Mammals by the sea, snow on the peaks

A colleague, a friend of hers and I went on a car trip to the island Ringvissøya today. My colleague knows a place where you can spot otters and we wanted to give it a try. On the way there it was raining. While I drove the car the others watched the coastal line. Our first stop however was not for an otter but a huge flock of common eiders.

Sometimes the whole flock dove down for food and then – Plop! Plop! Plop! – they appeared again. Click! I got some photos, but only with my large telephoto lens, because the ducks where quite far away.

We continued a bit and then the first otter was spotted. It was swimming in the fjord occasionally diving to hunt for fish. All the next photos are 100% crop of shots made with 600 mm so the photo quality is inferior, but that was the best I got today. Did the otter get fish? Yes, at least twice we could see it eating. Then, at a shallow bay it went on land and went up through the grass where we lost it from view.

The otters were not the only mammals around. We spotted some porpoises, though only for seconds and a seal, that occasionally swam quite near the shore.

Meanwhile the weather has become quite nice.

Since the otters were not to be seen any longer we decided to continue the road and go for a hike. At a parking place between Kårvik and Skarsfjord we took our backpacks and started hiking up the hills. There was hardly any snow at the beginning of our tour. That changed when we gained altitude. Although there was more snow the ground was not frozen yet and partially wet. Sometimes it felt like walking on a sponge.

We came to a frozen lake, that looked pretty wintry but probably the ice was quite thin, at least in the middle. In the background of the first of the next photos you can see the mountain peak of the Gråtinden (586 m).

The snow had hardened and sometimes bore our weight but mostly we broke through the thin ice layer. But still it was possible to go up, the snow was less deep than I had expected.

And then – after round about 4 km we reached the summit of the Gråtinden.

Here you have an awesome view of the sea, the lowlands and snowy mountain chains in all directions.

We took a rest by the cairn marking the peak, then we started going back. I was quite glad to move again, because I wasn’t really prepared for the hike and had started freezing. While we made our way back and down the sun started to set and the mountains become more orange.

At 16:30 we were back at the car, same time as sunset. And since it even started drizzling again I think we had an excellent timing today.

Thanks for the tour, colleague and friend!

P.S.: Here’s a panorama that I took with my iPhone on the way up today:

The first winter day

This week it has become gradually colder. You could see it on the mountains, where the snow line dropped lower and lower. More and more the rain became slush and wet snow and yesterday evening it had become so cold, that the snow didn’t melt away immediately. This morning I had to remove some snow from my car before I could make a car trip.

I took the car to the island Kvaløya where it often is a bit colder than directly in Tromsø. The conditions were quite wintry although not all trees seemed ready for that.

Soon I arrived at the lake Finnvikvatnet where I parked the car. No ice on the lake yet so both the huge mountains and the tiny islets were reflected from the calm water surface.

This lakes lies on 230 metres and here the snow was much deeper, perhaps between 10 and 20 cm. Temperature was -2°C. Some flowers peeked out, while others probably were buried completely in the snow.

I was unsure how far I would come but packed my backpack with camera, water, chocolate and a warm jacket and started walking through the snow. I was the first one today and the snow was untouched beside of some animal tracks.

I spotted a pile of stones on a small mountain summit nearby. Maybe I could hike there? Well, let’s try – and make some photos on my way.

It was an interesting hike, because nothing is frozen yet. I was glad to have chosen rubber boots, otherwise I would have got very wet feet. Since I could not find the way under the snow I decided to choose a quite direct way up. That took a while, because it was steeper than expected and sometimes it was more like crawling through knee deep snow than hiking. But I arrived at the summit where I had a view on the higher mountains around and the sea in the west.

Now the terrain was flatter. Time to take some more photos.

A ruin caught my eye. I went there and tried to make photos but could not find a perspective I liked. But I had another option: I had my drone with me. So I could not only take a photo from a higher perspective but also one looking straight down and even one from within without touching the snow drift inside. A practical tool that I still have to become more familiar with.

Time to descend. This time I checked the map in my mobile phone and found the hiking trail. Much easier! In summer this is an easy hike for families.

The lower parts in the west are wooded and many trees still have colourful leaves. But above them the mountains are snowy although you can see, that the snow cover is not very deep yet.

That tour was not very long but I got my very first winter day and the first snow since 27 May. Yay!

Some photos from my short car trip back:

I want to thank my colleague D from work. It was him who offered himself on changing my tyres. Therefore I have studded winter tyres on my car since yesterday afternoon. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to do this tour. Thank you, D. !

Autumn tour to the glacier Steindalsbreen

After being abroad in Germany, “home home” in Sweden and on vacation in the Netherlands for almost a month I have returned to Tromsø, my “work home” one week ago. Time to work again for the Norwegian Polar Institute but not only that …

Some days ago my colleague Marika asked me if we should go out for a hike to the glacier Steindalsbreen in the weekend. I knew the place from hearsay but never have been there. I gladly accepted – I like hiking with good company. Yesterday on Sunday we met at 7 o’clock and off we went. First by car.

