75 Degrees North

Where only the polar bear can hear you scream. Where the ground never thaws. Where even the hardiest of Inuits haven’t dared set feet. Irene Buan (23) spent three summer weeks on inhospitable Devon Island.

Photo of Irene Buan on Devon Island.

“It was a completely unique experience. When I started studying petroleum engineering three years ago, I never thought I would have an internship with NASA,” says Irene Buan.

The University of Stavanger (UiS), in Norway’s energy capital of Stavanger, has put together an annual exchange agreement with the Mars Institute and NASA. Christopher Hoftun, UiS student and CEO of Mars Institute’s Norwegian office, has paved the way by cooperating with the Americans over a longer time period.

NASA has been visiting the Haughton impact crater on Devon Island every year since the nineties. The place is especially intriguing for the space agency since the geology is similar to the surface of the planet Mars.

Earth science
Buan was recommended for the internship by geoscience professor Udo Zimmermann. She had previously taken several of his optional geology courses, and been on one of his field trips to Spain.

Buan arrived in USA near the end of June and spent 10 days in the technology hub of Silicon Valley in the Bay Area. That’s where NASA Ames, one of NASA’s largest research centres, is located.

Then she headed north together with the expedition team from NASA. The trip from San Fransisco to Devon Island was a strenuous affair, lasting four days total.

Buan brought a substantial amount of equipment for the trip. In advance, she had received a 13 pages long list containing 96 items that she was supposed to bring.

Among the items on the list was a personal tent, shelter, sponge for body washing, batteries, tripod, motorcycle helmet, first aid kit, flag, whistle, two different maps, hammer, GPS, binoculars to look out for polar bears, pee bottle and two different mirrors.

Buan admits she didn’t quite manage to buy all the items on the list. Nor did she need all of them. Still, she survived three weeks on Devon Island by a good margin. She also managed to collect 40 kilograms of rock samples for analysis in Professor Zimmermann’s lab back home.

“The weather up there was mainly pretty good, but near the end of August it already started snowing and got quite windy, so we decided to return home,” says Buan.

Back in oil capital
Back in Stavanger, Norway, Buan explains why she chose to leave her home town of Trondheim in favor of a five-year MSc degree in petroleum engineering at UiS.

“I thought it would be a good idea to study petroleum engineering in Norway’s petroleum capital, and I’m enjoying it a lot. We’re really spoiled here. I have been able to go on field trips to Texas and Spain, and now this trip,” she says.

For her next adventure, Buan is looking towards slightly more hospitable climates. When her degree is finished, she plans on applying for trainee positions in Brazil.

This story was originally featured in the Univers magazine issue 2, 2013.

Text: Håkon Hapnes Strand
Illustration: Google Earth/Ole Andre Hauge
Photo: Irene Buan


Illustration of the journey.

The expedition journey north.