Day 3 |
Aug 24, 2011

Faksevågen, Alkefjellet and Torellneset, Svalbard

By Stefan Kredel, Geologist

Co-ordinates: 79° 34’ 48” N, 18° 31’ 45” E
Air Temperature: 3,0°C
Pressure: 1019 hPa

Last night I had finally a good sleep. I woke up at 06:15 and felt good and rested for another day, full of activity up here in Svalbard.

After a quick breakfast, I made myself ready and at 07:00 o’clock I went ashore in Faksevågen. The place translated would be called “Fakse bay”, which is a horse in the Norse mythology (don’t ask me why that name was chosen!). The main reason why our fearless Expedition Leader Robin decided to land here was to show our guests some plants. In the high summer there is a pretty colorful carpet made out of quite some plant species from the tundra of Svalbard. But we are already at the end of the summer. For that reason not all plants were flowering anymore. But nevertheless our onboard Botanist Hans-Peter found enough different plant species that were still flowering.

I took a group of 15 guests and started a small walk with them up to a ridge. There was quite a lot to see and explain. So we saw permafrost patterns, glacial deposits and a whole lot of other geology! We saw a sequence of nearly vertical layered sedimentary rocks, in quite some different colors. Those carbonate rocks were originally deposit in a horizontal way in a far warmer environment, which most probably was a shallow sea. It is more than unlikely that this happened in latitudes above the Polar Circle but far closer to the equator. Only later the ocean floor deposit got moved northwards, uplifted out of the ocean and tilted. But enough about the geology, even so the geology is more than fascinating in the Svalbard region! We passed by Hans-Peter who gave us a talk about “the green stuff which does not move” as he calls the botany. After another tour with a new group of guests, we all went back on board.

Back on board, our photographer Richard gave a talk entitled ”Tips & Tricks for Better Pictures in the Arctic”. And even though I have heard several of these talks from him and other photographers, there is always something new I learn. This time it was that – according to him – there isn’t something like a bad photo. It made me feel better. Thank you Richard!

After the talk we were at our next destination, Alkefjellet. This time the reason for the name is easier to explain, it means “Mount Guillemot”. It is a cliff full of birds, mainly guillemots. There are thousands of them around! It is one of those places where you better keep your mouth closed while looking up into the sky … Our Captain brought the ship, as usual, quite close to the cliff so that everybody had a great view of the birds. I even left my binoculars in my suite, as at this distance they were not needed. We stayed there for half an hour, which was good, but also enough for me, as I got hungry. I am not sure if this happened because I was looking at all the birds ... but the chicken for lunch was great!

After lunch I had a quick power nap of 20 minutes before I went to the Bridge to follow our approach to our afternoon destination, Torellneset. Our aim was to find some walruses, those big sausages with two big teeth. It is one of their common haul-outs, but they are not always there. And as our fearless Expedition Leader Robin really wanted to show our guests some walruses, he was looking quite nervously through his binoculars as we approached. I could see in his face immediately once he saw the first animals on the beach.

So at 15:00 we went ashore, and first our bear guards spread out to check if there was anywhere an unexpected (and for that unwanted) bear. Once they gave the okay, the first 30 guests went ashore. At haul-outs of walruses we only bring smaller groups ashore to make sure that we are no big disturbance to them and chase them back into the ocean. So we had four groups this afternoon that each got about 1 hour ashore. It was a 5 – 10 minutes walk from the landing site to the place where about 40 walruses were hanging out. We kept a safe distance of about 100 meters to the animals. According to our marine biologist Robin there were only males, pretty massive and impressive animals. It took us nearly four hours to give all our guests the opportunity to see a walrus. But it was definitely worth it, and all guests seemed to have enjoyed it and be happy, which makes our life easier …

Back on board I had a shower and a quick dinner, before starting to write these lines. Soon I will go to bed as tomorrow another full day is planned in Svalbard.