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Day 4 - July 7, 2009 - Poolepynten And Barentsburg, Svalbard

By Juan Carlos Restrepo, Geologist

Co-ordinates: 78º 26.738’ N, 011º 53.205’ E
Weather: Foggy in the morning and clear skies in the afternoon
Air Temperature: 3ºC
Sea Temperature: 6ºC

Last night during dinner, the Prince Albert II entered a sea fog bank that the Captain had been closely monitoring all afternoon. I watched the front of this thick low cloud – like a curtain – as we were coming closer to it, until it eventually swallowed us.

This morning, to my surprise, we were still in it!  It was as thick as the night before and it was not giving signs of clearing out.  By looking at the air and sea temperature for the day I can hypothesize about the cause of it.  A mass of unusually warm water (6ºC) came in contact with a colder atmosphere (3ºC) and produced condensation.

The water temperature a few days ago had been right at the freezing mark.  The water in oceans behaves like independent masses, with a particular density and temperature, and they do not mix too well.  A pulse of the Gulf Stream could have possibly delivered this water mass to Svalbard producing this interesting phenomenon.

As special as it was, the sea fog did not make a landing a sensible and safe option this morning at Poolepynten.  If we cannot see past 50 meters, then we cannot guarantee that there are no bears in the area.  Our Captain and Expedition Leader – with our safety in mind – decided to organize short zodiac cruises to see the walruses from the safety and comfort of the boats.

Just after 9 am, the Expedition Team started taking convoys of four boats at a time, for 30- to 40-minute cruises where everybody had great views of these beautiful (and huge) animals. There were two groups of walruses on the beach as well as a few individuals swimming near the shore.

Because of the thick fog, the planned afternoon landing at Alkhornet was not deemed safe either, and so arrangements were made for a landing in the Russian mining town of Barentsburg, which is the closest settlement to the Norwegian administrative centre in Svalbard, Longyearbyen.

In its beautiful setting in Grønfjorden, Barentsburg is in stark contrast to the landscape around it. It differs from Longyearbyen in being a community based around its dominant industry: mining. But there is also a small tourism industry represented by a hotel, a souvenir shop and a museum. For many visitors it is interesting just to walk the streets, look at the architecture and get in touch with the locals.

Shortly after lunch I delivered a lecture entitled “GLACIER ICE, The Life and Death of Continental Ice”, where I explained basic concepts on Glaciology.  Just when I was finishing my presentation we arrived in Barentsburg.  I was on Zodiac-driving duty, so I didn’t really have a chance to climb the 270 steps into town, or see the place and the folklore show. I know however that most of our guests did, and pretty much they all agreed that it was an “interesting” stop.  Our guests had a chance to have a wander around town and visit the Russian Orthodox Church, the “Polar Star Community Hall” with a great little museum and a theatre where the locals performed typical Russian and Ukrainian songs and dances.

At 7 pm there was a Recap & Briefing with the Expedition Team, followed by dinner.

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