Day 5 |
Jun 20, 2013

 Hornsund, Svalbard 

By Christian Walter, Historian


Co-ordinates: 77° 02,8’ N, 012° 01,0’ E noon position
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: 5° C
Sea Temperature: 3° C
Pressure: 1009 hP
Wind: calm



Having covered more than 150 nautical miles since Ny Alesund, the M/v Silver Explorer entered Hornsund around 7 a.m. and the seas calmed down from last night’s somewhat bumpy ride.

Shortly after breakfast, the team got ready to prepare for the two zodiac-rides proposed to explore Burgerbukta, one of Hornsund’s bays featuring several glaciers and the possibility to see seals and bears on the ice.

It was slightly drizzling when we took off, and Hornsundtind, at 1431 meters the third-highest mountain of the Svalbard archipelago, could be seen partly covered in clouds. On the way to the glacier-front of Mühlbacherbreen Kittiwakes, Northern Fulmars, and Black Guillemots were encountered, and once we had reached the edge of the Fast Ice four Ringed Seals could be spotted on the ice.

Robin, our Expedition Leader, pointed out the different types of ice found near the glacier and even brought a piece of clear ice into the zodiac.

On the way back, we passed one of the bird-cliffs on the western side of Burgerbukta. We could clearly see how the Kittiwakes were circling in great numbers in front of the cliff, while a Glaucous Gull was nesting on a rock close to the shore. Luciano pointed out some Barnacle Geese, well camouflaged among the vegetation and rocks below the cliff. Surprisingly many Purple Saxifrage “fields” could be seen.

During the second cruise Karolina, our Polish bear guard, had briefly spotted some Beluga Whales, but they soon disappeared. Since the animals can easily be mistaken for ice-floes, it was quite difficult to see them among the disintegrating Fast Ice pieces.

At the entrance to the bay, a small but very photogenic iceberg beckoned, and everyone got excellent views of this beautiful piece of blue ice, which was compared to Swiss cheese, as it had several holes.

Chris Srigley and Kate Rannaste had in the meantime left to search for bears in other parts of Hornsund. At the other end of the bay they found a swimming polar bear, which after coming ashore some 12 miles away from the ship, started climbing up the hill, and, unfortunately, disappeared.

Perhaps we would have more luck tomorrow, along the ice edge near Barentsoya.

After lunch which included paella, pizza and cheese, Luciano was giving a talk about the “Cryosphere”- where the world is frozen. He started with a quote by Charles Lindbergh: “(Ice is) Solid, like Earth- impermanent, like clouds.”

In his talk Luciano covered the different aspects of snow, ice and glaciers, and explained why there are so many French terms denoting special conditions of glaciers. The first scientific publication, “Etudes sur les glaciers”, was written by Swiss Louis Agassiz, who had gone into the Alps to study the formation and movement of glaciers.

Every continent except Australia has glaciers, and 70% of all water is locked in ice. If all the ice outside Antarctica and Greenland would melt, the oceans would rise by only 0.5 meters; but if all the ice melted the additional water would raise the oceans’ level some 70 meters- quite extraordinary and obviously dreaded by low-lying countries and islands. Even the Vatican took this matter serious and had prepared a scientific paper “The Fate of Glaciers in the Anthropocene”.

At 3 p.m. Robin began his briefing, describing that the ice conditions along the eastern side of Spitzbergen had improved considerably, and that we were going to take advantage of the Fast Ice near Edgeoya to look for more polar bears, while tomorrow’s evening would bring us to the longest (actually widest) glacier-front of the northern hemisphere!

Luke, Hans Peter, Peter and Aiello had interesting topics to share and recap was later followed by the Venetian Society’s cocktail. Three of our guests have travelled more than a hundred days with us, and Jarda saluted them, as well as the other frequent travelers, and wished them another interesting week with wonderful wildlife encounters.

The Venetian Society Dinner again permitted the Chef and his team to show how much can be done even in remote areas. The choices were tempting and an after-dinner drink welcomed. However, Robin had warned us, that we would encounter the ice –and possibly polar bears- at 5 a.m.! Those deciding to visit the Panorama Lounge were serenaded by Alfredo, whose many talents had been mentioned by Jarda in her speech.

With Bridge watch at 5 a.m. most team-members opted for an “early retirement” hoping to get enough sleep before tomorrow’s adventures…