In the Arctic Ocean, halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, lies Ny-Ålesund, the most northerly settlement in the world.
Once a mining town, this island town on the Norwegian Svalbard archipelago is now home to the largest permanent laboratory for modern arctic scientific research in the world. Researchers living here conduct a number of environmental and earth science studies all year round.
To keep the area surrounding the town largely untouched, access is limited and the town is mainly designed for scientists. But photojournalist Anna Filipova went to photograph life at this remote research station.
While this wasn’t the first arctic place that Filipova has visited and photographed — she has spent much of her career working on projects above the arctic circle — it is certainly the most northern spot in which she has ever worked, being located above the 79th parallel. And this barren landscape was also one of the most wild places she had ever been to.
“It was with surprise and trepidation that I learned that I must pass a firearms safety course in order to venture out of the settlement in case of an encounter with a polar bear,” Filipova told Business Insider. Polar bears live and breed in Svalbard, according to the Norwegian Polar Institute, and in the summer, bears sometimes wander close or even into the settlement. “The community has a rule that no one can lock the doors of any building in case a bear appears inside the settlement and there is an urgent need for refuge.”
But despite the harsh environment and risk of polar bears, Filipova arrived home from Ny-Ålesund with the stunning photographs of her series “Research at the End of the World.” Here are just a few of these images.
'The Arctic is one of the most fascinating places on earth, but also one of the most endangered,' Filipova said. 'It is constantly moving and shifting, melting, reforming, appearing and disappearing.'
This is why the town of Ny-Ålesundit is such a prime location for scientists to observe and study post-global warming conditions. Even though the town is remote and far from human civilisation, it is still threatened by polluted air from Europe and North America that is brought by atmospheric circulation.
'From the day I arrived, I was immediately fascinated,' Filipova said. 'Everything in the settlement is designed to identify, assess, and track changes within the environment.'
While she was there, she experienced frigid weather. Temperatures can dip as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 degrees Celsius). 'The weather changes, erases, creates or simply hides the land,' she said.
It takes a 'stoical spirit' to handle the raw nature and harsh conditions of this place, Filipova said. 'The people who choose to come here are a long way from the conservative and safe stereotype of the scientist in a cosy lab.' The researchers come from all over the world to do their work, which takes extreme courage and dedication. Some have to venture out on snowmobiles to take ice and snow samples from glaciers, while others have to work in extreme isolation.
The researchers also have to cope with the Arctic seasons: during part of the year, the sun never sets, and during most of the winter, the sun never rises. There is darkness for months on end (as depicted in this photo). One young Italian PhD student that Filipova had met was required to walk alone for miles through the dark wilderness, strong winds, and snow to change filters on equipment for her research during the dark season. 'She had a visibility of only two or three meters,' Filipova said, 'and she carried a rifle in case she encountered a polar bear.'
Filipova said that she hopes that her photographs convey just how fragile the Arctic is. For example, Blomstrandhalvøya (pictured here in the background) was believed to be a peninsula in the 1980s but within less than a decade, it became an island due to the retreating, Blomstandbreen glacier.
'The Arctic region produces an abiding sense of dislocation in those who go there,' Filipova said. But, she continued, Ny-Ålesundit is 'a place where the consequences of climate change can be seen clearly in the surrounding landscape.' This is why this research station has been visited by many significant political figures who came to learn about the effects of climate change from scientists from all over the world.
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