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Learning on The Move – Tromso

This city is known as the end of civilisation and the beginning of the largest uninhabited wilderness area in Europe. Tromso, the Gateway to the Artic, was founded in 1794, and from 1850 the town was central in fineries and other marine-based activity.

In the early 20th century, the town was also known as the starting point for several famous expeditions in the Arctic waters and in the race to be the first person on the North Pole.

Tromso is the largest city in Northern Norway and the largest Nordic city north of the Arctic Circle and as such has the most northern university.

The university provides many opportunities for scientist from all over the world, studying the north lights, the artic environment, fisheries, climate change, oil resources in the ocean, and many other topics.

There are also some great museums dedicated to the Artic life and nature, as well as an Artic experience centre and aquarium to visit and add to your Learning on The Move.

These museums, like the Polaria, Tromso Museum and the Polar Museum are great to visit when the polar storms come in off the high seas. Coastal weather patterns can change rapidly, varying from a snowstorm to a cloud-free sky, overcast and calm conditions to high winds and raging storms, once inside the fjords, the weather becomes calmer and direr. So, pick your activities with one eye on the weather at all times.


In the late 9th century, a man named Ohthere visited the British king Alfred the Great. In records of the visit Ohthere told the king that he lived “north-most of all Norwegians”. He tells of life in the northern most Viking world, about different ethnic groups and travel routes, the aristocracy and trading places, making his accounts an invaluable contemporary source.

The history of Skansen Street in Tromso dates back to 1000AD. It was a medieval fortification. More modern buildings didn’t start going up until 1787 and one of the first is the Customs House.

There is a house at Bankgata 13 which was the first house in Tromso built of stone by whaler Johannes Giaever, in 1880. This house has a grim history as during WW2, the Gestapo commandeered the house and tortured people suspected of fighting against the Germans. The Norwegian resistance fighter Karl Rasmussen. He had been involved in sending messages from Alta to London about German battleships. He apparent broke free and jumped out of the second-floor window instead of telling the interrogators what he knew.

During the 19thcentury Tromso was known as “Paris of the North” because the residents, particularly the women, wore the latest Paris fashions. As the boats went out with fish they came back with goods from France and the French language influenced what some things were called like pavements and jetties.

In 1928, Roald Amundsen a famous polar explorer arrived in Tromso for the last time. He was on route to the polar ice to search for Italian Umberto Nobile, whose airship Italia had disappeared after flying over the North Pole. Italia had crashed and an organised search began on a scale that had not previously happened. No spoiler here! You can learn what happened at one of the museums.

In 1930, Peter Wessel Zapffe climbed the cathedral of Tromso. The people of Tromso watched in shock as he climbed up the steep church tower without any safety measures. He made it to the top where he held on while being photographed. In the following 150 years, no one has been able to repeat the feat.

Science: Chemistry

Beyond Tromso, you will find the mountain plateaus, which stretch far and wide as Siberia. Here the weather is more stable over longer periods of time which make it idea for nights out observing the Aurora Borealis. When charged particles from the sun strike atoms in Earth's atmosphere, they cause electrons in the atoms to move to a higher-energy state. When the electrons drop back to a lower energy state, they release a photon: light.

The Earth’s atmosphere is made up of different atoms, like oxygen and nitrogen, and it’s these atoms that cause the colours we can see in the Northern Lights. These atoms become excited at different levels in the atmosphere.

The most common colour seen in the Northern Lights is green. When the solar wind hits millions of oxygen atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere at the same time, it excites the oxygen atoms for a time and then they decay back to their original state, when they emit the green hue we can see from the ground.

The red light we sometimes see is also caused by oxygen atoms. These particles are higher up in the atmosphere and are subject to a lower energy red light emission. The red colour is always there, but our eyes are five times less sensitive to red light than green, therefore it is not always visible.

A large part of the Earth’s atmosphere is made up of nitrogen. The particles from the solar wind must hit nitrogen atoms a lot harder in order to excite them. Once the nitrogen atoms begin to decay, they emit a purple coloured light. This is relatively a rare sight, and usually only happens during a particularly active display. For the best chance of seeing the lights, you need to be under or close to one with calm clear skies.


The Sami people were the first people to live in the area and have a very close relationship to land. As a nation, they live in an area that covers the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Russian Kola Peninsula. International the area is called Lapland. The Sami call this area Sapmi. The Sami have their own parliament, which works to promote and protect the rights and unique culture of these semi nomadic peoples.

If you can spend the day with the Sami do so. Learn to look after the reindeer and how to live in environment. Reindeer Sledding is the oldest form of transport in the north and is an ancient part of Sami Culture. In February, there is the annual Sami Week packed with activities including reindeer racing. The reindeer migration occurs every spring in April-May and the herds move away from Tromso. So, you will need to plan your visit.

Science: Biology

The sea outside of Tromso offers several locations where there is a high probability of observing whales. Some of the best locations lie west of Tromso. The humpback whale and the orca are the most common specie found in shallow water close to the coast. There are also populations of smaller whales and several species of seals and a rich bird life. Look for a family friendly tours which allows for you to move around the boat to see the wildlife.

Information Technology

Be prepared to not to be connected Wi-Fi away from your hotel. During the winter your fingers will not really want to come out of your gloves to operate the touch screen on your mobile phone, your phone might get too cold in fact to operate to take pictures - so take a good quality camera with you to capture those lovely wildlife photos for the photograph competition held in July. (You can see the difference between a phone camera and a good camera in the photographs)

You don’t have to have the very best equipment but good equipment does help. Most modern cameras are equipped for taking good photograph in winter conditions. The most important feature is the aperture, which determines how much light enters your camera. The aperture or brightness is described by a f-number which should be f/2.8 or less. By reducing the f-number, you increase the light intensity. The cold effects the battery life of the camera so always take extra batters out with you.

During the winter, the sun disappears for a two-month period. This period is widely known as the Polar Night but this name is somewhat misleading because it is never completely dark. The best time to take photographs is in the so called “golden hour” during to the northern latitude - this golden hour extends for many hours and often a whole day.

If your photographing whales in the artic light, it is important to use a fast shutter speed. Don’t be afraid to use a wide aperture when taking the Northern Lights and landscapes. Set the manual settings before you go out. You can use tape to hold them in place as it is easy to change them with your gloves and in the dark.

Physical Exercise

The Polar Night Half Marathon takes place in the first week of January. Around 1,700 people take part in races of various distances in Artic winter during the Polar Night. There are also opportunities to go winter kayaking, dog sledding, skiing, ice climbing, mountain and valley summer hiking.

Design and Technology

Artic dishes are unique due to the sun around the clock in summer, the cold climate in winter and a lack of pollution. Protein comes from cod, halibut, shrimps, king crab, lamb, moose and reindeer. Not all fruit and vegetables eaten there are grown there due to the weather, cloudberries are picked late summer and early autumn and potatoes are grown during the summer as they have a short season. One variety that does really well is one called gulloye (yellow eye). When you visit Tromso try the local foods and then find a recipe to bring home and share.


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