Day 5 |
Aug 06, 2011

Palanderbukta, Nordaustland and Faksevagen, Spitsbergen, Svalbard

By Peter W. Damisch Historian, General Naturalist, Cartographer & Polar Bear Guard


Co-ordinates: 79o 38’ S, 020o 21’ E
Weather: Overcast with interestingly distinct Arctic clouds
Air Temperature: 3o C / 37 o F
Pressure: 1015 HPa
Wind: 50 km / hour

Contrast and comparison in the High Arctic was one primary theme for today’s expeditions ashore. First off in the morning was a landing at Palanderbukta, which lies within the Nordaustland Nature Reserve. The fjord offshore was also the place where four stunning polar bears were spotted during dinner in the golden light of the evening, which beautifully illuminated not only the wildlife but also the nearby glacier cliff faces.

Once ashore with the first boat I assisted in establishing our standard polar bear observation perimeter. Then I was able to team up with Juan and Shoshanah, our geologist and biologist respectively, to provide a guided walk through an area that has a stark beauty but whose remoteness makes it very unusual and very special to visit.

Palanderbukta is a classic ‘polar desert’ where life stubbornly clings to every possible advantage. It was a great pleasure to point out a variety of plant life like the Svalbard poppy, which makes use of even the tiniest depressions in the ground to obtain both a little bit of shelter from the cold winds as well as the tiniest amount of water, which allows them to exist in this harsh climate.

On the beach I had a chance to talk about the numerous strands of dried kelp lying on the beach and pointed out that this type of seaweed is not restricted to just warmer areas, but actually thrives from the Arctic to the Antarctic. In fact, it is harvested in some areas of the world to be utilized in many products such as toothpaste.

The beach area also provided several great examples of driftwood, some with human markings. Svalbard itself is well above the tree line but logging operations in the forests of Siberia utilize local rivers in that area to transport the large trees. Some logs ‘escape’ into the Arctic Ocean and amazingly enough the circumpolar current carries them to the Northern shores of Svalbard. In the past we have also found railroad ties whose marks exactly match the train gauges of Siberia!

Juan next gave an overview of the limestone and dolerite-capped high mountains that beautifully surrounded the area. He also described the formation of the stepped beaches that formed the foundation for our hike, were formed on the bottom of the ocean, then have risen up, primarily as a result of glacial age rebound after the ice sheets melted away.

Juan followed up with an overview of the ice wedges and stone circles that can be dotting the surface of this remote Arctic desert. These formations are created by the slow but persistent freezing and thawing of the surface, which lies above the permafrost that exists just a few meters down. This freeze/thaw action can slowly segregate material into large size cobbles and sandy areas, forming lovely rings on the earth that look artificial but are simply the work of nature. Another aspect can be seen in polygonal sections, which are formed by a similar but slightly different process. Between each section is a crack with a slight depression where plant life finds shelter.

Shoshanah found a tightly tufted bird feather and provided some great interpretation regarding the design and evolution of feathers. She discussed the long lineage of wing and feather design to demonstrate how each strand has been optimized to act as efficiently as possible.

During our earlier survey of the landing site, we had identified the carcass of a long dead polar bear with skull, backbone and rib cage. This location was one goal of our hike and everyone had the opportunity to now observe the ‘inside’ of the bear in addition the numerous sightings of live bears during our voyage.

I asked our guests to take a digital image of this starkly beautiful polar desert and hold that thought in their minds until the planned landing this afternoon at a location only a few kilometers away but startlingly different in the abundance and variety of plant and other life.

Upon completion of our first landing of the day, Richard Sidey, our onboard professional photographer and videographer presented a superb discussion showing guests how to get the most out of their digital equipment. Richard is true expert who has the perfect knack on how to convey special ‘tricks’ that can make all the difference between a ‘good shot’ and a ‘great one’. I always learn something new when I attend one of his presentations.

After a quick lunch I found myself once again teamed up with Chris, our Senior Polar Bear Guard. Each of us had our high-powered rifles and, as usual, we were in our high-speed Zodiacs flying down the shoreline of Faksevagen looking for any polar bears that might interfere with our planned landing. Fortunately, none were spotted and we were able to report back to the Expedition Leader that literally ‘the coast was clear’ and the landing could proceed.

Even though we had only moved the ship a few kilometers, the landscape could not be more different. At this location plant life was relatively abundant in both numbers and species. Once again I was providing a guarded inner perimeter and thus was able to guide hikes up the side of the mountain from the landing beach. My group was able to observe and discuss a wide variety of plants including purple saxifrage, Arctic heather, dwarf willow and moss campion. The latter is always quite fun to find as it grows a little round half ball on the ground with the purple flowers growing preferentially on the south side, facing the sun.

On the way up the hill we spotted a small herd of reindeer that were ambling along the side of the fjord, which had been carved out of the mountain by a glacier that we could see in the distance. This gave me the chance to discuss the importance of this animal to the native Sami people of Norway.

Of course the glacial lateral moraine on which we began our hike was the remains of crushed rock and this material provided a much greater holding ground for water, nutrients and plant life. Thus we could clearly identify this aspect as one primary difference between our morning and afternoon landings.

