Day 15 |
Jun 22, 2011

14 of July Glacier and Ny Ålesund, Svalbard

By Kara Weller, Biologist

Co-ordinates: 79° 03’ N 11° 48’ E
Weather: sunny
Air Temperature: 8° C
Humidity: 60%
Pressure: 1015 hPa
Wind: 5 km / h

Last night was the shortest night of the year and the summer solstice did not let anyone down in terms of showing off the midnight sun. At midnight and at 1 am and 2 am and 3 am and 4 am and all through the night the sun shone brightly, and sparkling gold light reflecting off the water illuminated the beautiful landscapes of Svalbard as we made our way south towards our first destination of 14th of July Glacier. This glacier, inside Krossfjord, was named in honor of the French National Day on the occasion of the Prince of Monaco’s expeditions.

With the sun shining and the seas flat and still as a mirror we headed to shore after breakfast to enjoy this magnificent landscape. The landing site was on a beach in front of a cliff wall that rose vertically in front of us. In one direction was a wonderful bird cliff covered in nesting black-legged kittiwakes and thick-billed murres, where also little auks could be seen from time to time. Flowers bloomed in the tundra at the base of these cliffs and the tiny and delicate purple-saxifrage, moss campion and whitlow grass among others could be seen. These small and seemingly fragile plants are actually incredibly tough to be able to survive and thrive in such northerly latitudes and harsh climates as these.

In the other direction from the bird cliffs lay the beautiful 14th of July glacier and an at-times muddy track leading along the beach, over the rubble and boulders and onto the glacier itself. The opportunity to walk on a glacier and gain a view onto the surrounding bay was irresistible to many, and in the sweltering heat and sunshine with parkas being scattered and dropped by the wayside, we made our way to the top and stared into the deep crevasses and at the ice serracs ready to drop off and fall into the sea. For those who sat and watched hoping for a calving, no such events occurred, but the views of the glacier front were impressive regardless.

During lunch the ship repositioned a short distance south into Kongsfjord or King’s Bay and the small town of Ny-Ålesund. This small community had started as a coal-mining town in 1916 and continued into the 1960s after which the mining activities stopped. After this time it became a science community and researchers from all over the world use the facilities as a base for their scientific investigations. With a small shop, post office and museum and the freedom to walk along the roadways that led through town, it made a lovely afternoon stop. Some people walked over to the dog kennels to admire the beautiful dogs and others went out to the aerial tower on the edge of town that helped launch the Nobile, Amundsen and Ellesworth expedition that first successfully flew a dirigible airship to the North Pole in 1926. Ny-Ålesund was the starting point for several North Pole expeditions including a second expedition by the Italian Umberto Nobile in 1928, which, although successful in reaching the North Pole, crashed on the ice on its way back. This then caused an enormous international rescue operation that resulted in the death of Amundsen and his pilot when they went searching for Nobile over the arctic ice.

All too soon our last day in Svalbard had come to an end and we returned to the ship. But the sunshine continued to shine and we could continue to watch and admire the scenery throughout the rest of the afternoon and evening. Before dinner, our onboard photographer Kristine invited us all to The Theatre for the presentation of her DVD. It was an excellent piece of work that brought back memories of the past two weeks.

Steadily we made our way south towards Longyearbyen for tomorrow’s disembarkation.