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Day 7 - July 22, 2013 - Nordaustlandet, Svalbard

By Juan Carlos Restrepo, Geologist

Co-ordinates: S N 80º 08’ 17”, E 028º 01’ 09”
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: 3ºC
Pressure: 961 hPa
Wind: 15 knots

Today, after having completed an early morning cruise of Bråsvellbreen, we lowered our Zodiacs and enjoyed the views of this spectacular glacier calving front from a completely different angle. This impressive ice cliff looks bigger and the waterfalls more dramatic when seen from a Zodiac right on the surface of the water. The conditions were calm and the light was beautiful. The golden sunshine of the early morning shining through the melt water streams as they were falling down from the glacier top was a sight to behold.

Austfonna is an ice cap that measures 150 km by 85 km and covers 58% of the island of Nordaustlandet. Together with Vestfonna, the ice caps constitute one of the largest glacial systems in the Northern hemisphere, apart from Greenland. Its calving front is 190 km long, the largest in the Northern Hemisphere including Greenland, and part of that is what we saw today.

Bråsvellbreen means “sudden swell” in Norwegian, and is a 30 km section of Austfonna’s calving front, located in the south part of Nordaustlandet. Bråsvellbreen experienced a surge in 1937-38 and it advanced 30 km in just under 2 years.

After a most enjoyable Zodiac cruise, we sailed on to find walrus at Torellneset in the south east corner of the island of Nordaustlandet.

As we sailed closer to our anchorage position we could see about 6 or 7 walrus hauled out onto the beach. The scouting party went ashore and confirmed the numbers, and made sure there were no bears in the area. We then started disembarking the Zodiac groups, one by one to go ashore, check out the walrus and go for a guided walk around the area. At some stage a few curious walruses that were swimming along the shore, actually came onto the beach. Some of our guests were able to capture great photos of them.

We also found the carcass of a male walrus and it was actually quite interesting to be able to see their bones, tusks and other features from such a close distance. The cadaver had been ripped to bits by polar bears but all the parts were there.

By 6:30 pm I came back on board and got changed for our Venetian Society cocktail and dinner. A few hours later on deck, we enjoyed a ship’s cruise of Alkefjellet, a very impressive bird cliff in the Hinlopen strait. This basalt cliff hosts approximately 60,000 pairs of Brunnich’s guillemots, plus a large number of Kittiwakes and the usual Glaucous gulls.

However, the star of the night was a polar bear that was casually walking around the base of the cliffs. We spotted the bear as it was grazing on scurvy grass and looking for chicks or eggs. This has been so far the closest encounter we have had with a polar bear this cruise and everyone loved it. After spending a fair amount of time with the bear, Captain Boczek skilfully brought the ship close to the cliff so we could admire the staggering number of birds sitting and flying around in huge numbers, resembling a swarm of bees. This was a “Hollywood Ending” to a beautiful day.

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