Car trip

Steindalen is on the Lyngen peninsula and round about 100 km away. According to Google it takes 100 minutes but we stopped several times, either to take pictures of the reflections in the fjord or the curious fox beside the road.

Through the forest

After the car was parked we started our tourat 9:25. The birch and alder trees were clad in autumnal colours. The path led westwards through the forest along a small mountain river.

To the cabin

After the path going up and down it led nearer to the river. We passed some moraines – witnessed from the ice age – and spotted a waterfall falling vertically down from a mountain. Then the cabin Steindalshytte came into view. There is a wooden bridge to cross one of the rivers.

Through the U-shaped valley

We followed an inflow of the stream and soon the valley opened more and more. And there it was – still in the distance – the glacier!

It gets rocky

The path went further up and the ground started go get rockier and we left the delta like wetlands behind. But still there were many crouching plants present, many of them in the brightest autumnal colours.

Approaching the glacier

A hill and the glacier Steindalsbreen came in full view, another hill also the glacial lake in the front. Quite depressing were the signs that marked the retreat of the glacier. Oh – so many hundred metres in so few years ;-(

Nearer and nearer …

The first photos Marika and I took from the edge of the glacial lake. Then we followed a path to the right that brought us nearer to the ice. Here we walked on gravel covered ice. I found a hole, perhaps 80 cm in diameter and 150 cm deep.

On the mud flats

As usual I hiked with rubber boots and so I could walk on the sandy mudflats right in front of the glacier. Oh, so beautiful the turquoise blocks of ice!

Mud, ice, and water

I also took some photos of the ground. Was it sand? Hard mud? Ice? Sometimes probably all the three.

Then I looked back to the lake. Hard to imagine that we hiked through autumnal forests some hours ago. This landscape looks eternal somehow although it is the opposite: very fragile and threatened by the global warming.

Heading back

After a meal break by a large rock it was time to head back. The times of midnight sun and bright nights are over and at 7 o’clock in the evening it would be dark. Just some more photos from our way back.

After round eight hours we were back at my car. What I great tour!

Takk for turen, Marika!

Everything will be fine

This summer vacation with Annika had a clear photographical focus: showing the bathing areas we or I hopped in. It was ponds, lakes and rivers where we enjoyed bathing and swimming on our one week trip through northern Sweden and Finland.

The places and bodies of waters were:

Bygdeträsk (Göksjön)Mårdseleforsen (Vindelälven)Harads (Luleälven)TolkibadetHarriniva (Etuväylä/Torne älv)Kittilä (Ounasjoki)Aarniluosto (Aarnilampi) — 2× Ylitornio (Etuväylä/Torne älv)Hovlösjön.

And the motto? Allt kommer att bli bra. Everything will be fine.

Norrbyskär – after rain comes sun

After to weeks of home office home in Sweden Annika and I have a week of vacation. Yesterday we went to a concert of the Umeå based balkan folk band Mullin Mallin on the island Norrbyskär. On the ferry there it rained.

But then the weather became better.

While the soundcheck it was drizzling a bit but then the sun came out and we could listen to Mullin Mallin under a blue sky.

After the concert Annika and I had almost two hours until the 22:30 ferry that only runs after evening events. Time to sit by the sea and watch the sun set. While the sun was disappearing behind a cloud the ship was approaching. We went on board and were brought back to Norrbyn on the mainland, where Annika had parked her car.

After a 40 minute drive we were home. That day was a great way to start our vacation. Norrbyskär is always worth a visit, even when it rains and you have to eat the ice cream inside.

 

Taking orthophotos on Kvaløya

That’s me, nine days ago, near a parking place by the lake Finnvikvatnet on the island Kvaløya.

I just got a drone from the Norwegian Polar Institute, a DJI Mavic Pro 2. Since it is forbidden to fly a drone in Tromsø (too near to the airport) I chose a place on Kvaløya to check out the drone and practise a bit.

What you may expect from drone flying is photos like this:

What I actually did that day was taking a bunch of photos like these:

Back at home let the computer do some heavy work. That’s the result:

What I wanted to achieve is creating a so-called orthophoto. That is a stitched image that also contains geographical information. You need quite a lot of photos to get good results. In the map above it is only 9 photos and 11 photos in two distinct groups.

I used two softwares: First OpenDroneMap to create the orthophoto and then QGIS, an open source Geographic Information System, to present the orthophoto in a geographical context.

This afternoon I took a trip to Kvaløya again, this time to the way to Sommarøya and stopped by the lake Kattfjordvatnet. Here I pulled up the drone to an altitude of 80 metres and tried to navigate a rectangular zig-zag pattern with a lot of overlapping between the images. Beside of the fact, that the images are underexposed (and I was too lazy to correct them) I’m quite content with the result. The first image is an oblique shot, the second image is an orthophoto calculated from about 80 images and then placed into QGIS.