Climbing up over some slumping soil that had very slowly slid over some of the underlying permafrost, we were rewarded by a fabulous view after reaching the nearest high-ridge line. The view was tremendous running from Lomfjord to the east over the very small-looking Silver Explorer so far down below, and finishing with the enormous glacier that capped the fjord.

Upon returning to the beach everyone had the opportunity to photograph the large chunks of ice that had washed ashore. I’ve always like the great contrast between the blue / white ice and the brown / grey shoreline.

I don’t think you could have asked for a better day. Two great landing locations, both completely different and ones that provide such a great comparison of varied biomes within the high Arctic of Svalbard.



Tag 5 | August 6, 2011 | Palanderbukta und Faksevågan, Svalbard, Norwegen
Franz Bairlein, Ornithologe

Koordinaten: 79°38’ 18’’N, 20°20’36’’E
Wetter: bewölkt, trocken, anfangs schwach windig, aufkommend
Lufttemperatur: 2,7°C
Luftdruck: 1015 hPa
Wind: 59 km/h; 36 Grad

Heute war wieder frühes Aufstehen angesagt, denn bereits um 06:30 Uhr war Stand-by für das erste Ausbooten um 07:00 Uhr. Ziel war der Strand von Palanderbukta (Palanderbucht, benannt nach dem schwedischen Polarforscher Baron A. A. L. Palander, 1882-1920) mit einer Wanderung über die dortige Polarwüste. Zusammen mit Hans-Peter (für die Pflanzen) und Franz (für die Geologie) wanderten wir über die weitgehend vegetationslose Steinwüste. Lediglich in Senken mit etwas Feuchtigkeit, an den Rändern der Steinringe und entlang der wenigen Schmelzwasserrinnsale gab es grüne Vegetation, die Hans-Peter vorstellte. Besonders eindrucksvoll war die unmittelbare Umgebung der Überreste (Fell, Tatze, Knochen, Schädel) eines jungen Eisbären, um die sich herum durch die Auswaschungen aus dem Kadaver und den Knochen ein Art „botanischer Garten“ gebildet hat mit einer vergleichsweise dichten und artenreiche Flora. Dies zeigt eindrucksvoll, wie wenige zusätzliche Nährstoffe die Lebensbedingungen verändern können. Ein weiterer Punkt unserer Wanderung war die Überreste eines Wales, auch hier vergleichsweise viel Vegetation. Dort beobachteten wir dann auch ein Paar Schmarotzerraubmöwen mit einem halbwüchsigen Jungvogel. In der Nähe hielten sich zudem ein kleiner Trupp von Eiderenten und ein einzelnes Rentier auf.

Schon auf dem Rückweg zum Landeplatz bemerkten wir den aufkommenden Wind und die deutlich rauere See. Damit verzögerte sich für die Gäste die Rückkehr zum Schiff, da nach dem Ausbooten der letzten Zodiacgruppe zunächst auf die kleineren Zodiacs gewechselt wurde, da mit ihnen das Einbooten bei rauer See einfacher ist. Es war ein wirklich nasses Einbooten, doch Alles verlief problemlos, so dass gegen 10:30 Uhr wieder alle Gäste und das Team zurück auf der Silver Explorer waren und sich mit warmem Kakao aufwärmen konnten. Alle Gäste, die mich ansprachen, waren von dieser Wanderung und der Atmosphäre an Land begeistert.

Um 11:15 Uhr gab dann unser Fotograf, Richard Srigley, Tipps, wie man selbst (noch) bessere Fotos machen kann.

Über Mittag versetzte die Silver Explorer in die Faksebucht (benannt nach einem Pferd in der nordischen Mythologie) im Lomfjord (Schiffsposition 79°33’ 05’’N, 17°40’36’’E, Wetter: stark bewölkt, trocken, anfangs mäßig, Lufttemperatur 4 °C, Luftdruck 1017 hPa, Wind 26 km/h; 44 Grad). So ging es nach dem Mittagessen um 13:30 Uhr in das standby für den nachmittäglichen Landgang in der Faksevågen und nachdem das Scoutboot keine Eisbären ausgemacht hatte, ging es an Land, wo uns fünf Rentiere (davon zwei Kälber) empfingen. Zusammen mit Peter führten wir zwei Gruppen auf einer Wanderung den Berg hinauf. Die Vegetation war völlig anders als am Morgen, mit reichlich Pflanzenbewuchs, viele sogar noch blühend. Die zahlreichen Gänseköttel zeigten, dass das Gelände intensiv von Gänsen beweidet wird. Es flog auch ein Trupp von etwa 40 Kurzschnabelgänsen aus dem Hang, als wir hinaufstiegen. Von oben bot sich ein wunderschöner und stimmungsreicher Ausblick auf den Faksevågengletscher. Er ist allerdings ein Beispiel dafür, wie sich in jüngster Zeit viele Gletscher Spitzbergens zurückziehen.

Um 17 Uhr waren wir alle wieder auf der Silver Explorer und ich bereitet danach mein Recap über Struktur eines Vogelkliffs und zur Biologie von Lummen vor. Die Silver Explorer hievte Anker und segelte südwärts.