Citizen Science: Don't Just Travel the World - Study it!

By Hurtigruten  ·  October 2020

Hurtigruten’s expedition ships serve as the perfect platform for scientific research; With access to remote regions of the world and on-board experts, we provide invaluable data to the scientific community – with the help of our guests!

At Hurtigruten, we are passionate about scientific research and sustainability. That is why we invite our guests to participate in the collection of scientific data through our Citizen Science programs. These programs not only foster a deeper understanding of the regions in which we travel, but also provide insights and invaluable data to help protect some of the planet’s most fragile ecosystems.

Science in a Unique Atmosphere

The heart of our explorer ships is the Science Center, designed as a multi-purpose area for different scale gatherings and interaction between the guests and the expedition team. Depending on ship size, these areas will offer a variety of meaningful experiences in different areas like wildlife spotting (birds, marine mammals), geology, biology, history, geography, glaciology, photography, oceanography, and more.

The Core of the Citizen Science Programs

  • Delivery of an educational lecture program.
  • Interacting with guests in our science centers to reinforce the lecture program with practical, hands-on experiences.
  • Citizen Science involving guests in programs for third-party organizations.
  • Carrying scientific equipment for sample collection on behalf of research institutes.
  • Hosting scientific personnel on board to conduct collaborative science programs.

Hurtigruten is currently supporting five projects:

Seabird Distribution with the Antarctic Site Inventory

This study is a partnership between the US non-profit organization Oceanites and various academic institutions, notably scientists from Stony Brook University in New York. The goal is to collect data throughout the Antarctic Peninsula and surrounding island groups, both at sea and on land.

Seabirds represent only 10% of the bird species, and yet they utilize 70% of the earth’s surface, the oceans. This huge environment is divided into numerous small habitats, like fronts and eddies, and birds use these habitats differently, depending on their biology. We invite our guests to help us perform small scale surveys while at sea or on shore, which help scientists understand how birds are using these different habitats. By doing this throughout the Antarctic summer season, we understand how birds move, which birds arrive first, which ones start breeding first, how far they have to travel to get food, which ones leave first, and so on, providing valuable information about their life cycles.


Our explorer vessels can assist in tracking individual whales throughout our world’s oceans. By harnessing the power of millions of whale watching enthusiasts, our guests, Happywhale is expanding our scientific knowledge of their behavior and distribution. Just like humans, whales are unique and recognizable. Individual whales can be identified by their pigment patterns, distinctive scars and/or the shape of their fins and flukes. By photographing and submitting images of these unique traits, Happywhale can compare the whale photos submitted to known individuals in whale ID catalogues.

Sea Leopard Project

This is a non-profit study aimed at a better understanding of the behavior, ecology, and population dynamics of Leopard Seals on the Antarctic Peninsula to promote their conservation and safe human-seal interactions. While some research has already been conducted on these animals, so much more information has yet to be learned. The goal of this project is to gather as many photographs of the left side of the Leopard Seals’ heads for identification as well as written description of any interesting human/seal or seal/seal interactions with location, for example, boats being bitten or vocalizing Leopard Seals.

Cloud Observations with the Globe Program

One of the most interesting features of Earth, as seen from space, is the ever-changing distribution of clouds. They are as natural as anything we encounter in our daily lives. As they float above us, we hardly give their presence a second thought. And yet, clouds have an enormous influence on Earth’s energy balance, climate, and weather.

Clouds affect how much sunlight is being absorbed by the earth and how much heat is escaping back into space. By observing and recording cloud cover timed to NASA satellite fly-overs, we can help scientists understand how surface and air temperature are affected by cloud cover, and how clouds will respond to a changing climate. Even small changes in the abundance, location, or cloud type can impact Earth’s climate and weather.

GLOBE Cloud observations aligned to satellite data are important because they expand the reach of scientists who are limited in time, number, and resources. Observations are added to a database that has been growing for over two decades. A long-term data set is crucial for scientists to see patterns and change over time and they add another layer of perspective, helping scientists to better understand the effects of clouds on our Earth.


Phytoplankton are microscopic plant-like creatures that drift in the ocean. They use sunlight to create energy and make up the foundation of the food system, supporting whales, seals, and penguins. They also produce over half of the Earth's oxygen supply! These microscopic creatures are also incredibly important for global biogeochemistry cycles, such as drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and into the deep ocean.

Fjords along the west Antarctic Peninsula are known to be hotspots of biodiversity. However, both the Arctic and Antarctic are experiencing rapid rates of warming. As temperatures rise, glaciers begin to melt. This melted glacial water enters the ocean and can change the marine ecosystem. The first organisms to experience change are the phytoplankton. The goal of this project is to better understand how they respond to changes in the polar regions, potentially providing a key to mitigate change in the future. 

We aim to run at least one program on every trip. The specific programming of the Citizen Science Program is subject to availability and can change based on a number of conditions like the itinerary, the number of staff, activities, and weather.


Please send us a message if you have any questions or comments about anything you see in the e-zine. We’d love to hear from you!