Plan for the next two weeks: getting more practise!

Tar du vårbilder?

What is the difference between these two photos?

Half an hour and round about 60 metres in altitude. The first photo shows – quite visible – a bunch of tussilago flowers, the second one – pretty hidden – a tombstone on the Elverhøy graveyard.

I cannot answer why the differences are so immense on the island Tromsøya. I only can observe that while it looks like spring is coming to the coastal parts the ridge of the island is still wintry. There are old ski tracks and the lake Prestvannet (96 m) is still covered with ice and snow.

I walk round the lake. Some parts of the way are free of snow, most aren’t.

I take a photo from a bench. A woman passes by and asks me: “Tar du vårbilder?” – do you take spring pictures? Well, kind of … .

I have an appointment at 18:00 so I leave the “mountains” of Tromsø and descend into town. While the small slide near Prestvannet is still snowed in the playground lower in town is completely free of snow. And I don’t think, they have underfloor heating. (Not impossible in Tromsø.)

Later, at 22:45 I walk to the bus that brings be home. It’s still quite light outside. No wonder, it’s only 20 days left to the period of the midnight sun.

 

Arctic preparations

Have a look at these two images. They have something in common.

Both are related to my participation in the Arctic Ocean cruise in June. After the Nansen legacy cruise last year this will be my second scientific cruise to the Arctic with the Norwegian Polar Institute. And this time I’ve got extra tasks.

1. Drone flying

A scientist asked if I could fly a drone to map the ice stations. I didn’t have any experience in drone flying so I bought a private one to practise some weeks ago. In addition to that I made the Norwegian online course in drones (class A1 and A3) and the exam. Now I’m registered as a drone pilot in Norway, both in private and for the Norwegian Polar Institute. That was the easy part.

The interesting part starts when I shall take photos with latitude and longitude information from a drifting ice floe. But I’m not there yet (and quite happy that I have another month of preparation).

The drone photo above was taken in Norway. In Sweden it is a lot of paperwork to get permission for the publication of photos, especially when they show the sea as well. In Norway this is not the case, as long as you know the legal rules and restrictions.

2. Ice chart and weather info

To help both the cruise leader and the crew with planning it will be my job to provide them with current information. That’s ice charts coming from a SAR satellite and weather forecasts for e.g. wind, temperature and pressure. The data will be presented using the Open Source Geographic Information System QGIS. The screenshot above is just from a small learning session where I loaded in quite unrelated data as a topographical map of Svalbard, an ice chart from two days ago and current wind information.

The interesting thing will begin when we head north, leaving Svalbard behind. Then we do not have internet access anymore except sending and receiving emails through the slow and expensive Iridium network. So I cannot use all the cool QGIS plugins to gather data directly but I’ll have to send data requests per email and then receive the data later. This will be both interesting and challenging. I’m somewhere in the middle of being quite excited and pretty nervous.

Anyhow I wanted to have jobs and tasks and I’m glad I get the opportunity in a more active role than last year, were I was more like an observer. I guess, I’ll learn a lot.

Arctic Ocean, soon I’ll come!

And suddenly it’s winter

Last Tuesday it got sunny and I paddled kayak.  On Wednesday it got cold and the small sound between island Lillskär and mainland was covered with ice.

Although it’s mid-December and despite temperatures between -10 °C and -14 °C there were still whooper swans around. Don’t they migrate south? In the morning they managed to paddle through last night’s fresh and thin sea ice. In the afternoon the swans had left. Perhaps they finally decided to fly south.

On Thursday it snowed. In the afternoon 10 cm of fresh snow had fallen and everything was white and bright, even in the night.

On Friday Annika and I had a day off and visited friends in for a long weekend. They live in Kusfors in the inland, round 180 km north. On the way there and there we found more winter. It was not very cold but it snowed quite a lot. I took some images from the car while Annika was driving.

Yesterday on Sunday we came back to our house in Obbola round 20:00. Our property was covered with 45 of fresh snow. Since it had been sub-zero all the days the snow was pretty fluffy. We had to do quite a bit of snow shovelling – but after taking a photo.

Today it’s Monday and a new working week has begun. I had a lot of meetings today and therefore no time to paddle kayak. Oh yes, the kayaks … where are they? I know they lie beside the wooden terrace. Here they are, well hidden under a thick blanket of snow, right beside the window of the winter garden.

But there are other things to do as well. For example opening the afterwork ski season in Olles Spår near Umeå together with Annika. The snow is still soft and the cross-country skiing trail still slow but the first time of skiing is always special and we are happy and grateful that we live in a place where winter is around us.

Now it’s half past nine in the evening and I’m blogging. Snow is falling and the thermometer shows -9.5 °C, the same temperature as the last hours.

And you? What kind of winter do you like? Or do you prefer other seasons?