in the Arctic located between Norway's mainland and the North Pole

The two are working as citizen scientists and collecting data and samples for researchers around the world. For example, information on snow and ice is sent to The Norwegian Polar Institute, while their cloud observations are helping inform scientists at NASA. Along the way, they're sharing their insights with a global audience on their website, Hearts in the Ice.

Strøm and Sorby are also the first two women to spend the winter in the Bamsebu cabin without a male since it was built in the 1930s. An accomplishment the two don't take lightly.
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"We are badass on the outside and just as feminine as they come on the inside," Sorby said.

The two live in a tiny cabin with their dog Ettra.Hearts in the Ice

The coronavirus caused an unwelcome extension of their trip

The coronavirus' impacts extend all the way to the Arctic. Strøm and Sorby had initially planned to leave their 215-square-foot cabin in May, but news about the virus slowly traveled to the duo. Situated 87 miles away from their closest neighbors, the two learned that travel had been halted through their social-media team.Advertisement

Ships would no longer be traveling to the Arctic, and their scheduled ride had been canceled.

The news was hard to hear. Strøm has lived in Svalbard, an Arctic archipelago, for the last 23 years. Sorby is from British Columbia, Canada. Family, friends, sponsors, and science partners had planned to greet Sorby and Strøm on the ship that was meant to take them home at the end of their nine-month trip.

Now, it seems that the earliest the two will leave is in September.Advertisement

"Because of COVID-19, our passion to do this is even bigger because we can't go anywhere," Sorby said.

The two plan to continue to collect data as the seasons change

The pair is now able to collect data that was once inaccessible in the cold months.

"It has been very profound for us to be part of the cycles of change," Sorby said.Advertisement

For instance, the other day the entire fiord system's ice broke up and moved out. "Now, what we're looking at is a breathing set of lungs," she said.

The two can access the salt water, which means they can collect phytoplankton samples for scientists. This work is invaluable, Sorby described.

The data and samples Strøm and Sorby are collecting wouldn't exist if the two hadn't been located in the Arctic. Advertisement

Working as a citizen scientist has become a popular part of many tourists' visits to the Arctic. Since the coronavirus put those tourism trips on hold, Sorby and Strøm are the remaining two people still collecting this data.

"We couldn't be here at a more important time," Sorby said.

The women are collecting data for seven different scientific organizations.Hearts in the Ice

The data collected will bring valuable insights about the warming world

Bamsebu sits in Norway's Svalbard archipelago, a region that's experiencing some of the largest impacts of climate change.Advertisement

The Arctic's warming is happening at a rate almost twice as fast as the rest of the world. Sea ice, glaciers, and snow is disappearing at faster rates than ever before across the region.

Strøm, who has lived in the region for 23 years, has seen these changes firsthand. During the nine months, Strøm and Sorby have been collecting wildlife and weather observations, monitoring clouds, aurora borealis, and sea ice, and now, with the delay, they'll be able to collect data on phytoplankton and salt water.

This data will help inform scientists about the important region's response and changes. For example, the pair observed a polar bear hunting a reindeer — an unlikely prey for the animal. Scientists believe polar bears may be adapting as seals and other animals become harder to find and hunt.Advertisement

Beyond data and observations, their work aims to spark a conversation around these issues and the larger impacts of climate change.

"We really wanted to share with the world what is happening here," Strøm said.

Beyond working with scientists and researchers, the two have connected with over 5,000 children through video calls. Advertisement

"These stories can build a picture of the rapidly changing world we're living in," Sorby said.

Polar bears and freezing temperatures have been some of the hardest challenges the two have faced

The women can't leave the hut without 25 pounds of clothing, a flare, and a rifle.

While their daily tasks seem straightforward, each item on the checklist takes time to accomplish.Advertisement

"Everything takes time here," Sorby said.

When Strøm and Sorby wake up, they immediately use a wood stove to produce heat in the hut. They make breakfast and wash dishes. They'll collect data for the day, write, and train.But again, each item requires more effort in the Arctic. It takes time to put on the 25 pounds of clothing to go outside. There's no dishwasher or washing machine, so chores suck up a large percentage of free time. Fresh water is collected by picking away at the frozen ground outside, and wood is chopped to fuel the stove.Advertisement

The tasks aren't easy, given the fact that it's all happening in negative-degree weather.

Sorby described the unwelcome polar bears on their doorstep and 24-hour days of darkness as some of the hardest challenges.

The whaling cabin the duo lives in was built in the 1930s.Hearts in the Ice
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Strøm and Sorby prepared for isolation

People around the world are staying home for longer periods than ever before. However, Strøm and Sorby were well aware that isolation was going to be a key element of their trip.

But even with the awareness, the two have still had a few fights.

"We learn to let the train pass," Sorby said.Advertisement

Before leaving for Bamsebu, the two worked with a life coach who walked them through exercises. Lessons that are now applicable to people around the world.

The duo reminds people to unplug from social media and television, show concern and interest in those around you, be kind, and admit your mistakes.

"We have a lot of love for each other," Strøm said. "There hasn't been one problem that we haven't solved."Advertisement

Some of their favorite memories have included watching the aurora borealis.Hearts in the Ice

The journey has left a lasting impression on a global community

Strøm was reading a book from the 1930s the other day when she came across an excerpt about overwintering in the Arctic.

The book had described how the Arctic as no place for women and children."I'd like to write him a letter," Sorby said of the author. Advertisement

The two have proven him and so many others wrong. But they stress this isn't about their individual accomplishment.

It's about their global impact.

"We both feel like we are doing the most important thing in our lives right now," Sorby said.Advertisement

When they get home, hot showers, cappuccinos, and warm cinnamon rolls will be enjoyed.

"And hugging the people that I love," Strøm added.

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