Day 5 |
Jul 30, 2013

14th of July Glacier and at sea

By Uli Kunz – Oceanographer and Zodiac-Driver

Co-ordinates: 78°47’ N, 07°21’ E
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: 4 °C, 39.2 °F
Pressure: 1008 hPa
Wind: 28 km/h

At 7:30 in the morning, the Silver Explorer reached the entrance of the Krossfjord on the western side of Spitsbergen and dropped anchor right in front of the blue and white cliff that was named the 14th of July glacier by French explorers after their national day. The bay was filled with a lot of brash ice, so it took us some time to bring our Zodiacs to the landing site. Our guests enjoyed a long walk along the beach that was littered with big ice boulders. There was no wind to speak of so many of us took off our parkas to prevent overheating.

We went up the steep path that led to the top of a lateral moraine and enjoyed the spectacular panorama view. We then stepped on the side of the massive river of ice which slowly flows down from the Misty Mountain towards the sea - where it ends its life as melting pieces of ice that have broken off the front. The whole morning, the glacier was teasing us and made a rumbling noise every now and then, but we would witness only one calving that created a small wave along the shore.

On the way back to the ship we allowed ourselves a small detour to drive along the cliffs on the north side of the bay where we observed guillemots, kittiwakes and some rare puffins. These melancholic-looking birds are expert divers but extremely awkward fliers, so it is no surprise that they dwell in caves high up in cliffs from where they can fall deep enough to get some speed for their take-off.

After heaving up the anchor and lifting the last Zodiacs, the Silver Explorer set sail for our next destination in Greenland.

In the early afternoon, our historian Peter presented an insight into the life and work of the famous early polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen, who made a very clever attempt to reach the northernmost tip of our planet. He discovered the so-called Transpolar Drift, an ocean current which brings water and sea ice from the Siberian coast over to Svalbard. Nansen's plan was to follow that stream of ice with his ship, FRAM, that was specifically built with a round hull that allowed the ship to be lifted up by the ice instead of being crushed.

Onboard the FRAM, Nansen stored food for five years, but his initial thought was to finish the voyage in three years. While the ship was frozen in the solid pack ice of the Arctic Ocean and drifting closer and closer towards the Pole, Nansen ordered ski and dog training to keep his men busy during the cold and dark winter months.

In the middle of March 1895, Nansen realized that his ship turned away from the North Pole and continued in the Transpolar Drift towards the Denmark Strait between Spitsbergen and Greenland. So he decided to leave the ship north of 84° North with one of his sailors and go on a long and dangerous journey to reach the pole. They had to drag their sledges over high ice ridges and fought week after week to cover the remaining 560 kilometers, but one day they decided that they were not going to make it. They turned around, reached Franz-Josef-Land and continued the following year in a kajak to go back to Spitsbergen. All in all a pretty adventurous trip which came to a successful end in 1896 when Nansen joined his original crew back in Oslo.

The next lecture was given by our wildlife biologist Kara, who presented the amazing adaptations of plants that live in the High Arctic. During our landings in Svalbard, we saw several plant species and walked on even more moss and lichen species. Kara explained the strategies of the High Arctic fauna found in the Canadian and European Arctic as well as in front of her living room in her home in Alaska. A surprising number of plants can cope with the harsh conditions and a short vegetation period, like the arctic bell-heather, the dwarf fireweed, pygmy buttercup, arctic aven, the spider plant and the purple saxifrage, which even lives on the northernmost land mass in Northern Greenland.

In the evening it was time for our daily Recap and Briefing with a detailed weather forecast, given by our expedition leader Robin. After two exciting and long days with some long walks up the mountains and glaciers, I am sure that everybody is looking forward to two days at sea to gain some strength for our exploration of the Greenlandic coast. Sleep well!