Day 9 |
Jul 11, 2011

Ny Alesund, Spitsbergen, Norway

By Hans-Peter Reinthaler, Biologist

Co-ordinates: 78°56´N, 11°55´E
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: 6°C

Early in the morning Silver Explorer sailed into Krossfjorden to go at anchor nearby the 14th of July Glacier. In my opinion, this landing site is one of the most beautiful and fascinating locations in Svalbard. In the background you see the impressive glacier front and on each side of the fjord steep cliffs rise up to a height of about 700 meters. Additionally, we offer to our guests two exciting walks. One goes up the glacier so that the guests can get a really good idea of what a glacier is. Combined with the explanations of our onboard geologist, Juan, this walk leaves unforgettable impressions in the minds of the guests. Actually even I have to admit standing on such a huge natural monument is really breathtaking.

The other walk that was offered led over to the bird cliffs and the Hanging Moss Gardens beneath them. Thousands of Kittiwakes, Glaucous Gulls and Guillemots are nesting in these cliffs. But the path to that site is interesting all on its own. Starting from a bare area where recently the glacier has retreated, with sparse vegetation, the plant cover of the soil slowly changes until it gets a bright greenish color near the cliffs. One can hear the birds from far away and lucky as our guests were, they could observe reindeer grazing on the slopes of the mountains. Also in these slopes Barnacle Geese and Pink footed Geese had their nests and sometimes, but unfortunately not today, Arctic Foxes pass by to look for the young chicks of these birds.

My position today as a botanist was at the Hanging Moss Gardens. This is a beautiful vegetation type caused by a very humid soil, lots of nutrients coming down from the bird cliffs and a not too high but protected cliff. So over this cliff, moss cushions are hanging down and in between and on these cushion other plants are growing, as well as on the small ledges and crevices of the cliffs. In a quick survey before our guests arrived I was able to count as many as 18 different species of plants in flower. There were the pink flowers of the Moss Campion, the yellow Flowers of the Golden Withlow Grass, the white flowers of the Arctic Mouse ear, Scurvy Grass, Alpine Saxifrage and Drooping Saxifrage. In between all this flowering paradise I found a small buttercup, the Golden Saxifrage and as a real highlight: the Slender Gentian. Guests who visited these hanging gardens were fascinated by the unexpected diversity and colorful flowers.

On their way back to the ship the Zodiac passed by a Puffin colony on shoreside cliffs, which were located a little bit further to the west of the upper bird cliffs. It was an impressive Svalbard morning excursion including nearly everything what this archipelago has to offer from geology to botany to ornithology.

In the afternoon Silver Explorer visited the small scientific community of Ny Alesund. Members of the Expedition Team positioned themselves in varies place around the village and gave interpretation to the different topics regarding history, husky dogs, research and life in Ny Alesund. But what our guests most enjoyed was the little souvenir shop right in the center of the town, where they could buy all kinds of souvenirs and even send a post card home from the northern most post office of the world.

Arctic Terns were nesting all over the place, and if one got too near to the nesting site of them the parents would fiercely defend the nest with the chicks in it. After a shopping and history afternoon in this small town at 78° north, guests seemed very happy with this whole day in Svalbard.

Back on the ship, the activities continued in the Recap & Briefing, where my colleagues Claudia, Juan, Uli and Kara each spoke respectively about the birds we saw today, glaciers and icebergs, living in Ny Alesund and seals. This was followed by a briefing by our Expedition Leader Robin West about the next day’s activity on board the vessel.

A long expedition day up in the fascinating world of the north finished in a delicious dinner in The Restaurant looking out into the sea and the polar daylight as the coast of Svalbard passed by.