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Day 4 - July 29, 2013 -  Svalbard

By Kara Weller, Biologist

Co-ordinates: 79º38.8’ N, 020º31.6’ E
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: 6ºC
Pressure: 1012 hPa
Wind: 5 knots


The calm waters inside Palanderbukta awaited us this morning as the Silver Explorer eased her way into the bay. Skies were overcast but not a breath of wind stirred the surface of the water. After breakfast we headed ashore to explore the polar desert here.

Situated on the west side of Nordaustlandet, this landing site was a rocky bare wasteland at first sight, but on arriving on shore and walking around on our guided tours we discovered many intricate small plants growing in little crevices, fascinating stone circles caused by the freezing and thawing action of the ground, whale bones leaching minerals into the soil and a polar bear carcass surrounded by plant life. It was a fascinating place and made a great contrast to the landing site we visited in the afternoon.

But first – after lunch, the Silver Explorer approached the magnificent bird cliffs of Alkefjellet, and our captain gave us a stunning view of these towers of rocks covered with thousands of nesting birds as he eased the vessel along the base of the cliffs. Guillemots as well as kittiwakes nested here by the thousands and flew above our heads as we stood out on deck. The sound was tremendous, but as the breeding season in the Arctic is short, the birds have to pack a lot of activity into a few weeks only – mating, building nests (for the kittiwakes), and raising their young. The guillemots don’t build nests rather lay their pear-shaped egg directly onto the rocky ledge. As a result, some Guillemots were packed next to each other along these rocky shelves like sardines, making for a spectacular sight. Our captain skilfully maneuvered the ship along the cliffs so closely that from the foredeck we could nearly reach out and touch the birds sitting there on their ledges.

In the afternoon we visited a landing site inside Lomfjord called Faksevagen. A very protected bay and a green slope at the base of a hill provided a suitable place to come to shore in the Zodiacs. From there we had the opportunity to hike up the hill to an elevation of 150 meters to admire the view of the bay from above and think about the contrast in terms of vegetation to this morning’s landing site. Unlike our bare and brown polar desert, this site was green and teemed with plant life. Tiny flowers bloomed along our way – pink tufts of moss campion, delicate white mountain avens, bell-shaped heather. The view from the top was spectacular with our tiny ship far below and the reddish slopes behind it of the fjord. It was good to stretch our legs and walk as we know a long sea voyage is awaiting us in the next few days. The weather continued to be good and we eventually wandered back down and went back onboard our ship for another wonderful dinner.

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