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Day 10 - July 25, 2013 - Ny Alesund & 14th July Glacier

By Peter W. Damisch, Historian, General Naturalist, Cartographer, Master Mariner

Co-ordinates: 78º 58' N, 11º 53' E
Weather: Overcast with occasional mist
Air Temperature: 4ºC
Pressure: 1016 hPa
Wind: 5 knots



This morning I was awake quite early. What an exciting sight to view the towering snow capped mountains, which ranged around the entrance to Kongsfjorden en route to our planned morning in Ny Alesund!

This tiny village, which reaches a population of around 130 people in the summer and 40 or so during the winter is a unique International Center of Arctic Research. Countries such as Austria, China, Norway, South Korea and the United States maintain scientific facilities here, studying a wide variety of polar phenomenon.

Ny Alesund is a former coal mining operation which closed down over 50 years ago. It is also the most northerly settlement in the world where you can relocate. Most of the guests come from countries that are members of the Svalbard Treaty of the 1920s. They emigrate to Svalbard and conduct business with the same rights as Norwegian citizens. It’s a unique aspect of this special region.

There are many options to consider when going ashore here. Some of us started out by exploring an historic coal mining train that is on display. Others explored a known location where Claudia, our Ornithologist, was able to point out and discuss a wide variety of birds from Barnacle Geese and Eider Ducks to Antarctic Terns. Karolina, one of our primary bear guards is also an expert dog sledder who once went to the North Pole. She was stationed at the dog kennels to answer questions about this unusual mode of polar transportation. Other guests stopped by the world’s most northerly Post Office, while others checked out at the local store.

As for myself … well there can only be one location for a General Naturalist and Historian —the Dirigible Launch Tower, just outside of town. This was the location of the very first confirmed air flight across the Arctic Ocean and the first sighting of the North Pole! The expedition was led by Roald Amundsen, who was also the first to reach the South Pole. We could also observe and discuss the launch site for two other major aircraft flights toward the North Pole. This Launch Tower, which held an airship larger than the Silver Explorer, was also utilized by an Italian Expedition in the late 1920s but it crashed just to the Northeast of where we had been operating just a few days ago.

The time passed all too quickly. Soon, it was time to leave this historic location and travel a short distance to our after-landing at the 14th July Glacier. As soon as we turned into the bay, we could see an immense amount of ice in the ocean along with a bluish front to the huge glacier.

Could this mean Polar Bear activity? That was my assignment for the day as a Naturalist and Polar Bear Guard. My job was to guide guests and answer questions as we hiked along the beach to the foot of a pre-marked, safe route up the lateral moraine alongside the glacier.

Soon, we began climbing until we reached a location where we could safely walk out onto the glacier, something that is always a thrill. We could see crevasses, melt pools and many other features previously discussed by Juan, our on board geologist. After chatting about the health of the glacier, we could take another path up to a point that overlooked the entire glacial front. What a spectacular sight!

Later on, I still had enough time to guide a second group, as well as return and visit the other portion of our afternoon landing site. This additional activity was supervised by Hans Peter, our onboard Botanist. He was having a great time discussing the multitude of plant life, flowers and vegetation covering the Western End of the lateral moraine and giving additional nutrient value by the many birds nesting in the cliffs above. In particular, Karolina, one of our dedicated Polar Bear guards was able to spot and point out a very camouflaged nest with a Snow Bunting chick happily residing inside.

All in all, our hikes and explorations uncovered a broad spectrum set of discoveries today. We discovered historical sights, ice formations, bird colonies, blossoming flowers and so much more!

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