Day 2 |
Jun 25, 2009

14Th July Glacier And Ny-Ålesund

By Robin Aiello, Marine Biologist

Co-ordinates: 79°07.47’N, 011°53.25’E

Weather: Bright sunshine, calm seas

Air Temperature: 10°

Wind: 2 knots

Today was the first day of this voyage! I was absolutely thrilled to wake up to bright sunshine and calm seas. The ship was heading to the fabulous glacier called the 14th July Glacier.

There were four Zodiacs making the transfers from ship to shore. As they landed onshore, the lecture staff escorted small groups to either the glacier itself, or to bird cliffs where thousands of Kittiwakes and Guillemots were nesting.

I was one of the guides that took a small group to the bird cliffs. We saw many birds, including Snow buntings, Arctic skuas, Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Eider ducks, Pink-footed geese, Barnacle geese, and Glaucus gulls. We also spent a lot of time looking at the small flowering tundra plants as we strolled along. I explained how these plants have special adaptations to survive in such harsh cold climates. This is one of the reasons plants in the Arctic tundra as so small – they don’t have much time to grow and seed in the short Arctic summers.

Those guests who chose to walk the half-mile to the glacier had the option to also climb right up on top of the glacier. The views were fantastic – as the skies were clear and you could see for many miles! At several points, we heard the loud rumble of a piece of the glacier calving off. Juan Restrepo and Stefan Kredel, our geologists, brought the glacier to life and explained all about its formation, how it moves, and its role in carving up the local landscape.

Everyone was back onboard by lunchtime – when the Captain relocated the ship to Ny-Ålesund in Kongsfjorden.

Ny-Ålesund is situated halfway in the fjord of Kongsfjorden, on its south side. This small ‘town’ (more like a settlement with approximately 30 residents) is situated at 78º 55' N, and is one of the world’s northernmost year-round communities in the world. It was originally settled in 1916 for coal mining, but all coal mining was stopped in 1962 after a serious accident. Since 1964, Ny-Ålesund has also been a centre for international Arctic research and environmental monitoring.

One of the biggest claims to fame for Ny-Ålesund is that it was the starting point for several historic attempts to reach the North Pole. It was the starting point of Roald Amundsen’s expeditions to reach the North Pole in 1925 with the seaplanes N24 and N25, and in 1926 onboard an airship. In 1926, he succeeded and reached the North Pole with the airship Norge, together with Umberto Nobile from Italy and Lincoln Ellsworth from the US. Ny-Ålesund was also the starting point for Nobile’s dramatic attempt to reach the pole again in 1928 in the airship Italia. On the way back, the Italia crash-landed on the ice, killing half the crew. Nobile was miraculously saved. Roald Amundsen intended to participate in the search for Nobile, but he disappeared with his seaplane Latham after take-off from Tromsø.

Once ashore, the Expedition Team guided guests on a walk around the settlement, as well as to the historical place where the airship took off on Nobile’s fated trip. As I led our group around, I stopped many places to point out the variety of birds, including Barnacle geese, Arctic terns, Arctic skuas, and Eider ducks. I also let the group loose in the souvenir shop to buy a few tokens to take home with them! Most everyone wrote a quick postcard to send off from this special location.

Once back onboard the ship, it was time to dress up and head to The Theatre for the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail Party and Dinner. It was a joyous occasion with everyone chatting and getting to meet each other.