Our first day in the archipelago of Svalbard! Our original plan was partly altered due to ice conditions. A strong ocean current had brought a lot of unexpected sea-ice from the east coast of Svalbard to the site of our first expedition stop on the southwest side of Svalbard: Burgerbukta in Hornsund. Thus, we had to sail through a field of quiet, dense sea-ice. The dining room cleared rapidly during breakfast as the first polar bear sighting was announced through the PA system. To be honest, it was not too easy to spot them and soon they were lost again, disappearing into a field of ice boulders on the sea-ice.
Later this morning, due to the excessive ice in Hornsund, and our inability to launch Zodiacs, our geologist, Stefan Kredel gave a lecture on snow and ice entitled, “From the Snowflake to the Ice Age”. We learned about different forms of ice (sea-ice and glacier ice), the causes of ice ages, and the history of climate variation on the planet. Stefan explained that climate has never been stable over the history of the earth and will continue to change in the future.
After a fine lunch, with a beautiful sun to greet us, we landed at Calypso Bay in Bellsund. We found ourselves at a Polish meteorological station run by the University of Lublin, Poland. Six scientists have been staying at the station for the past two months. The station uses the original 1901 buildings of a former coal mine operation. The coal mine was originally run by the Northern Exploration Company (NEC), a British mining group. The station area was still littered with the remains of the houses and mine cars. A scientist named Martin led about half of us on a long tundra walk. We saw buildings from the Second World War, Tertiary fossils, and several reindeer on this hike. Luckily, Stefan, our favourite geologist and Zodiac driver, headed over to a different beach to pick us up. Thank You, Stefan! Those who did not join the long hike walked around the station area. Several tracks of Arctic Foxes were seen as well as many arctic flowers including the purple and tufted saxifrage, the Svalbard poppy and the rose campion. The area also had several Arctic Tern nests that we were very careful to avoid. Despite this, many of us were dive bombed by these birds. Brent Stephenson explained that they have the longest migration of any bird, travelling from the Arctic to Antarctic and back every year.
At recap tonight, Tony Huntley told us about a unique feeding strategy of Humpback Whales called “bubble netting”. Humpbacks will use bubbles to concentrate fish into an area and then lunge through with their mouths open to feed. Stefan Kredel told us about permafrost, the tundra, and how not to be trapped in mud as several of us were during the hike. Christian Walter shared several of his unique views of the world around us, while Claudia Holgate gave a preview of her lecture on the Gulf Stream current. Tonight Daryl, our resident pianist, provided a musical accompaniment to our recap!